When a person goes through a difficult experience, hearing the adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” can sometimes seem less than comforting. But University of Buffalo researchers found that when it comes to traumatic events like the death of someone close, an assault or a natural disaster, it is actually the truth.

“The idea is that negative life experiences can toughen people, making them better able to manage subsequent difficulties,” said study author Mark D. Seery.

The study found that people who experienced the most amount of traumatic life events were more distressed in general, and people who did not have to overcome any problems throughout their lives fared the same. The people with the best outcomes, the study found, were those who had experienced some amount of negative events throughout their lives.

A related study that the researchers mentioned found that people with chronic back pain could handle their symptoms better if they had experienced “some serious adversity.” However, those who had experienced a lot of adversity or no adversity at all were typically more hindered by the pain.

“Negative events have negative effects,” Seery said. “I really look at this as being a silver lining. Just because something bad has happened to someone doesn’t mean they’re doomed to be damaged from that point on.”

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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