What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger - 4 Ways to Build Resilience

By Reniel


Last Updated: September 23, 2021

The phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, which is now cliché, was a saying used by a German philosopher and originally read,

Out of life’s school of war – what does not kill me makes me stronger. - Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idol, 1888

Ever since then, the phrase has been morphed and used to explain the unexpected growth of people, ideas, and things from chaos.

In fact, one famous work of our modern times – Antifragile – Things That Gain From Disorder, by Nassim Taleb – was an elaborate expansion on this.

As much as this saying has philosophical origins, and now sounds cliché, the truth it holds is quite sturdy – in almost all areas of life.

For example:

  • If a plane crash occurs, engineers learn from the incident to build better planes.
  • If we work out, our muscles get stressed (and sore), but then they grow thicker and stronger by healing.
  • When we come up with an idea, and someone pokes holes at it (tearing it down), it enables us to refine it, or think about better ideas, hence making us wiser.


We All Suffer With Hard Moments

Consequently, this is also true about our pains and traumas. When we go through hard moments in our lives, we are shaken to the core of our beings. But that also affords us the opportunity to grow from our pains and become stronger. 

In life we get to experience a lot of pain: sometimes it is as trivial as losing a pen, which causes us to be more cautious. Other times it could be more serious like losing a job, which pushes us to start our dream business or get a better job.

Other times it could be traumatizing, like losing a loved one. Even though seems to be devastating, it can end up encouraging us to value those alive – to be kinder, call and visit more often, and even make sacrifices. It ultimately gives us perspective and makes us live better lives.

Read this next: 17 Signs You Are Stronger Than You Give Yourself Credit For 


4 Ways To Become Stronger

It almost seems as though suffering or expiring a traumatic event was the key to a better life; but it isn’t. In fact, a traumatic event can actually be devastating. As much as the quote points out that “if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger”, it is wise to realize that, “it can kill you”. That is why it is better to learn vicariously (through the pains of others) as much as possible.

That aside; it is not necessarily surviving a pain that makes you stronger, but growing from it that makes you stronger.

  • If you lost your job and gave up on pursuing your career, you won’t become stronger.
  • What if your heart was broken, and you vowed never to love again, you won’t become stronger.
  • If your ideas were challenged, and you got angry and gave up entirely at the idea, you didn’t become stronger.

Hence, to become stronger you must:

1. Separate Blame From The Pain

When things happen, especially if they are “bad”, our knee-jerk response is usually to blame somebody for it.

  • This could be blaming ourselves for a soul-crushing breakup or blaming the other person.
  • It could be blaming the doctor for not saving the lives of someone we love.
  • Or blaming our family for not giving us the kind of life we think that we deserve.

But the reality is that things happen, and sometimes they are beyond your control or that of others. Sometimes, painful things happen that aren’t the fault of anyone, and that is why you must strive to process, and understand what happened.

2. Understand The Pain

For instance, death is a universal constant. When people grow old, they die. Death is not something that a doctor can always wrestle and defeat (at least, not with the current level of technology we have). That is why it is important to accept our pains for what they are – i.e. part of life. Maybe the breakup occurred because you weren’t well-matched for each other, or maybe the timing wasn’t just right. Maybe the company really needed to fire some workers to avoid going underwater. It is very important to zoom out – leave our heads – and look at things objectively, then ask, “where” did things go wrong?

3. Learn From The Pain

And even if it appears that you or someone else might have caused it; you must remind yourself that if you knew better, you might have avoided it. If you knew better, you wouldn’t have gotten into a terrible relationship. And because you know better – because you knew you didn’t have all the information, and that they too might have some issues that they are dealing with, you can then move on, keeping the lessons abreast. 

4. Use The Lessons

Pain is a traveling professor and it goes and knocks on everyone’s door. The smartest people I know are the people who say, come in and don't leave until you have taught me what I need to know. - Glennon Doyle Melton

It is not enough to experience, understand, and learn from the pain. You must implement the lessons learned, or else it would keep coming back in different forms.

This is why smokers who have heard of and seen countless cases of people dying from lung cancer. They know very well that “smokers are liable to die young,” still smoke. It is not enough to know.

This is why some people seem to go from one terrible relationship to the next. From one dead-end job to the next. From one health condition to the next. They never learn. But you and I know better.

To become stronger, we must learn to not just accept, understand, and learn from the things that try to kill us. We must learn to use the lessons in bettering our lives. 

So, when next you face a challenge, pain, or setback, remind yourself, “I can grow from this, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger...as long as I grow from it”.

Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash


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