That which does not kill us can still hurt

The other day, I saw yet another article that conveyed the very common narrative that difficulties and hardships make us stronger and better people.

And I thought, as I generally do when I see that sort of thing: That doesn't match my experience.

It's true that I haven't faced a whole lot of real hardship in my life, so maybe it's just that my experience is too limited. But, to pick a couple of examples of difficult things: Growing up without much money didn't make me wiser. My mother's death when I was a kid didn't make me stronger. My father's murder left me more hesitant, more anxious, more insular. My colleague Sara's illness and death left me subject to random bouts of crying and a lot of stress. None of those things made me a better person. I'm sure it would be possible to come up with some kind of silver lining for some of those things (but please don't attempt that; that's not what this entry is about), but from my perspective, they were all bad things, and they didn't improve me in any significant way.

I don't mean this to take anything away from people who have found personal growth through struggle against difficulties. If you personally have learned valuable life lessons from setbacks, and have found that hardship has helped you become a better version of yourself, that's awesome; I applaud you. And if you draw strength during hard times from a hope that the experience will be good for you in the long run, that's great too. My experience is definitely not universal.

And we all construct narratives for our lives, and “I faced difficulty but I am a strong survivor and I made it through” is an excellent and empowering narrative. If you can apply that narrative to your own life (either from experience or as encouragement to get you through current difficulties), that's great; go for it.

But I think that it's occasionally worth being aware that that narrative doesn't always apply to everyone.

I like this piece by M. Molly Backes, along related lines: “My Cousin Is Not a Hero.” The most relevant paragraph from that:

Sometimes, a bunch of terrible things happen right in a row, and it’s just terrible. It doesn’t make for a good story. It doesn’t make you a better person. It just sucks.

(Wrote this in July 2014; delayed posting it for various reasons.)

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