Friday, June 5, 2015

Whatever Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger- really?

God, save me from ministry- by- slogan
Even if these words of Nietzsche function as an encouragement for some, their actual truth is debatable. Too, the phrase is not necessarily helpful to anyone who does not gain strength from trauma.  

Because trauma is stored in the body's memory, the "limbic loop," one does not just "get over it." Repeated head trauma does not make the brain stronger but rather, it can severely and permanently disable it with certain dementias.
Hyper- vigilance can be a lingering effect of surviving traumatic events. Hyper- vigilance places the body in default fight or flight mode. Hans Selye, the endocrinologist who pioneered the physiological basis of the stress response, concluded that stress hormones do not strengthen the body but weaken it. With the body on regular high alert, panic attacks break through- seemingly out of nowhere.   
There's a thoughtful post in support of this quote, suggesting that, while Post Traumatic Growth is possible, it is not automatic. We have to choose to engage practices in order to heal. Even then, there is not one practice that works for everyone with the same results. Anything can make us stronger, but only if we let it.

Malcom Gladwell, in David and Goliath, discusses the impact of the many near misses during the London Blitzkrieg of W.W. II. For Londoners who began to realize that their chances of surviving the next bombing were actually good, the repeated bombings had the opposite effect of empowering, rather than weakening, the resolve of the surviving population.

Nietzsche wasn't a medical professional, therapist, or spiritual counselor, but rather a philosopher and son of a Lutheran clergyman. I would seriously question using these words anecdotally or as a substitute for the hard work of recovery. We do well to remember that recovery from trauma is not a given, nor is it easy. And it certainly does not come from the slogans gleaned from dead philosophers. 


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