Friends/women in deep conversation.

“What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger” – Or Not?

When you have gone through some very challenging experiences, has anyone ever said to you, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?”  Do you recall how that made you feel? You may appreciate that the intention was to affirm and encourage you. Yet in hearing that, many people could feel their pain and challenges should not make them feel any of a myriad of feelings they have experienced because of the pain they went through.

According to Dictionary.com, the aphorism, What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” was originally stated in the 19th century by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It has been translated into English and quoted in several variations, but is generally used as an affirmation of resilience.

Is it possible that saying this to someone negates the possibility they can be deeply hurt, wounded, devastated, scared, overwhelmed, helpless, fearful, and made to feel there is something wrong with them because they aren’t feeling stronger?

When someone shares a struggle, this often is a time when they might feel defeated, inadequate, vulnerable, and less able to fight for themselves. If it is suggested they should feel stronger then they could think, there must be something wrong with them, with added difficult sentiments of being wrong because of the feelings they are experiencing.

As a caring family member, friend, or colleague, what can we say instead when someone has gone through something painful or highly challenging?

The most helpful responses are ones that acknowledge the potential feelings of pain, inadequacy, and fear. A person can put words to the possible feelings someone is having by saying something like, “It sounds like you just went through something extremely stressful. When people have those kinds of experiences it can make them feel….”  By giving words to what they might be feeling and acknowledging that there is nothing wrong with them, you normalize their feelings and often bring them relief.

If appropriate, you can go on to offer your support in processing what happened by saying something like, “If you would like, tell me more about your story. What was going on, who said or did what, how did each step of it made you feel?” There’s something very powerful, comforting, and relieving when we are invited to share the story of an experience, especially one that was difficult.

It’s so satisfying when we contribute to helping others as they experience those inevitable struggles that life throws at all of us. How much better an affirmation is it when we honor someone’s struggles and painful feelings?

After all, isn’t it what we all wish would happen to us when we face painful, overwhelming, or highly challenging experiences?

Invitation for Reflection

  1. What memories popped up for you as you considered the information and suggestions in this blog? Did you realize that sometimes just because someone is well-intentioned doesn’t mean that their impact can’t be hurtful?
  2. As a result of gaining this information, are there things you might change the next time someone shares with you that they have gone through something very difficult or painful?
  3. How do you think that might impact that person? How might it impact your relationship?

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