Study confirms: Whatever doesn't kill us can make us stronger

October 15, 2010

We've all heard the adage that whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger, but until now the preponderance of scientific evidence has offered little support for it.

However, a new national multi-year longitudinal study of the effects of adverse life events on mental health has found that adverse experiences do, in fact, appear to foster subsequent adaptability and resilience, with resulting advantages for mental health and well being.

The study, "Whatever Does Not Kill Us: Cumulative Lifetime Adversity, Vulnerability and Resilience," to be published in the forthcoming issue of the , is available on the website of the American Psychological Association.

It examined a national sample of people who reported their lifetime history of adverse experiences and several measures of current mental health and well being.

Authors are Mark Seery, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo; E. Alison Holman, PhD, assistant professor of nursing sciences, University of California, Irvine; and Roxane Cohen Silver, PhD, professor of psychology and social behavior and medicine at UC Irvine.

Seery, senior author of the study, says previous research indicates that exposure to adverse life events typically predicts negative effects on mental health and well-being, such that more adversity predicts worse outcomes.

But in this study of a national survey panel of 2,398 subjects assessed repeatedly from 2001 to 2004, Seery and co-researchers found those exposed to some adverse events reported better mental health and well-being outcomes than people with a high history of adversity or those with no history of adversity.

"We tested for quadratic relationships between lifetime adversity and a variety of longitudinal measures of and well-being, including global distress, functional impairment, post-traumatic stress symptoms and life satisfaction," Seery says.

"Consistent with prior research on the impact of adversity, linear effects emerged in our results, such that more lifetime adversity was associated with higher global distress, functional impairment and PTS symptoms, as well as lower life satisfaction.

"However," says Seery, "our results also yielded quadratic, U-shaped patterns, demonstrating a critical qualification to the seemingly simple relationship between lifetime adversity and outcomes.

"Our findings revealed," he says, "that a history of some lifetime adversity -- relative to both no adversity or high adversity -- predicted lower global distress, lower , lower PTS symptoms and higher ."

The team also found that, across these same longitudinal outcome measures, people with a history of some lifetime adversity appeared less negatively affected by recent adverse events than other individuals.

Although these data cannot establish causation, Seery says the evidence is consistent with the proposition that in moderation, experiencing lifetime adversity can contribute to the development of resilience.

"Although we studied major lifetime adversity," he says, "there is reason to believe that other relatively mundane experiences should also contribute to resilience.

"This suggests that carefully designed psychotherapeutic interventions may be able to do so, as well, although there is much work that still needs to be done to fully understand resilience and where it comes from."

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11 comments

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knikiy
3 / 5 (2) Oct 15, 2010
Friedrich Nietzsche
Mike_Scherer
5 / 5 (3) Oct 15, 2010
The "What doesn't kill you..." saying is rubbish.

It's what doesn't MAIM you that makes you stronger.
Parsec
not rated yet Oct 15, 2010
The "What doesn't kill you..." saying is rubbish.

It's what doesn't MAIM you that makes you stronger.

I like your version much better, and is probably much more true.
thales
5 / 5 (2) Oct 15, 2010
From Dilbert (Wally speaking): "Have you ever noticed that the things that don't kill you make you *weaker*? And great minds *don't* think alike. If they did, the patent office would only have about fifty inventions. I started getting suspicious when I cried over spilt milk and the cashier took it off my bill."
Sancho
5 / 5 (1) Oct 16, 2010
A doctor in charge of a NYC terminal cancer ward found that this is true physically. He noticed that a patient who contracted typhoid fever and recovered became cancer free. He then experimented on 150 patients (this was in 1910 or so): he injected them with a concoction of lethal bacteria. The injection killed half the terminal patients, but those who survived also became cancer-free. ... My takeaway from this: skip the flu shot. Too much preventative medicine may be bad for your health.
bugmenot23
5 / 5 (1) Oct 16, 2010
And what do kills you make your mother stronger
Skultch
5 / 5 (1) Oct 16, 2010
The "What doesn't kill you..." saying is rubbish.

It's what doesn't MAIM you that makes you stronger.


nice

It's not "moderation in everything" it's "moderation in most things."
marjon
1 / 5 (1) Oct 16, 2010
So that is why so many in the west are wimps.
HealingMindN
not rated yet Oct 16, 2010
Therefore, this is a sort of PNI subject, but the study is geared towards mental health. Would a better title be, "What doesn't make us crazy makes us sane?"
Au-Pu
5 / 5 (1) Oct 17, 2010
The failing here is that you need to establish personality types.
I know of individuals who have had experiences that would see most people hibernate or suicide.
I know of others who have experienced the most minor of problems yet they react as if they have suffered more greatly than the other group. This latter group are extremely egocentric. They see everything that happens around them as being due to them whether negatively or positively, even when events are unrelated to them. As long as it impacts upon their life in some way it is due to them. This latter lot can suffer only the most minor problems yet are deeply traumatised, whilst the other group who one would reasonably expect to be deeply traumatised carry on with life as if nothing untoward had ever happened to them.
pcatiprodotnet
not rated yet Oct 17, 2010
> Au-Pu post follow up...
To truly and fully understand Au-Pu's post, read the book "Survival Games Personalities Play" (ISBN-10: 0931104351).

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