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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger… Or Does It?

April 23, 2012 14 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

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For inspiration for this post, I have Kelly Clarkson’s anthem blaring in the background. I have to admit, it’s both catchy and empowering – a lethal combination in my musical book.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone

Rock on, sister…

What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter
Footsteps even lighter
Doesn’t mean I’m over cause you’re gone


What makes this song so powerful, in my estimation, is that it utilizes a pretty pervasive cultural ideal and makes it pop. It’s adds a bit more life to the idea since it was originally stated by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche as “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

My own experience has been that people will use this phrase as a means of consolation. As a society, we’re fairly uncomfortable with other people’s pain, or our own for that matter (see here and here for elaboration). So, we say things like “it’ll all be okay in the end” or “everything happens for a reason,” or “what doesn’t kill you…” to try to both ease the heartache of another person and obscure the idea that pain could exist just because it exists.

Sometimes it’s something that we tell ourselves. We want to believe that our pain serves a greater function, that some good can arise from the ashes of our suffering. I’ll admit that I’ve reminded myself of this idea many times after a tragedy or hardship rocked me. And to be honest, it’s helped to bolster my sense of potency and self-esteem. In fact, I often look back on the difficult moments on my life collectively and think that these junctures shaped me as a strong and independent person.

Could it be, though, that I would be strong and independent without enduring these struggles? That’s a chicken and egg question that I’ll never be able to answer definitively for myself. However, there are researchers looking at what happens when people suffer trauma and hardship.

What the researchers have found is that difficult situations do enhance individuals’ ability to cope with future life stressors, at least to a point. In classic Goldilocks fashion, researchers note that those with the best ability to cope are individuals who have experienced some turmoil, while those who have experienced none or a lot are at a disadvantage.

So it looks like adversity is beneficial in the right amounts. If you skate through most of life with minimal obstacles, you never learn how navigate around or through the ones that inevitably crop up. This might explain why we see so many children who completely melt down when asked to share a toy. They’ve never learned how to regulate and manage difficult emotions that arise with things like frustration and disappointment. On the other hand, a person who’s dealt a heavy hand of tragedy might have their resources completely tapped. Their system is literally overwhelmed by the stress of what they endure and stops functioning properly. They might become immobilized when more stress emerges.

So what we know is that this issue is complex. We have not really defined the “optimal” amount of stress, and I think that varies greatly depending on individual factors, like personality, temperament, and resilience. It also depends heavily on the amount of social support a person has when in the grip of something difficult.

What we do know is that trying to make meaning out of suffering helps us to create coherent narratives of our lives, and this leads to us feeling more fulfilled, content, and healthy. So if you want to say that whatever kills you makes you stronger, be my guest. You could even sing it!

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  1. KCLAnderson (Karen)
    3 years ago

    Not to mention that our current culture likes to make heroes out of people who have persevered and then can’t understand why someone else can’t “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”
    KCLAnderson (Karen) recently posted..Laughing At What Has Been Found


  2. Cristina F. Connors
    3 years ago

    I agree that when times get tough people show what they are really made of, and rise to the occasion. Conversely, I see situations where so much sh*t is laid on a person’s shoulders that they can’t see clearly, can’t function to the best of their abilities, and can’t reach their full potential. There is such a thing as the cards being stacked too much against you, and no shame in asking for help and a leg up. I’ve also seen cases of people (some to close to me) who have never really been challenged or had to deal with real problems. When thrust in the position, they crumble. They simply can’t coping, they haven’t developed the skills and are looking to be saved. It’s such a complicated issue and your article brought a great and interesting perspective. It definitely gave me a lot to think about. Great post—thanks for sharing!
    Cristina F. Connors recently posted..Stories of Substance: Body Image Round-Up


  3. JJ
    3 years ago

    The quote I always had repeated to me growing up is: “Pain is weakness leaving your body.” Kind of catchy, but I bought into it a little too completely for a long time!


  4. Kathryn
    3 years ago

    This makes my day today and i really love your inspirational quote for us.. Thanks a lot!
    Kathryn recently posted..aerials london


  5. Kazsandra
    3 years ago

    “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.. I can definitely relate to this and I am sure a lot of people can be inspired through this post.. We should be always strong despite of problems we have..
    Kazsandra recently posted..Overcoming Panic Attacks


  6. Louis Vermalen
    3 years ago

    I love that quote you began with. You have written this beautifully.
    Thanks for sharing this inspirational post.

    Louis Vermalen recently to seduce a woman


  7. Charlenevans09
    3 years ago

    I like that song too! It makes me realized things which makes me more fruitful and helped me strengthen my personality.
    Thanks for sharing this inspiring post.
    Charlenevans09 recently posted..gloves


  8. Alex @ Raw Recovery
    3 years ago

    I think this is one of my favorite posts that you have written, Ashley. I really enjoyed it. I hated it when people would say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and such. When a young friend of mine died right after Christmas last year by suicide, I took all the things that were said to me when I was struggling and threw them out the window when I was trying to console his family. In fact I tried not to say anything other than “I’m here for you” and because I had dealt with extremely raw emotions myself, I was not afraid to just be there and listen to what they had to say. Nothing could make me uncomfortable and I think the best thing I could do was to listen. I did tell them about my own struggles with depression and tried to provide perspective from his point of view, because I knew it very well. They still tell me how grateful they are for me opening up to them to shed some light on something they didn’t understand. Our culture doesn’t really know how to deal with really difficult emotions and that makes things even harder when tough stuff happens.
    Alex @ Raw Recovery recently posted..Angie In The Morning


  9. mozell
    3 years ago

    I say this is not true all the time..
    mozell recently posted..Outdoor discounted chaise lounge chairs


  10. Dhyann
    3 years ago

    Sometimes this kind of quote is what we need because it can lighten up our day..
    Dhyann recently posted..digial aerials colchester


    • carl-Heinz
      2 years ago

      Yes sometimes that saying helps you the day the you neem strength


  11. Alina Smith
    3 years ago

    Well, this may not be true for every case Ashley. But it works for most.
    Thanks for sharing this lovely post…
    Alina Smith recently posted..All Closed Trades


  12. Margie
    2 years ago

    Sing it Sister! This is just what the Doc ordered for me today. You are bringing validation and wisdom and strength to my day’s disorder. Thank You!


  13. carl-Heinz
    2 years ago

    Yes somtimes it help you in day times


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