We would all like to believe German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's well known assertion, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."
Unfortunately, those of us who have faced significant adversity (and who hasn't) may find this statement easier said than done.
In many ways we would LIKE to believe it to be true. It is a sign of strength, self-reliance, resilience. And it may very well help some of us to assert this to ourselves when we are facing suffering.
But perhaps it is not exactly true. Many of us have the experience of responding to stressful situations which remind us of past traumas with an exaggerated degree of anxiety.
After 9/11, most of us felt our hearts race when one of the 24hour news stations announced the next news flash. We may have very well expected another horrific bit of news.
For months after my father passed away I carried my cell phone close to me at all times. I was subconsciously awaiting the next bit of bad news about his medical condition.
Researchers have recorded neurobiologic correlates on brain scans with victims even years after a traumatic event has passed. Consciously they may seem fine. The trauma has left permanent changes. Our immune systems may be paying the price of decades afterwards.
And yet what choice do we have? Is it better to continue to play the victim? Of course not. After all, we did survive the event. Are we wounded? Of course. But that is true of each and every individual on the planet.
We are the walking wounded. But we are also the walking blessed. We all have wonderful memories and experiences to fall back on. When we recall them, our immune systems kick up a notch.
So its OK to practice feeling well. It is OK to recall what has hurt us. But we also have the right to be proud of who we are–successful survivors.