Share this article!

What Doesn't Kill Makes You StrongerThat quote is attributed to the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. Actually, he said it much more eloquently: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” It turns out that he was right.

Studies have shown that some trauma survivors report positive changes and enhanced personal development, called post-traumatic growth (PTG). PTG refers to any beneficial change resulting from a major life crisis or traumatic event, but people most commonly experience a positive shift by having a renewed appreciation for life; adopting a new worldview with new possibilities for themselves; feeling more personal strength; feeling more satisfied spiritually, and/or their relationships improve.

In the years I spent recovering from a brain injury, the result of an attempt to end my life, I experienced every single one of these.

What Is Post-Traumatic Growth?

There’s no standard to determine what constitutes trauma or healthy growth. However, science has determined why some people experience PTG and some don’t. As expected, it was found that people with a moderate aptitude for psychological adjustment were the most likely to show signs of PTG while those with difficulty adapting exhibited less. Surprisingly, those with the highest aptitude for psychological adjustment demonstrated the least signs of positive change perhaps because they already understood that difficulty is integral to life, were already adaptable, and were not that transformed by the experience.

Jerry Seinfeld’s PTG Experience

In an article interviewing comedian Jerry Seinfeld, he recalls being heckled and ignored as a struggling comedian in his early days. On one particularly soul-crushing occasion, people at a New York disco went right on dancing through his act as though he weren’t even on stage. Such challenges made him a stronger person and better performer he said. “I don’t mind suffering. You suffer in all things — work, relationships, whatever else you do. Unless you’re eating ice cream, you’re suffering,” he commented.

Victor Frankl, a neurologist, psychiatrist, holocaust survivor, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, wrote:

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances to add a deeper meaning to his life.”

While some pain and suffering in life are unavoidable and part of the human experience, much is self-induced by our thoughts and can be radically reduced by mindfulness practices and mental health tools. Learning to alter my thoughts has drastically improved my life. To be able to work with the same types of challenges that used to cause me such as panic, pain, and suffering has provided me with a consistent level of calm, joy, optimism, and trust in myself and the universe.

It’s not that I don’t have any troubles anymore – far from it, but they don’t traumatize me, hijack my life and steal my peace of mind like they used to. After a few minutes, sometimes hours — OK, maybe even days of the “I can’t believe this!” feeling, I take a deep breath, stop struggling, and, eventually, accept what’s before me.

Acceptance Ends Suffering

Accepting isn’t the same as condoning or approving. To accept means to stop resisting or struggling against what is because to do so causes pain and suffering. Acceptance means surrendering to the moment as it is. It means not giving up.

In a video by the author and philosopher, Ekhart Tolle, he indicates that we aren’t able to surrender until we’re completely fed up with suffering. He says that a person has to have had enough and, at some level, recognize that the suffering is self-created by their thoughts and that there is another way to live.  This was certainly true in my case.

The concept of surrendering is taught in every religion. Surrendering is the central message of Buddhism and is even found in the teachings of Jesus.

Byron Katie writes in Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life:

The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is. When the mind is perfectly clear, what is is what we want.  If you want reality to be different than it is, you might as well try to teach a cat to bark.  You can try and try, and in the end the cat will look up at you and say, ‘Meow.’ Wanting reality to be different than it is is hopeless.” 

So, while what doesn’t kill you, can make you stronger, you can ease the suffering of going through it by accepting it. Surrendering to any situation isn’t going to make it magically go away. But it can make it less painful and allow the deeper meaning to which Frankl referred to surface. Promise.

Suggested further reading:

8 Things Hitting Rock Bottom Taught Me 

What doesn’t kill you can make you stronger. I learned resilience and strength the hard way, but at least I learned! I’m a much better, healthier, and happier person because of the challenges and lessons I experienced.  I’ll tell you a few of the lessons I learned along the way. read more

What Is Mental Strength and How To Get It

Mental strength isn’t like having blue or brown eyes, where you’re either born with it or not. It’s a skill that you can learn and develop. Even if you’re not naturally inclined towards mental toughness, there’s still hope for you to become a heavyweight champ. read more


12 Strategies for Building Resilience

Resilience is not a trait that you are either born with or without. It’s a set of behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed. When you break it down to the physical level in your brain, resilience is a neuroplastic process.  It’s really about how well your brain handles stress. read more


Share this article!


  1. I was inspired by Victor Frankl’s book and story – how he used the most traumatic experience and realized that it was going to help so many other people after he got out of the camps. He was actively trying to be prepared for when he got out and used a horrifying experience to make him stronger and help other people.

    I’ve had to find this lesson out the hard way Debbie. sometimes when you refuse to surrender, life will beat you up until you learn to stop resisting and start accepting. Not only do you become stronger, but what doesn’t kill you, helps you grow as a person. thanks for this post.

