One morning in January, 1968, my father was driving to work when another driver zoomed through a stop sign and t-boned his car, killing him instantly. As a consequence, my seven brothers and sisters were left without a father. I had already graduated from West Point and was a lieutenant assigned to a missile unit in Germany. At that point in my life, I didn't need fathering anymore. But my younger siblings did.
My mother was left without her husband and was facing the extreme challenge of raising these children on her own. She had enough love to follow through the best she could, but she never got over the trauma of losing her mate. Even though in the best case scenario she would have moved on, she never put it behind her and she never remarried.
In her case, the tragedy didn't kill her. But it didn't make her stronger, either. She was emotionally weakened by it for the rest of her life.
I was thinking about this when I happened upon this pop tune by Kelly Clarkson. When pop music is at its best, it sounds like this:
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, stronger
Just me, myself and I.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger,
Stand a little taller,
Doesn't mean I'm lonely when I'm alone.
In Stephen Covey's classic self-help book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the seventh habit is "sharpen the saw." He makes a good case for self-renewal, continually working on yourself to stay strong and balanced.
One of the best ways to self-renew and continue growing stronger is to welcome challenges. Striving against adversity is one of the best ways to "sharpen the saw." It's far more effective than just reading good books and thinking about them.
I recently met an impressive 17-year old young man. Speaking with him, I realized he was wise and mature beyond his years - much more so than I was at that age. I wondered what made him so outstanding. He's the kind of young man who has unlimited potential to be successful and happy in life.
But I also learned that his parents are in the process of getting a divorce and that he's struggling to deal with the break-up of his family. He asked for advice about grieving. Most kids his age wouldn't even know that they were grieving or realize that they could "work through it."
Because of the his wisdom and maturity, I predict that he'll deal with it successfully and end up in good shape. It won't kill him, so it will make him even stronger.
Will soldiers returning from war with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) be made stronger by their experiences?
I think it depends on how strong they already were when they had to face the kind of adversity that could have killed them but didn't. If you have adequate personal strength, maybe if it doesn't kill you, it can make you stronger. But if you're not that strong going in, maybe it won't.
I actually like Kelly Clarkson's song quite a bit. I like the message, and I think the song itself rocks. But not everyone is strong, and tor a lot of people, losing a loved one causes a cascade of negative consequences.
Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2013. Building Personal Strength .