Friday, March 06, 2009

What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us Stronger....


So I was bitching to Roy (What, me bitch?) and he responded with "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger." Or some version thereof. Roy, Nietzsche, one of those smart guys said something like that. They actually even kind of look alike.

One thing about being a psychiatrist is that most of us believe that what we do, or hope to do, relieves suffering. We believe that the treatments psychiatry has to offer make people better and relieve their psychic torment. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't, and sometimes "the remedy is worse than the disease" (--Francis Bacon).

In medicine, the patient's history begins with the "chief complaint." As doctors, we often view our job as being to address that complaint: hopefully to make it go away. Often it is an ache or a pain, physical or mental. And yet, our society clearly values Growth through suffering. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger. When we take away the torment, do we stifle the soul?

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

My question is, can we grow without suffering?

Novalis said...

I think he was trying to make a virtue of necessity--but do not try at home...Not for all tastes...

Anonymous said...

Anon #1:
I think suffering stimulates self-understanding and growth. Suffering therefore, in my opinion, is a good thing. From emotional pain comes self-expression in the form of art, literature, and music, plus human transformation.

jessa said...

"[O]ur society clearly values Growth through suffering."

Well, yes and no. We value growth through suffering in that we really, really respect it when we see other people grow through their suffering. But few people seem to actually want to have to go through any suffering in order to grow, which is, of course, entirely understandable. We value growth through suffering, but we are also a society that loves instant gratification.

Mike said...

It should be "what does not kill us only makes us nuts". I suffered a period of prolonged anoxia as an infant. I have many of the symptoms of ADHD. While cognizant of what I do or more aptly don't do, and despite the financial devastation and resultant suffering. It doesn't "make me stronger".

Last year I earned a middle class wage, I was fired for paperwork violations. I can't handle money well. Couldn't find another job fast enough. Result homelessness, destitute. Clean-cut honest hard working guy with no record, no drug or alcohol issues, healthy and physically fit. Yet I'm rubbing elbows with the profoundly mentally ill, the drug and alcohol addicted, ex-cons etc.

So I am definately not getting "stronger". It makes me contemplate doing a swan dive off the Brooklyn Bridge.

Adversity as a builder of charector
is grossly overated. I would prefer a bland suffer free existance.

The Girl said...

I often wonder whether people who idealise suffering have ever truly suffered to the point of being crippled. I think it is one thing to experience a small amount of discomfort and still be capable of understanding it, making a decision to improve things and grow, and another to experience suffering that is inescapable without any help.

In answer to your question, I think the problem is knowing when the suffering is lethal and when it is something that can be shrugged off and used as a muse.

I can also see what Mike is saying, and would say that when the pain is sufficient, what doesn't kill us only makes us scarred and crippled. Then we get help and move on.

Karen said...

It isn't the suffering that we value. We value the willingness to struggle to attain an end and we value the ability to endure suffering in order to continue in that struggle. Suffering passively evokes pity, not admiration. We admire those who engage with a problem and who persist despite their own discomfort, those who know that the suffering is in some way transient and that their goal is worth the cost to them of that suffering. The pain isn't the goal or the instrument of instruction. It's an obstacle.

Anonymous said...

what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. unless, of course, it kills us.

Randall Sexton said...

Medicine deals with the soul?

Anonymous said...

No doctor I have ever met has given diddly about my soul. I think either the process of becoming a doctor is a soul destroying one or people who have never their own souls let alone another, are attracted to the profession.
This is a stupid question dressed up to make it look smarter than it is.And here is a reality check--Roy doesn't look like Nietzsche.