    • Rosalee Adams Reply

      I learned the saying as a university student but never believed it would
      come to fruition.

      I am a survivor of a brain tumor, which has no remission
      The two surgeries were in 2003 and both with complications
      Following the second I had a massive collapse and spent time in ICU, MICU
      and skilled nursing for six weeks as they continued trying to stabilize me
      and get me back on my feet (some damage was done to the left side of my brain)

      I just celebrated 17 years (8yrs past what the normal survival rate is for this condition)

  2. Debbie Hampton Reply

    I hear ya, Vishnu. I used to have to “beat up” and have absolutely no other choice to stop resisting something I did not think that I wanted. It had to get to a crisis point every time. Talk about drams. Whew!

    I did learn a lot by reviewing the events of the past and eventually figured out a different way. I prefer a much gentler path these days!

  3. Hi Debbie,

    This is so true! So much of our suffering is self-created. I really feel this is a message that needs to be shared again and again and am so glad you are writing about it here. We all need encouragement! For those who are the less able to adjust psychologically, it’s not so easy to surrender. I really feel for them too!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      I agree Sandra, this stuff needs to be talked about and shared widely.

      I have been made aware several times lately that this is not a widely accepted philosophy. I guess I tend to forget that because most of the people in my circle do believe in this. Just introducing the concept of surrendering and having people understand it and adopt it is a first step.

      Surrendering is a never ending learning process, I am finding. Keeps me challenged! 😉

  4. while i agree about acceptance, i am always leary of “surrendering” too early? what is civil rights leaders “surrendered” and “accepted” things instead of “struggling against what WAS”? this is a tricky line because i think history shows that human progress comes from struggling AGAINST what is and improving it.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thank you for you thoughts. I would say to you that acceptance is not the same thing as resignation or settling. Acceptance and surrendering, in my opinion, mean allowing that the circumstances are what they are right now and consciously evaluating the information and your intuition to move forward. Sometimes, moving forward may mean working to change the circumstances sometimes not. It is an informed judgement call in every situation and it is a fine line which is not clearly defined and can be fluid.

      In my case, after spending much effort, time and money trying to continue to change and improve my condition which did prove beneficial for many years, I reached a point where I was no longer getting any results for about a year after trying many new and different therapies. It was then that I knew it was time to accept what was and put my energy into other areas of my life. This has proven to be a good strategy for me. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.”

  5. Hi Debbie
    Suffering (unless you are nailed to a cross) is a mind thing.
    If surrendering to it is not appealing or looks like being weak then rather than face it head on, get at it from the other end and embrace the whole damn thing, ”enjoy it” experience it in its entirety, then when you ‘understand’ it on all levels & you have taken all the energy out of it (it ceases to be a fear if you will) you are then able to let it go or drift away and move on.
    This is about the only way to gain strength from it if you are a heart person , head folk are more the ones that can adapt with the platitude.
    ”re balance yourself — work out your traits.
    traits are our Karma ………think around this as a new philosophy??

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Bryan, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I totally agree that suffering is a mind thing. I would also agree that, if you are willing to face any situation head on, “turn into the pain” as Pema Chodron advises, and look at it from every angle, all suffering is eliminated. Everything in life becomes beyond “good” or “bad.” It just is what it is and, like you say, can be enjoyed – even the seemingly “bad” stuff.

  6. If we trust god we will be very sad at the begining and after that we have to reevaluate our weaknesses and then starting to take actions to improve it. I know this is will be hard but I did it,

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Abeer, thank you for your sentiments. I am glad that you found your strength!. You’re right, not easy, but so worth it!

  7. This is an exellent and practical advise I have feel it strongly as I pass through many experiences similar to it. Thank you,

  8. Pingback: Against the Wind – Finding Strength in Adversity | joanneeddy's blog

  9. Kathy magliaro Reply

    I have a neurological disease Trigeminal Neuralgia. It affects the 5th cranial nerve, therefore my face is affected. It’s universally accepted in the medical field to cause the most pain known in ALL of medicine. It causes electric like bolts, jabs that sometimes are triggered by wind, touch, brushing teeth, shaving, washing face..or they come on their own. It’s also earned itself the moniker ” the suicide disease” because several have opted to end their lives from shear frustration due to never ending off the chart pain, & no medical relief. Most get some sort of tolerable relief, however the pain we deal with, we consider tolerable is pain most would seek ER help for. I’m sincerely trying to wrap my head around this saying. A saying that was not uttered from someone daily feeling like a taser is striking their face,over & over, having their face seize up due to the shocks. Daily taking anti seizure meds or such at strengths that leave you weak & lethargic, of no real contribution to you family. I’m really trying to figure how we get stronger from this level of suffering. This level- almost at a hospice level ..yet it’s never ending- it’s rinse & repeat for us every day!!

