What doesn’t kill you

New research suggests that we should stop saying “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” – Because it doesn’t!

I found some interesting research recently, based on the experiences of people in Chile and neighbouring countries who went through devastating earthquakes and a tsunami in 2010 (link to full article below).

In short, those people who had previously experienced four or more ‘stressors’ were at a much greater risk of developing a post-disaster mental health disorder compared to those who had experienced few or no prior stressors.

The researchers defined a ‘stressor’ as serious illness or injury, death of a loved one, divorce, unemployment or financial struggles, legal troubles or loss of a valuable possession.

In the world of people development, it’s very common to see that “What doesn’t kill you …” quote from Nietzsche used with the intention of boosting people’s confidence or resilience in the face of extreme difficulty. It’s the so-called “stress inoculation hypothesis”.

But some Nietzsche scholars believe that the German philosopher was actually poking fun at the kind of thinking which regards repeated adversity as a source of strength. It was common for Nietzsche to do this – say one thing, but mean another. It’s perhaps unfortunate that his pithy sayings are so quotable!

As usual, I wonder if the truth is somewhere in the middle:

  • It’s clear from the Chilean research that repeated exposure to stressful experiences makes you more vulnerable to negative impacts from extreme events – not stronger at all
  • But perhaps it’s possible that it does make you more empathetic towards others who have also experienced stressful times? In itself, this is a very useful success skill.

Similarly, a big cause of stress in life and at work is the gap between our expectations of how things somehow “should” be – and how they really, actually are:

  • In times of stress, that gap can seem huge (“My life and work should be successful/happy/fulfilling/safe – but it is actually not”);
  • Perhaps it’s also possible that exposure to stressful experiences gives us a kind of, if not inoculation, than maybe a kind of world-weary assumption that sh*t does occasionally happen – and maybe that helps a little?

Let me know what you’re noticing about the impact of stressful events on your own resilience please.

Either leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach.

What your view? is it true that 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger'? Or is it more nuanced than that? Click To Tweet

Click here to see the research article.

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