Why the phrase "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" might not be true (2023)

The famous saying, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" is a popular saying used daily in music, movies, and everyday conversation. The saying, originally penned by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, was actually "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger".

A corollary to this saying is that suffering is good for you and makes you more resilient.

In our society, there is a widespread belief that trauma and tragedycan be good for your personal growth. Every day we hear the expression widely used by self-help gurus and media personalities as a truism and proof of one's resilience. In some cases, writers say that only the brave get stronger through adversity, implying that weak people don't.

We are told: "You will appreciate life more", "You will be grateful for what you have in life", "You will learn some important lessons and become more resilient".

The problem with the saying is that, according to recent research, it's not generally true for most people.

The research in support of the proverb

Here's what we know from the best science that's been done: Humans can actually grow in the face of adversity. They can become stronger, improve the quality of their relationships, andincrease their self-esteem. But it probably doesn't happen nearly as often as most people and some researchers believe.

Growth stories stemming from traumaare certainly powerful. They can serve as inspiration for our own lives.

This themeappearsTimeAndonce again, after natural disasters and terrorist attacks, violent crime and of course now the impact of COVID.

Their findings argue that every tragedy has a silver lining. It is also consistent with the biblical theme ofrepayment, which states that all pain and suffering will ultimately lead to freedom.

Her research posits that trauma and tragedy will also help us make sense of our own lives. psychologistshave demonstratedthat we like to tell our lives in terms of the challenges we've faced and the setbacks we've overcome, rather than our successes and good times. Most popular literature and films illustrate this. We like to believe that good things can come from a bad turn of events, because that's often a key element of the stories we tell about our own lives.

The idea that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger is based on the theory that difficult experiences build people's strength for the next, potentially more painful event that might occur. This can be a comforting thought, especially during trauma - that all the pain one may experience will be rewarded with a greater sense of inner courage and the ability to face the next painful life event.

Tragedy and trauma can also be seen as a badge of honor, almost an achievement for surviving a horrible time and feeling braver, more powerful, and ready for the next fight.

There is some research that supports the aphorism. Stephen Joseph, Ph.D., author ofWhat Doesn't Kill Me Makes Me Stronger: The New Psychology of Trauma and TransformationShe explains: “Those who are trying to rebuild their lives exactly as they were left broken and vulnerable. But those who accept the break and rebuild themselves become more resilient and open to new ways of life.

The concept ofpost-traumatic growthadvocated by Joseph offers a strengths-based perspective.Researchby Lawrence G. Calhoun and Richard G. Tedeschi of the University of North Carolina Charlotte found that trauma survivors often experienced profound healing, increased spiritual faith, and philosophical grounding.

The termpost-traumatic growthrefers to any positive personality change that results from adversity. After a very stressful event or a personal misfortune,many peoplesay the event has helped them grow in a number of ways. Studies suggest so, howeverMost people don't experience true post-traumatic growth. So what is the truth?

Post traumatic growth can take many forms. Psychologists have foundfive main typesthis contains:

  • deepened social relationships
  • increased sense of personal strength
  • increased appreciation of life
  • expanded sense of new possibilities
  • increased spirituality

psychologistshave demonstratedthat we like to think and reflect on our life as history. History often tells of the challenges we faced and the setbacks we overcame. We like to say or say that good things come from trauma or unfortunate events.


However, some research has shown that the expression is incorrect.According to some research, past stressful experiences do not create resilience to future trauma.

Recent research suggests that the opposite is true: past traumatic events sensitize people to future trauma and increase their chances of developing mental disorders.

For example, several US government reports indicate that between 15 and 30 percent of US veterans returning from military operations suffer from PTSD. Her experiences in traumatic situations did not make her stronger.

The death of a loved one, financial or food insecurity, or a newly developed disability were some of the strongest predictors of whether a patient hospitalized for COVID-19 would show symptoms of a long COVID-19 illness a year later, according to a new study.

The study, led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, found that adult patients with such "major life stressors" -- present in more than 50% of those surveyed -- were at least twice as likely to struggle with depression, brain fog, fatigue and sleep problems , and other long-term COVID-19 symptoms, the study authors say.

studiesof the long-term mental health effects of prisoners of war in war zones indicate ongoing and sometimes lifelong detrimental effects resulting in a variety of mental health problems.