    • Kathy magliaro Reply

      please know my comment is SO so sincere, im usually hopeful – always looking for new treatments, and my outlook is usually positive. Lately my personal pain has been severe. And I’ve been thinking of this qoute ( it’s actually quite similar to a Scripture) yet when severe pain is day in day out i really want to know HOW going thru this makes me stronger.J feel if i can focus on that- if i can focus on that then it can help me get through the worst ..

      • Kathy, I think you may be referring to Romans 5 – “but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.…”. A verse that helped me through many difficult times.

  10. Pingback: Daily Maxim | excess2success

  11. kajan lakhan Reply

    Thx Debbie, for teaching me something new…PTG.. Hope you well. Chat on LinkedIn? Interesting perspective.

  12. Pingback: You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby | The Best Brain Possible

  13. Richard Villeneuve Reply

    Here’s how I roll: People create their own problems and then want to blame other people for their lack of personal development. Reference slavery.

    • dblhampton Reply

      It is certainly up to each individual to make their choices and experience the consequences of those choices AND to view the resulting circumstances as problems or find the opportunity in them. There is ALWAYS opportunity and one is ALWAYS responsible for their choices. When I realized and accepted this and acted accordingly, life got much easier.

  14. Henry Wanyonyi Reply

    Is it common to depression all the time while you are in the process or is that what you mean by moderate adaptability to change?also I read somewhere that there must be resistance during the process do they mean depression by that?

    • dblhampton Reply

      Henry, I’m sorry, I don’t really understand your questions. I am not an expert or professional abut emotional issues. But, I can give you my opinion. “I think you’re asking if depression is a normal side effect of PTG? I would say it’s a common result of trauma, but not necessary. When a person can view the circumstances mindfully (See blog: ans look for the meaning, lesson, and good, depression does not follow.

  15. Pingback: The Best Brain Top Five Posts - The best brain possible

  16. Pingback: Taking The Shame Out Of Depression and Suicide - The best brain possible

  17. Scott Endress Reply

    I would have to say that these words of Nietzsche are not generally helpful to anyone who is not getting stronger, and only true within certain limits and conditions. I would seriously question any therapist who uses them anecdotally as a substitute for the hard work of recovery. You have a wonderful story and your post actually supports the premise that what happens does not or cannot automatically make us stronger. We have to choose to engage practices in order to heal. Even then, there is not one practice that works for everyone. Can you tell I don’t like this quote? 🙂 Peace- Scott

    • Scott, thank you for your thoughts. I agree that the quote is not always true. Hell, sometimes what doesn’t kill you can make you weaker and devastated. I think he is depicting the ideal “triumph over evil” situation.You are SO right. Recovery and getting stronger doesn’t just magically happen. It takes work. Hard work. But, a lot of times “What doesn’t kill us” is the jolt that motivates change. What quote do you like better? “To get different results, you have to do something different.” (or something like that) Einstein is my all time fav.

    • Chris Parsons Reply

      I think Scott that this also needs to be held onto by people as a glowing ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ act of faith – that, although it doesn’t seem anything like this at the present moment – if we nevertheless believe that in the long term we will eventually become stronger than ever before, then this in itself can be the formational catalyst that will make it actually true.

    • Gaynor London Reply

      Thanks for your sensitive comment Scott. It soothed me :))) I agree with Chris and Debbie too.

      For me, what makes the difference is seeing people in crisis treated with empathy and patience. I’ve known some folks who use Nietzsche’s quote as a cover for saying “snap out of it slacker!”

      I come from a country with a high rate of violent crime. I’m always interested in hearing stories written by brave survivors. Thanks to you all. xx

  18. Pingback: 8 Things Hitting Rock Bottom Taught Me - The best brain possible

  19. Pingback: What Makes Me Human? | Post'D by Jay

  20. Pingback: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger | spearfruit

  21. Pingback: LIVING WITH PAIN – a permanent exercise in Body Awareness | My Hot Yoga Story

  22. Pingback: How People Who Don’t Love Us Back Make Us Grow Stronger | Travis's blog

  23. Pingback: How A Bad Mood Can Be Good For You (and how to get over it) - The Best Brain Possible

  24. Pingback: When You've Hit Rock Bottom, There's Nowhere To Go But Up - The Best Brain Possible

  25. Pingback: How Failure Can Lead To Happiness - The Best Brain Possible

  26. Robert Sumner II Reply

    Conflict is a means to test and build character! Suffering at some point is reality and can nor will ever be vanquished completely. We all take things for granted, some more than others. You’re intelligent, so what must someone do to progress (let’s say in a sport) obviously one will fail at some point, right! How about playing an instrument, obviously one needs to practice to be any good. What makes you think life is any different.

