To understand suffering is to understand what it means to be human. Suffering focuses our attention on our vulnerability, which we would rather ignore or deny. As health care professionals (HCP) we need to be able to listen, to attune and be empathic to the suffering patient. If we act as an “enlightened witness” we provide a safe place for a suffering patient to grieve their loss and be vulnerable. This is skilled and demanding work, it is also important to tend to our own needs through a practice of self-care and reflection to prevent burn-out and compassion fatigue. The topic of adverse childhood experiences (ACE), which are common in the general population, are addressed in the second part of this paper. Their effects are profound, and increase with the degree of maltreatment. The maltreatment and suffering of these children usually remains hidden into adulthood beneath years of shame and denial. One aspect of our job in health care is to help patients acknowledge, experience, and bear the reality of life with all its pleasures and heartache. In order to do this well, we need to keep in touch with our own humanity, but also continue to take care of ourselves.
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