It’s quite a special week. There was a confluence of timing in my interview with Gabor Maté last week and the release of his film The Wisdom of Trauma. If you haven’t seen the film, it is well worth watching. I sat on the couch with my wife last night and we held each other as we watched this incredibly touching and important movie that chronicles the life and the work of Gabor Maté. 

There is a throughline involving inmates working through their emotional pain. It is quite impactful and there are a number of powerful sequences as these inmates are asked to step forward every time that they recognize within themselves some measure of adverse childhood experience. The adverse childhood experience study or ACES was a large-scale longitudinal study that was done in California and it looked at the correlation between early adverse experiences in children, such as physical or emotional abuse, poverty, isolation, and hardships, and challenges later in life. The compassion throughout the film is at times overwhelming, especially when you have men (and in this case it was men) talking about having committed murder and opening up about the horrors that they experienced as children. 

I wanted to take today’s podcast and zero in on what I believe to be at the heart of a paradigmatic shift that has taken place not only in psychology but in the ways that we view ourselves and our actions in society in general. I will be slowing down and collecting my thoughts about my recent interview with Maté and sharing with you some of my observations about how to sit with our pain and remain emotionally and psychologically flexible.

I wanted to talk about this today because, if there’s one thing that is clear (and this is true even when we think about the kinds of help that we can now get), historically, especially when psychotherapy first came into being, it was harsher; it was more masculine. Approaches to psychotherapy have kept in line with other changes in society, especially the deepening respect for our emotional lives. These have led to a more benevolent understanding of suffering, more of a focus on the automatic nature of our defenses, and I think an awakening that nothing will come from further punishing the human being for the ways that they have had to learn to survive.

Show Highlights:

  • How our sensitivity towards our emotional lives and those of others has developed.
  • How psychotherapy has kept in line with the changes in society.
  • Why we need to be considerate of the complexities of others’ physical bodies.
  • Why we develop a paradigm to face the world when we’re young.
  • Why your kids get angry with you.
  • The kind of shift we’ve experienced in society.
  • Reflections on Maté’s interview with Sia.
  • What I mean when I say, “You’re okay.”
  • The work we need to do when our early ways of confronting life start to crack.
  • What compassionate scrutiny means.
  • How to examine your anxiety and its sources without resisting it.
  • Why our trauma is never in the past.
  • Two questions to ask yourself as a basic test of where you’re at with your relationship to your own pain and that of others.

Subscribe and Review

We’d appreciate you subscribing to this podcast and leaving an Apple Podcasts review. Reviews help others discover and learn what The Dignity of Suffering is all about. It only takes a second and helps us out a lot!

If you enjoyed this episode, we’ve also created a PDF that has all of the key information for you from it. Just fill out the form below to download it.

Supporting Resources:

Mitchell Smolkin is a sought-after clinician, speaker, and author. For media and interview requests please contact his publicist Randy Phipps at For all other inquiries, please send mail to

Comments are closed.