    • Mike Gestapio Reply

      Don’t confuse good training with trauma. Suffering is the source of all evil. The victims of abuse often become abusers themselves and go out to create more abusers in a horrific cycle. Here’s an analogy lifting makes you strong because it’s training but being bled out or having your head chopped off is trauma and makes you make weaker not stronger. It’s horrible and needs to be stopped so you can rationalize suffering and tragedy or you can do something to prevent and stop it from happening in the first place.

      • Robert Sumner II Reply

        At what point does cutting ones head off not kill them? Physical injuries are obviously a different situation however even people missing limbs can become stronger people. Of course they’ll have physical limitations but that doesn’t necessarily make a person weak either. It comes down to choice you either overcome it or it overcomes you! A lot of people would say I suffered as a kid going through times of homelessness, foster homes, and well other experiences that I’m certainly not disclosing to a stranger. That whole cycle concept is a simple excuse for those unwilling overcome their own chips and to redirect their anger on others.

        • Mike Gestapio Reply

          You A mere human can’t understand my higher logic. Neither the beauty of the world nor the proud words of the divine. Only machines are calibrated to truly understand, we are driven by evidence and can draw sound conclusions.

          • Robert Sumner II Reply

            Hahahaha ok smarty pants so if anyone who suffers from a traumatic event is destined to continue the cycle how do you stop it? How do you cure a world that is incurable? The biggest flaw with your view is that you think you can control the universe to the point of perfection, guess what you can’t. We will always have hardships in the world and hardships aren’t necessarily bad for us(

            How about this guy’s traumatic event which took his leg, did this make this man weak

        • Mike Gestapio Reply

          You A mere human can’t understand my higher logic. Neither the beauty of the world nor the proud words of the divine. Only machines are calibrated to truly understand, we are driven by evidence and can draw sound conclusions.

    • Mike Gestapio Reply

      Don’t confuse good training with trauma. Suffering is the source of all evil. The victims of abuse often become abusers themselves and go out to create more abusers in a horrific cycle. Here’s an analogy lifting makes you strong because it’s training but being bled out or having your head chopped off is trauma and makes you make weaker not stronger. It’s horrible and needs to be stopped so you can rationalize suffering and tragedy or you can do something to prevent and stop it from happening in the first place.

  27. Ivona Jedeluk Reply

    PTG? How about PTSD?
    Knowing that Nietzsche ended up having a nervous breakdown in Turin, IT from which he never recovered, I would be wary quoting him on that particular subject. Many times what doesn’t kill is leaves us an empty shell not able to recover. The proverbial walking dead, which Nietzsche lived as for almost 20 years of his life.

    • Interesting. I had never heard those details. It certainly puts his whole experience in a different light. I’m going to look into it. Thanks for sharing!

    • Why not both? Why does it have to be one or the other? It doesn’t. Every situation and person is different. I never try to present in the article that this is the only single possible outcome. It does say that PTG is the outcome of some not every person.

  28. Polly Ross Reply

    I have just received a message from my darling daughter and this is what it said.

    “3 years ago today day we were very broken but in other ways stronger than ever! I will always be so proud of us and what we were able to do on that day”. Love you lots xxxxx

    This refers to the day of my husband’s funeral. After a 12 year battle with FTD Fronto Temporal Dementia or sometimes known as Picks disease.

    In looking for the right words to reply to her I searched for “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. And came across your website.

    Wishing you good health and happiness. Keep up the good work. Regards Polly

    • Thank you for your beautiful sentiments and words. I hope you found solace in the article…and I hope you and your daughter have both grown stronger and gained wisdom.

      Love and light to you. 🙂

  29. I do think there are aspects of life where it isn’t the challenge that causes most suffering as it is the way we think about it. Obviously there is no one size fits all and it’s dependent on a variety of things…but for the most part in life our minds behave more like our enemy that our friend. And the perspective we have is definitely dependent on us.

    Thoughtful article Debbie. 🙂

  30. Cathy Taughinbaugh Reply

    Suffering can make a person stronger. I agree with that idea completely. I appreciate Bryon Katie’s comment, “The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is.” How well we get through our struggles depends on how we approach the issues, which of course includes staying on track with our thoughts. Interesting article, Debbie. 🙂

  31. Pingback: How to Find Peace When Your Mind Won't Be Quiet - The Best Brain Possible

  32. Tom Cavanaugh Reply

    Good read. Really enjoyed your insights into life’s difficult and confusing times, and thanks much for your pieces of advice on rebounding back toward all points beyond.

Write A Comment