The saying “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is fine. It has value and is true in many instances. It’s not meant to encapsulate every bad thing that’s ever happened to you. For example child abuse, rape, domestic violence, going to war … these are traumatic events which don’t make you stronger. They break you.
Once anything is broken the integrity of the object has been permanently altered. It may be repaired and perhaps even more beautiful than before, but the structural integrity of the object has been weakened forever. The same is true of recovering from trauma.
Over the years I’ve done more trauma work than I’d care to admit. I was born into a home with active domestic violence. My father almost killed my mother and me before I was a year old in a fit of rage more than once. I lived in constant fear. I watched my father beat my mom and heard the fighting from the other room from the time I was tiny. This shaped who I am. How I see the world and relate to others. How I feel about myself and the ability to trust and feel safe.
Healing from the trauma has made me immensely kind and empathetic to the suffering of others. It has shown me just how much of a survivor I am. How strong would I be had I not been traumatized from infancy? What gifts would I have to offer given that I didn’t have the trauma? What would I have been able to accomplish in my life without the road blocks of trauma?
I survived the trauma and learned to make the broken pieces work for me. This does not make me better or stronger for having been traumatized.
Being raped three times and finding forgiveness for the men who hurt me did not make me stronger. It proved once again that I am a survivor who can find ways to mend the broken pieces enough to live and find some peace.
Trauma doesn’t render you a “broken” person. It shapes how you live in the world and how you cope with what comes up. Sadly, once a person has experienced trauma it weakens them and makes them more vulnerable to be traumatized again in some manner. There are scars left on the person which cannot be hidden.
What didn’t kill me didn’t make me stronger. It made me a survivor which is very different than being strong and solid. I’ve been broken many times and repaired just as many. My cracks and scars may be beautiful and the parts of my personality which came from the trauma may be loving and kind, but I am still a woman who has been broken. Reinforcing cracks and repairs do not ever make something broken stronger.