A study outUniversity of Brownquestions the validity of this statement. The researchers reported past traumatic eventspeople usually domore sensitive and prone to future problems, not resilient.

The researchers concluded their findings based on their study of Chilean disaster survivors who had suffered trauma and were at greater risk of developing PTSD than those who had experienced few or no prior stressors.

More than 100 scientific studies have investigated this question. Thestudies of the highest qualityquestioned people in the face of adversity and then re-studied them. Taken together, these studies have found that adversity does not consistently lead to true post-traumatic growth. The only kind of growth that consistently seems to come from adversity is deepened relationships. In times of struggle, our relationships with loved ones often become more intimate, meaningful, and rewarding.

So the research evidence shows that people are doing thisnottypically experience positive personality changes as a result of adversity. Instead herspersonalityusually stays about the same. Or, in some cases, they might even see declines in certain areas, such asSelf-esteemor herspirituality.

To get a more accurate understanding of how adversity affects us, we need research that establishes a baseline before adversity strikes, and then measures how people do or don't change over time. Edward B. Davis and colleagues published their research in the journalpersonalityAndstudied the psychological effects of Hurricane Irma on victims. As Hurricane Irma made its way toward the United States in 2017, they asked about 2,000 people along the hurricane's projected path to fill out questionnaires online and answer questions about their spirituality and mental health. Then they asked them to take the same actions both 1 month and 6 months after the hurricane made landfall.

The researchers concluded: "Our results reflect the common findings of previous research: People often believed that they had grown spiritually as a result of the disaster, but they did not experience significant growth compared to baseline levels. Only 5% of people showed real spiritual growth and most showed spiritual growthWaste.“

"Unfortunately, the same could be true for COVID-19," said Stephen Buka, the study's lead author. “We are already witnessing black and Hispanic people experiencing higher rates of COVID-19 infection and death. All the evidence suggests that disadvantaged groups, who often suffer from higher previous life stresses such as limited finances and job instability, are most likely to suffer from severe mental illness post-pandemic.”

Noam Shppancer, write inpsychology todaygoes against the saying. He says: “Developmental research has convincingly shown that traumatized children are more, not less, likely to be traumatized again. Children who grow up in a difficult neighborhood grow weaker, not stronger. They are more, not less, likely to fight in the world.”

Barbara Ganzel and colleagues published a study on resilience after 9/11, published inneuroimage.They described how healthy adults viewed fearful and calm faces while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that forms and stores emotional memories. They found that participants who were near the World Trade Center on September 11 had significantly higher amygdala activity when looking at the fearful faces than those who lived more than 200 miles away. "Our results suggest that there may be long-term neurobiological correlates of trauma exposure, even in people who appear resilient," said Ganzel. “We have long known that trauma exposure can lead to subsequent vulnerability to mental health disorders years later after the trauma. This research gives us clues to the biology underlying this vulnerability. When trauma and hardship leave a mark, it's usually a bruise under the skin, not a nick on the belt."

In an interview inpsychology todayEdward (Ward) B. Davis., associate professor of psychology at Wheaton College, where he serves as director of the Psychology and Spirituality Research Laboratory and research director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute, described his research on the resilience of hurricane Katrina survivors. He said: "We are all familiar with Nietzsche's famous assertion: 'What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.' This idea is so deeply embedded in contemporary thought that it is often simply uncritically accepted as true. I think what surprised me was how much that doesn't seem to be the case. The survivors of the disaster in our study did not get “stronger” mentally. On the contrary, they showed more of a spiritual decline.”

In a large study by Judith Mangelsdorf and colleagues, published inPsychological Bulletin,They performed a meta-analysis of the aftermath of post-traumatic growth. They concluded: “Prospective studies found a positive trend for self-esteem, positive relationships, and mastery after both positive and negative events. We found no general support for the widely held belief that negative life events have more impact than positive ones. No real growth in meaning and spirituality was found.”

Arizona State University psychologists Eranda Jayawickreme and Frank J. Infurna published their research on the topicpsychological science.They found "The literature on resilience and post-traumatic growth has been instrumental in highlighting the human ability to overcome adversity by showing that there are different paths that individuals can follow. Although the theme of strength out of adversity is attractive and central to many disciplines and certain cultural narratives, this claim lacks robust empirical evidence.”

