“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” – have you heard that saying? Quite frankly, I think it’s garbage. It may have been well-intentioned. But I think it’s untrue. And I think it’s dangerous.
Let’s break it down together.
First – something that “doesn’t kill” us. So in other words, that covers the gamut of very difficult circumstances, grief, loss and trauma.
Let me say that there is NO part of me that believes that trauma makes anyone stronger, SIMPLY because you’ve experienced it. It doesn’t. It just traumatizes you.
Neurologically speaking, going through very difficult circumstances can result in your brain creating new patterns for the sole purpose of helping you survive/not die in that moment. BUT that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy pattern.
There is a major gap between surviving and living. Major.
Next let’s think about the “makes you stronger” part.
And let’s be clear – I am not saying you can’t be strong if you’ve been traumatized – that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying that the colloquialism of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is suggesting that simply by not dying after going through something (like a trauma), that you’re automatically stronger. But trauma does not inherently just make you stronger.
It can make you rigid.
Rigid is NOT the same thing is strength. Rigid has no flex. It’s why tall buildings are built like trees – with flex. So they can withstand whatever comes their way. And beyond the usefulness of flex, think of how powerful you are if you can be gentle and behave gently while you’re simultaneously strong as hell?
Being rigid means that you can be shattered. Or that you’re so rigid that you can never let ANYTHING through (including good things like happiness, peace, earned trust, etc). That’s not strength.
Rigidity is a problem because it only works in some circumstances. But real strength means you have the ability to take on whatever comes your way. Lots of very different things can come your way.
So that’s why I think that saying isn’t true. And why doing healing work and seeking professional assistance to help you process grief and trauma is so important.
So here’s to being strong – fiercely and gently.