Strength from Adversity

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There are more than a few slogans in AA and other treatment programs that share a related thought. “Don’t quit quitting,” and, “Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”

The underlying idea is that hardship will come and it has a benefit. Now, scientists have good evidence that this is exactly what happens. When we face and overcome hardship, we get practiced at it and the next bump in the road doesn’t seem quite so ruinous.

A press release from the Association for Psychological Science describes a study that showed benefits from facing adversity. In fact, a bit of hardship can be healthy.

Tools for coping are the key, not the amount of hardship

At one end of the spectrum are those who have been damaged by severe psychological trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. But the surprising thing is that people who have never faced real difficulties are also subject to problems. The best outcomes happen with a middle ground – some hardship, but not overwhelmingly so. The explanation seems to be that our ability to cope with adversity needs to develop. According to one author, “The idea is that negative life experiences can toughen people, making them better able to manage subsequent difficulties.”

This may figure into why ex-addicts, for the most part, seem less emotionally available. There’s a kind of calm that comes from facing your own demons and surviving the experience. While the study didn’t address addiction specifically, the results may also shed light on why it may take several cycles of recovery and backsliding until someone begins to cope with the process and abstinence becomes permanent. Getting through withdrawal is no picnic, after all. It comes with its own set of emotional trauma.

Perhaps we just get better at getting better.

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