TThe problem of our memories of past events

Researcher Meghan Owens and colleagues, in their research published indas Journal of Social and Personal RelationshipS,havefoundthat people are not very good at remembering exactly what they were like before a traumatic event.Or the participants say that they have grown at the eventwhen they are actually silentbattle. Your growth reportsdo not always agreewhat their friends and family think andmay not reflect actual changes in their behavior.

Some psychologists would argue that telling others (and ourselves) how we have benefited from past trauma may be a way to cope with the pain you still experience. western cultureleaves little time for mourning; Finally, the expectation is for people to "get over it and move on," they say.

Thebest designed studiesThe study of growth has found that the extent to which people believe they have changed after a traumatic experience is unrelated to how much they have changed over time.

Researchers have found that far from empowering people, traumatic incidents often have long-term negative consequences. Adverse childhood experiences — which health experts define as poverty, abuse, neglect, and other trauma — can lead to toxic stress that wreaks havoc on the body. In a paper published in 2012, Harvard researchers found that people who were abused as children had, on average, a 6 percent loss of volume in their hippocampi, a part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Toxic stress also damages the prefrontal cortex, which is linked to social behavior and decision-making, as well as the cardiovascular and immune systems.

The finding is that childhood trauma increases the risk of cancer, heart disease, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, STDs, poor school performance, substance abuse, fetal death, and teenage pregnancy, among others. According to the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children's Health, more than 22 percent of US children have had two or more negative experiences. In 2014, the Center for Youth Wellness released a report that found that more than 61 percent of California adults had at least one negative childhood experience — and that those with four or more children were five times more likely to have depression, three times more likely to have binge drinking or risky sexual behavior, and nearly twice as likely to develop cancer.

A 2009 study in theAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicinereported that people who had six or more negative childhood experiences died on average20years earlier than those who had none.

By maintaining the belief that pain is uplifting, we place the responsibility on survivors to heal themselves - and we emphasize the value of prevention and support services. Suffering is not what strengthens the soul or clears our vision. What makes people stronger is working with others to overcome trauma. Giving and receiving help gives meaning to suffering, not suffering alone.

We should exercise great caution in believing and embracing the notion that personal growth and resilience are typical outcomes of adversity. Think about what it's saying: Suffering is good in the long run, and people who have experienced trauma are stronger than those who haven't. Overcoming trauma is not easy. For example, the trauma of certain tragedies, such as the death of a child or a spouse, never completely goes away.

And then some are open about the fact that they are fighting after losses months, even years later. If "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" were true, these people could be viewed as "weak" or as something "wrong" with them.

And our culture likes to portray the "heroes" who have recovered from tragedy, trauma, and adversity, with the implicit message that anyone else can do the same. The problem with this belief is that it neglects what is really needed: institutional mental health services and communities of people who support those who have experienced trauma.

Here's what we know from the best science that's been done: Humans can actually grow in the face of adversity. They can become stronger, improve the quality of their relationships, andincrease their self-esteem. But it probably doesn't happen nearly as often as most people and some researchers believe.

Also, not all will grow in the same way and at the same rate. People will continue to need the help and social support of their families, friends and communities after a traumatic event. The availability of these resources in determining whether people grow.

A personal perspective

I have a personal point of view on this subject. My family spent almost four years as POWs held by the Japanese in World War II in a detention center in Hong Kong. I was born in this camp. We survived this ordeal, but the damaging physical and psychological effects have lingered on my family to this day. Although we survived, none of us believe that the experience has made us stronger.


What does Nietzsche mean by what doesn't kill you makes you stronger? ›

The idea that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger is based on the theory that by going through difficult experiences, people build up their strength for the next, possibly more painful event that may occur.

Where does the phrase what doesnt kill you makes you stronger come from? ›

In 1888, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche first stated, “Out of life's school of war—what doesn't kill me, makes me stronger.” This sentence has become an overused and often parodied aphorism that, in my opinion, nevertheless accurately portrays the picture of resilience and affirmation for overcoming adversity.

