5 Ways Tragedy Makes You A Hella-Strong Person, Says Science

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A troubling past makes for a bright future.

We never want to experience tragedy or see anyone we care about have to go through it, but it's undeniable that those who do suffer tragedy emerge even stronger and have a better grip on true happiness.

Suffering and struggle are a part of life. Too often, we assume we should have struggle-free lives, but things don't work that way.

"To that end — sometimes tragedy enters (which is often a more severe variant of struggle and suffering). It is at times of tragedy that we get forced into coping and pushing through, and regardless of what shape you are in on the other side of the tragedy, you can learn from the fact that the world did not stop spinning and in fact you are still moving forward," says Dr. RamanI Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist, professor of psychology, and author.

She continues, "Tragedy also allows for a reframe. I am a big believer that we are often imprisoned by our expectations, scripts, and the illusions that often keep us prisoner to lives that are less than inauthentic ... tragedy often shatters these illusions and rewrites these expectations in a way that we may pursue life in a bolder and innovative way (once we experience a major loss or shift, we realize that we have far less control than we assume, risks become easier to take)."

Here are 5 ways tragedy and suffering make us stronger in the end:

1. Broken backs grow stronger  and so do people.

We become more resilient by gradually overcoming obstacles and tragic events in our lives and then applying the lessons learned to other areas of our lives. Ben Michaelis, PhD, clinical psychologist and mental health expert (and the author of Your Next Big Thing), says, "It is only through this experience of getting over a tragedy or overcoming a specific obstacle that we develop the self-confidence and faith we need in order to be resilient.

"In fact, a study in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that exposure to adverse experiences may foster mental resilience and may make people less affected by recent adverse events. This goes to show that, in moderation, whatever does not kill us may indeed make us stronger."

2. We learn to face problems head-on.

"In our pain avoiding culture, there's a common perception that the most psychologically and spiritually healthy are those who avoid crises. But in reality, the opposite is true. Those who are mentally and emotionally healthy meet crises head on and resolve them, and therefore avoid the misery of chronic anxiety," says Rev. Dr. Fred Howard, an emergency room physician, ordained minister, and author of Transforming Faith: Stories of Change from a Lifelong Spiritual Seeker.

3. Risk-taking becomes the norm.

Many people don't take risks necessary to truly accomplish something great in their life because they don't know if they can manage failure.

Corporate psychologist, Dave Popple, PhD, says, "Because failure on a larger scale is an unknown experience, people who have not experienced tend to catastrophize it. However, for those who have lived through tragedy, know that they have the coping skills to manage catastrophe.

"This knowledge allows them to take the risks necessary to do and become something great ... It is a common saying in our business that 90% of great leaders experienced a tragedy in their adolescence and early adulthood, the other 10% are wildly optimistic." Popple kept a tally on how many executives he assessed experienced tragedy at an early age, and found that 72 out of 86 had: "Of those I failed to recommend or recommended with reservation only 30 of the 62 had."

4. Functioning in healthy ways requires a slight shift in our thinking and focus.

Life's traumas happen to everyone — death, accidents, illness, and economic losses. Preventing traumas from becoming tragedies requires us to focus not on events, but on our response to those events.

Howard says, "Blaming, anger, withdrawal, assuming a helpless posture aren't usually the best ways to deal with tragic events. Strength is demonstrated by giving yourself and others the time and space to work through traumas and facilitating the re-framing of the trauma in ways that benefit overall health and well being."

5. It's easier to know where you end and others begin.

Taking proper responsibility for events is difficult, but essential, to proper functioning. The burden of any tragedy must be shared. When blame is placed squarely on one person or group, this leads to all manner of dysfunction and often perpetuates tragic theater within relationships, says Howard.


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