Patients with bipolar routinley complain of cognitive dulling from the meds. Are cognition and the soul the same? No conclusive answer on that. Are you your synapses? No comment. In any case, doctors have no trobule insisting pt stay the course. You have posted on how frustrating it is when pt goes off meds to same inevitable consequences ticking post I think, could have been another.
Our society romanticizes suffering. Our own suffering once we are past it some how is viewed as a growth experience. Perhaps that could be applied to working grueling hours, to getting by on very little and looking back on those times and seeing how we makde do and where we are now. Does anyone truly believe that the days spent in a locked ward because they were psychotic and suicidal were a growth experience that wouldn't gladly have been traded in for a 'normal life"? Some people have capitalized on those experiences by writing books or selling the movie writes. I suppose they would argue something good came of it. They might say hey,if you are going to go nuts, might as well make peanut butter. The overwhelming majority of people get out of hospital only to go back in a few years later, or months later or they don't go back in but they are "maintained" in the community by a series of doctors who come and go, who disagree on meds who write out prescriptions on little pads designed to keep the pt out of hospital and well. The soul is not an issue, not ever. When the soul peeks through it is seen as a sign of possible mania and the doc says up the dose for awhile, okay?
There is no life without suffering so the first questioner need not worry-everyone will grow.
Torment is another thing. One suffers from an ingrown toenail. Torment, torture, that is another thing, another picture.
You are a doctor, you are the furthest thing from a philosopher. The furthest.Just do your job.

Roy said...

Like the last Anon said (and others implied), suffering promotes change, and so is a good thing. But like all good things, too much can be bad, and so it is with suffering. And, as has been shown clearly in studies, pain which is perceived to be intentionally inflicted by another is "more painful" than the same amount of pain which is perceived to be inflicted without intention. (I read that in a study over the past 2 months, but don't have a reference.)

And I agree with the above Anon. I do not look like Nietzsche. My moustache is longer. While I do tend to be private on the personal front here, I will post my picture here.

DrivingMissMolly said...

It's the other way around...unmitigated torment kills the soul.

eln said...

Someone told me a story on Monday...

Once upon a time in a far away land, there lived a woman who never bitched about anything.

But that was once upon a time in a far away land.

Society only values suffering because it's impossible for even the best of people to avoid...and it's the only way they can cope with the fallacy of an all-loving god. Of course, many unintentionally limit his power, suggesting he could not make a peaceful world as satisfying or interesting as a world with suffering. It is my ever-so-humble opinion that if he can set c, h, G, etc. (and thusly create a universe/planet so perfectly suited to human life!), that should be no sweat. Anyway, and ironically, this opinion is entirely too metaphysical to be relevant...

Sarebear said...

There's a scripture in my church that says something like there must needs be opposition in all things . . . .

at least, that's part of the scripture.

Seems to me it's also like how do you know the yin w/out the yang. Er, if you see how that symbol is balanced, together.

Then again the being so painfully aware of what one "doesn't do" . .
It's one reason I have hated myself my whole life and still do, and is a major block in therapy; how do you heal when you loathe yourself? You can't just say, ok, I decide I don't loathe myself. There's valid reason and valid history to. All the CBT in the world won't erase it, so that leaves me where?

Hrm, Methinks I just discovered some fodder for a self-writing session for tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

sb: Forgiveness.

Sarebear said...

Just . . . forgive myself for . . . . being faulty? Defective?


. . . . I can just hear my therapist responding to that with


.... Human.




Wow. . . . .... Alot to think about, with your short but very thoughtful response.

Thank you . . . .

ChiPsyPhD said...

I agree with many of the posts that denounce the oversimplification of Nietzsche's proverb. Suffering, in general, is horrible, and no amount of potential growth can make up for the loss, pain, or trauma associated with suffering. I, for one, would rather forgo growth, if it meant forgoing suffering.

However, research has shown that Nietzsche isn't all wrong. In addition to studying "posttraumatic stress", psychologists and psychiatrists are exploring a construct called "posttraumatic growth", which are transformative changes that occur after experiencing a traumatic, or stressful, event. PTS and PTG are not on two ends of the same spectrum. The "bad" and the "good" often co-exist, such that for example, people who show increased depressive symptoms after a traumatic event also show increased growth (e.g., appreciation, resiliency, spirituality).

Research on PTG is still in its early stages, and I'm excited to see where it goes.

aisforanxiety said...

It is true that we will suffer come what may but I think the point is about comportment...., the ability to take risks. We may fail but if we try to stand still- the pain will not make us stronger. If we stagnate, we may spiral into a second infancy.