The Guardian

Why do good people suffer? You asked Google – here’s the answer | Eleanor Morgan

Every day millions of internet users ask Google life’s most difficult questions, big and small. Our writers answer some of the commonest queries
‘Otto Rank believed the physical event of being born to be not only the first anxiety a person knows, but also the blueprint of all anxiety experienced over the arc of their life.’ Photograph: arcticflea/Getty Images

Why do good people suffer? Five words to take you into a dense maze of ideas philosophical, psychological and theological. Where to start? What suffering looks or feels like is probably one of the most subjective notions we can ponder. Even the way we usually categorise suffering – “physical” or “mental” – is blurry, because rarely does one come without the other. Our minds hurt when our bodies hurt, and vice versa.

If we put aside the “good” or “bad” ranking – for now – and ask why any person suffers, we can start at the beginning: when our body, pulled apart from the one we grew inside, is suspended in the world on its own for the first time. Birth.

In the book The Trauma of Birth (1924), the psychoanalyst Otto Rank – one of Freud’s closest colleagues – wrote that all human beings suffer trauma by virtue of being born. Expanding on Freud’s theories from the beginning of the 1900s, “the first experience of anxiety, and thus the source and prototype of the affect of anxiety”, Rank believed the physical event of being born to be not only the first anxiety a person knows, but also the blueprint of all anxiety experienced over the arc of their life.

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