When did Nietzsche say that which does not kill us makes us stronger? ›

“What doesn't kill me makes me stronger.” These words were first spoken by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche back in 1888 (though to be accurate, he actually said it in German.) The saying caught on, as philosophers were the influencers of the 19th century because Instagram and TikTok had not yet been invented.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger in a sentence? ›

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. That's what the song says and that's what I really believe." This disappointment is going to hurt us, but as they say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." - Chris Coleman "It is tough, it hurts, but we will get over it. What do you know for sure?

What is Nietzsche's main point? ›

Nietzsche claimed the exemplary human being must craft his/her own identity through self-realization and do so without relying on anything transcending that life—such as God or a soul.

What is Nietzsche famous for saying? ›

What does not kill me makes me stronger.”

What makes you strong in life? ›

Take positive action.

Do hard things--and keep doing them even when you think you can't. You'll prove to yourself that you're stronger than you think. Establish healthy daily habits as well. Practice gratitude, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and eat a healthy diet so your brain and your body can be at their best.

What doesnt kill you makes you stronger unless it's a bear? ›

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Except bears, bears will kill you.

What doesn't kill me makes me stronger quotes? ›

“What does not kill me, makes me stronger” states the eighth aphorism of Götzen-Dämmerung by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. This quote endorses and feeds our Western culture, full of individualism and 'can-do, macho' mentality. Just do it!

What is Nietzsche trying to say in Beyond Good and Evil? ›

In his book, Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche's main argument is that morality—the system that we organize our world into to identify, name, and categorize all the possible actions we could do as either good or evil—is not only simply incorrect, but it, in fact, serves no useful purpose any longer in our world ...

What is Nietzsche's truth? ›

Truth is the kind of error without which a certain species could not live. The value. for life is ultimately decisive. [ 12, §493] For Nietzsche, to hold a claim to be true is to endorse it.

What did Nietzsche say on his deathbed? ›

For instance, Nietzsche writes in book III of Thus Spoke Zarathustra of how the animals deduced the recurrence of Zarathustra himself when they claim to know, before his death, the speech he would give on his deathbed: 'Now I die and vanish,' you would say, 'and in an instant I am a nothing.

Is it true that what doesnt kill you make you stronger? ›

The famous saying, “what doesn't kill you makes you stronger,” is so universally accepted that it is used in everyday conversations and popular songs. But a new study finds the truism is actually false. According to researchers, past stressful experiences do not create resilience to future trauma.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger essay? ›

In the face of adversity, it's easy to feel like giving up. But if you can push through the tough times, you'll come out stronger on the other side. Remember that you are in control of your own happiness and destiny. Don't let anyone or anything else take that away from you.

Who wrote what doesn't kill you makes you stronger? ›

Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)

What is Nietzsche most famous work? ›

Late Writings, 1883–88. Nietzsche composed his most famous work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, A Book for All and None from 1883–85. It is at once a manifesto of personal self-overcoming and a guide for others.

Why is Nietzsche so great? ›

Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher who became one of the most influential of all modern thinkers. His attempts to unmask the motives that underlie traditional Western religion, morality, and philosophy deeply affected generations of theologians, philosophers, psychologists, poets, novelists, and playwrights.

What did Nietzsche think about life? ›

The meaning of life comes from our choice not to be dictated to by society or religion. A meaningful life is one that strives for self-expression. There is no afterlife or God but only what we have in the here and now. Comfort is not important; only self-expression must be pursued.

What did Nietzsche think about death? ›

Nietzsche views death, not as a mere event or inevitable termination of life, but as a free act similar to other matters of choice. The passages below, from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, reflect this posture toward death.

What doesn t kill you makes you stronger paragraph writing? ›

Finally, I would like to say that “One who has a harder fall, stands up to be stronger than before”. This strength can not only be physically but also mentally with clear thinking and a zeal to do better in life, canceling out all the negativity around and only going forward picking up the positivity.

Does trauma make us stronger? ›

Trauma, obstacles and adversity are not only a fact of life, they're how people grow stronger. It's estimated that 90% of people who experience adversity also experience some form of personal growth in the following months and years.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger but bears will kill you? ›

Some German philosopher may think that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, but he never must have encountered a bear. A bear will kill you, and probably eat you if you don't taste so bad.

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