Is it true that “what does not kill you makes your stronger”?
To a degree, yes.
Tough experiences do seem to make you tougher. People who had faced a moderate amount of adversity often coped better with problems than those who had a history of either serious problems or none at all:
Your parents were right: Hard experiences may indeed make you tough. Psychological scientists have found that, while going through many experiences like assault, hurricanes, and bereavement can be psychologically damaging, small amounts of trauma may help people develop resilience.
Indeed, a lot of solid psychology research shows that having miserable life experiences is bad for you. Serious events, like the death of a child or parent, a natural disaster, being physically attacked, experiencing sexual abuse, or being forcibly separated from your family, can cause psychological problems. In fact, some research has suggested that the best way to go through life is having nothing ever happen to you. But not only is that unrealistic, it’s not necessarily healthy, Seery says.
In one study, Seery and his colleagues found that people who experienced many traumatic life events were more distressed in general—but they also found that people who had experienced no negative life events had similar problems. The people with the best outcomes were those who had experienced some negative events. Another study found that people with chronic back pain were able to get around better if they had experienced some serious adversity, whereas people with either a lot of adversity or none at all were more impaired.
One possibility for this pattern is that people who have been through difficult experiences have had a chance to develop their ability to cope. “The idea is that negative life experiences can toughen people, making them better able to manage subsequent difficulties,” Seery says. In addition, people who get through bad events may have tested out their social network, learning how to get help when they need it.
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