That Which Does Not Kill Me, Can Still Do Harm

fredMost of us have likely ruminated over Nietzsche’s maxim, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

The insight holds much merit. But I believe it to be inherently flawed.

It is true for example that trauma survivors have reported positive changes and enhanced personal development. This phenomenon has even been named: Post Traumatic Growth (PTG).

I have been fortunate to reap benefits myself of some positive behaviors and personality traits from bad experience. But cannot say I’ve seen others routinely advantaged by their traumas; quite the contrary.

So, let’s consider an Example (*) of Trauma:

Son cannot swim, Father wants him to learn. Boy is thrown into deep water to struggle and survive without assistance.

Disturbingly, this has been a literal and metaphorical event many times.

Now if the boy doesn’t sink, he may be stronger as a survivor and embrace a broad philosophy and fearlessness of diving-into new things.

In practice, many may learn to swim this way, yet still experience a life-long discomfort around bodies of water and lose trust for the person who threw them in. This psychological trauma could be both profound and enduring.

And correspondingly, the child that swam, seemingly survived and thrived may develop unhealthy tendencies resulting from their experience. Perhaps they will evolve to recklessly dive-into new situations without sufficient thought?

After all, an individual’s profound strength in any area is often accompanied by its corresponding weakness, as a flaw. Great strengths are also often our weaknesses.

As a Metaphor, this Example (*) provides many potent insights.

It is accepted that Adaptable Individuals can grow from traumatic events. Less intuitively it’s found that highly adaptable people do not grow as much; affects are less profound, likely because they already evolve well and learn from experience.

But not everyone is very adaptable.

And not all significant events appear obviously traumatic; the difference is in the eye of the experiencer.

In practice, our personalities and psyche are molded by experience. We are the result of our genes, culture, environment and experiences.

From birth, we are bombarded with events and our environment.

There are both philosophical beliefs and (even) religious doctrines that argue our Acceptance of trauma through and passed suffering is what moves us forward to Personal Growth.

In reality, we do not all move forward positively, building upon and benefitting from exposure(s) to traumatic events.

I would wager every person on the planet is morphed or inhibited in some adverse fashion as a direct result of negative experience.

Life brings challenges to us all

We routinely see or hear of Abuse (mental and physical), Cultural Pressures, Neglect and more.

Divorce, Bullying, Prejudice, Molestation, Crime, Violence and even War are commonly visible in most societies. If we are not directly involved we are exposed to such occurrences.

Events such as these are not water off our backs. They are formative and influential. They sculpt our personalities, opinions and psyches.

As a result, everyone carries baggage from one experience or more.

Many of us are indeed highly adaptable humans; we do learn and become stronger. But it is improbable all people are sufficiently able to adapt and be unaffected by every event in their past.

It is possible for those more suited (or, fit) to recognize detrimental impressions made upon them and act to often mitigate many harms. But its improbable anyone can extract from their buried memories every single formative barb that subtracts from their complete well-being.

Certainly, there is always outside counsel (be it personal, friendly and/or professional) available to address serious concerns about feelings or behavior. Need help? Then seek it out.

Do you really understand your reactions to all events and encounters? Are there comments circulating wondering why you behave or react in some manner? Are there undigested occurrences in your background?

Closely consider your past and current reactions. There will be definitive events that predict your strengths and weaknesses. Give them sufficient thought and when armed with greater insight, direct your own personal growth.

Ian R. Mackintosh is the author of Empower Your Inner Manager Twitter@ianrmackintosh


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