That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – Friedrich Nietzsche
It’s one of those well-worn ‘sayings’ that we use when times are tough. We offer it as comfort, as a gesture of compassion, and sometimes because we don’t know what else to say.
We say it instead of ‘Don’t worry’,
or ‘Stop being upset’,
or ‘I don’t know how to offer you comfort’
or ‘I’m sorry to hear you’re going through a rough time. I hope you come out of it okay.’
While the intentions are most often good, the uselessness of this phrase hangs in the air. You might nod at the sentiment, but it isn’t an agreement; it’s acknowledgement that the words are unhelpful, even though they were meant well.
We use it without honesty or truth, in such a way that it has become flippant and clichéd in the worst way – making it something you feel you’re ‘supposed’ to say, like ‘Good Morning’, or ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘Everything will be fine’.
But sometimes, it won’t be fine. Sometimes it’s not just a matter of fixing the leftover negative emotions from an argument with a friend earlier in the day, or from failing an important exam. Sometimes it hits us in the most vulnerable parts of us, the parts where the pain lasts longer than a day, or a week or a few months.
So, I am boycotting this phrase.
I’m dumping it in favour of more meaningful words that are my actual wish for you, whenever you are going through despair so rich in emotion that it is consuming your heart.
What doesn’t kill you…doesn’t kill you. But sometimes, things just suck. You might have lost your job, you might have lost a friend, you might have had someone in your life pass away, your relationship with your spouse or loved one might be broken. Life gets real with us, and it blows.
These experiences feel painful, intense, and are sometimes just way too much for our worn-out self to bear
They will also offer you opportunities to be better in ways that are deeply transformative.
The first time I realised this for myself was when I was experiencing a painful breakup with someone whom I still loved.
I heard a lot of clichés during that time. People didn’t know how to help, and they certainly had no idea what to say.
If you’ve ever transitioned through that awful, endless void of a space that can be the trauma of a break up, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. Maybe you know exactly what I’m talking about anyway, even if it was a different experience that dumped you there.
The pain of this loss, and the grief I felt, struck me hard and deep. I suddenly understood what it meant when people referred to it as something akin to an open wound. I was generating a sadness that penetrated everything that I did; my actions, my words, my perspective, my whole being were coloured with it. I was overflowing with the emotion so much that it leaked out of me. I could feel it happening, yet I couldn’t seem to stop it. Containing it was exhausting, too much for me to bear at times.
It became my new existence. Nothing had prepared me for it, and it seemed that nothing could change it. Not even my family, who are so connected with each other, could reach me.
As excruciating as it must have been for them, to standby and watch and wait for me to come out the other side, watch and wait was all they could do. They kept and eye on me and sustained my body while my heart and soul were elsewhere.
Gradually, I processed what I needed to and slowly I stopped drowning. The errant emotions were not so errant, and time was doing its thing, faithfully creating distance between my private tragedy and me.
I became aware that I was mentally and emotionally worn-out. I was well beyond exhaustion and I had become someone I just did not want to be.
I wanted to be someone who was determined, worked hard, embodied her own happiness, was fulfilled and sustained on her own, and who was not going to let the actions of others determine how her life turned out.
And I realised something: I had never been confronted with this before. I had never made an actual decision about how I wanted my life to turn out, and take decisive action to change it.
I had dreams and aspirations as everyone does, but never before had I slammed on the brakes and gotten out of the car as it hurtled down the main road of my life.
It was evening and I had been visiting at my parents place. I remember telling my mum I had had enough, and I was taking a different approach. I remember talking honestly and freely and optimistically about the future. I can also remember an incredible feeling of peace, clarity and insight that had come just from that moment alone. And there were to be many more like it before that experience was finished with me.
Let adversity make you better.
Be brave: open yourself up to the experience and let it move through you.
Allow yourself to feel EVERYTHING, no matter how confronting or intimidating this may be.
Let it challenge you, break down your walls, and let it expose your insecurities and your deepest desires.
Let it create in you a wealth of self-reliance, let it restore your intentions, and set you on a new path.
Let it teach you. Let it inspire you to seize your life with two hands and learning (or re-learning) what it means to be in charge of it. Adversity will offer you the greatest opportunities to grow into a person who is strong, capable and wiser than the person you were before.
Look for these opportunities, and know that they can help you discover more of yourself than you ever knew was there.
Be open to how it can change you.
And when you emerge out the other side, you will know you have done more than just survived. You will be filled with renewed potential, thankful for the days that are behind you, and re-energised for all the days that lie ahead.
photo credit: Frank Wuestefeld via photopin cc