“What does not kill you makes you stronger” – how to strengthen resilience?

“What does not kill you makes you stronger” – how to strengthen resilience?

If there is a phrase that our loved ones keep repeating when nothing is right, it is “what does not kill you makes you stronger”. To what we usually answer “easy to say!” Yet, nothing is as true as this popular saying, because a failure, an injury or a moment of doubt are all opportunities to take a fresh start, and strengthen our resilience.

Originally, this proverb comes from Nietzsche. When the philosopher wrote “everything that does not kill me makes me stronger,” in the Twilight of Idols (1888), he was referring to the physical pain he suffered all his life. Because Nietzsche never stopped suffering, he never experienced the happiness that comes from the sun after the rain. This sentence is rather a reference to the learning process that comes with pain which is “the test of meaning that makes us stronger, because it sometimes gives the talent to love life, despite the promise of failure.”

A positive mantra

The phrase was taken out of context to become a very optimistic popular saying. “What does not kill you makes you stronger” now refers to the toughening up after an ordeal, to that reinforcement of determination after a hard blow, in another words, to the resilience of which we are capable in troubled times.

The concept of resilience comes from physics, where it refers to “the ability of an object to regain its original state after a shock or continuous pressure”. In psychology, resilience is that instinct of survival that makes one accept an ordeal wisely, adapting to live with an injury, or even retain a lesson. An ability to move forward in spite of adversity, to rebound, as suggested by its Latin etymology (resilire: rebound).

These two approaches of “what does not kill you makes you stronger”, that of Nietzsche where pain is a learning opportunity, and the more contemporary interpretation that echoes with resilience, interest us both one as much as the other when looking into the problematic of personal development.

When researchers look into resilience

Psychology researcher Mark Seery has taken interest in the concept of resilience. At the University of Buffalo in the United States, he sought to verify that “what does not kill us makes us stronger”. More specifically, he wondered what factors led to resilience or on the contrary to vulnerability when we face difficult times. Among these factors, he measured the impact of self-esteem, experiences lived and social relationships on the capacity of resilience of nearly 2,400 people.

As a result, the statement goes for people who have experienced some difficult episodes in their lives. These negative experiences would promote adaptability and resilience in the long run, and thus mental health and well-being.

Although it is not true for those who have gone through various difficulties, this group is naturally more subject to a suffering that persists: global dissatisfaction, functional disorders or post-traumatic stress.

Resilience to overcome injuries and failures

Failure, conflicts, unexpected changes or breakup are not pleasant. When nothing is going right and everything seems to overwhelm us, what’s more obvious than feeling overwhelmed by negative emotions? The desire to give up is never far away and a feeling of depression settles in. It takes more or less time to overcome suffering, anger, disappointment, sadness, depending on the resilience of each individual. With some people, as the ordeals go on, resilience only gets stronger, but that is not the case for everybody.

How to improve your resilience to move towards more perseverance?

It also happens that we do not reach said resilience that would allow us to overcome events to move on more serenely. Suffering then becomes problematic because it persists, it permanently sets up its bitter taste. We end up succumbing to failure and plunge into a spiral of negativity that will alter self-confidence, relationships to others and the ability to embark on new personal or professional adventures. An awareness of this latent suffering will allow to take action before total discouragement.

In order not to internalize this suffering, start by allowing yourself to be angry with those who have wronged you. Expressing disappointment to someone who has hurt you or a loved one helps to relieve some of the pain. Then try to forgive as quickly as possible so that you do not carry the bitterness any longer and move on. Remember that people who take pleasure in hurting others are suffering beings, themselves wounded, and therefore deserve your forgiveness.

Redefining failure is a first step towards resilience. What is failure if not a simple unsuccessful attempt? Not to be undermined by failure is the key to perseverance that leads to great success. Failure hence is a gift. Analyze it carefully, it is rich in lessons!

This step of redefining helps to see the positive in each failure. At least in what you consider as failure, because with a little hindsight, you could put into perspective -try for example to project yourself in 10 years and look back: is it so serious? This trick also enables you to perceive what said failure puts on your path to success: life lessons, experience, learning experiences, time saving… yet most importantly, it helps to distance yourself from the event: your failure does not define you, unless you allow it to…

Finally, fully accept your failures, these gifts, celebrate them! They are part of your path and are only the steps of the ladder of success.

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