NCPS | Was Nietzsche right: “What doesn't kill you makes you…

Do bad things happen for the best? There is the old 18th century adage that every cloud has a silver lining. Voltaire, an 18th century French philosopher however had a different view. If he was alive today he would say that not every cloud has a silver lining. Some contain lightning bolts.

Major disasters grab the headlines, just look at the recent headlines on social media. The advent of fake news has created anxiety which has become self-perpetuating. However, most of life’s calamities can be self-inflicted, and sometimes failures are inevitable.

You can fear them or you can learn from them. By recognizing and combatting the many needless stresses in your life as you can discover in yourself, you are likely to experience a rising tide of resilience.

You’ll have greater emotional reserves to address unfortunate situations that come your way. In the words of Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Scientists at the University at Buffalo in the U.S have found that although traumatic experiences such as losing a loved one can be psychologically damaging; small amounts of trauma can make us more resilient. There is the suggestion that those who go through difficult experiences are given a chance to develop an ability to cope with such situations in the future.

The Work of Albert Ellis

During my earlier therapy training, I become accustomed to the work of Albert Ellis, and his book a Guide to Rational Living (1975) whose work was not what we know as the forerunner of CBT. Let’s look at Ellis’s Rational Emotive Behavioural (REBT) perspective for decreasing stressful expectations and building an acceptant outlook.

Albert Ellis thought that most people are their own worst enemies, and much of this is due to irrational expectations. If you expect yourself to act infallibly, that expectation can distort your perspective in ways that lead to repeated needless exasperations. Believe that you should always be prepared for the unexpected, he said you can practically guarantee that excess stress will shadow your days.

Use Preferential thinking

If you do fall into the expectation trap, think about developing a softer, flexible, preferential view. Instead of expecting that life should be the way you expect it, teach yourself to think preferentially. “I prefer to do well” has a more realistic and softer tone than “I must do well.” Preferential thinking is a path to cognitive flexibility and this flexibility is an important part of resilience.


One of Ellis’ solutions is philosophical. It’s the unconditional acceptance of self, others, and life. This means you take things as they are. Ellis encourages an unconditional acceptance of reality.

Unconditional acceptance of self and others and life doesn’t involve denying the hassles of daily life. Instead, once free from secondary distresses, you are likely to feel freer to cope with what displeases you, overcome what disadvantages you, or combat what is emotionally toxic. You are likely to feel freer to take reasonable risks and make more useful discoveries.

Other things that we do to prevent us from finding happiness.

Self-sabotaging - Acts of self-sabotage our underlined by irrational negative beliefs about self and others and about the world, for example, people may stop themselves from being happy because they have been brought up to believe that they must suffer in life or in silence. Or they may stop themselves from being a success because they have learnt that the people in the family never do very well in the world.

Hypnotic induction-This is a process whereby statements about self are conveyed by others either verbally or nonverbally and taken in believed and acted upon. Many of the sources of these statements go back to childhood and have usually been long been forgotten. These statements or scripts are usually conveyed to us when we are very young and believed by some to be as powerful as hypnosis.

Thought stoppage -Human beings have the capacity to stop thinking repetitive thoughts if doing so is futile. For example, you’ve got the same recurring thoughts time over it’s useful to metaphorically change channels and think about something else. An analogy to this is that if you’re watching TV and you don’t like the program just switch channels.

Most people are not aware that this is an option and continue with the worries and that they have no option but to go on worrying like Groundhog Day were the same things happen repeatedly.

Defence mechanisms-These are ways of behaving feeling and thinking and we use these to protect against emotional pain. Emotional pain can sometimes be a threat to our survival at some level. Defence mechanisms however always influence our emotional well-being. Denying or pushing back feelings is an example of a defence mechanism which can leave people feeling numb or anxious and cause other people to react negatively to them finding them emotionally unavailable and cold towards them.

Feedback loops -Sometimes peoples internal dialogue on a daily basis seems to be stuck on a regular loop with narratives like “see you’ve done it again” “You should work harder” etc. These messages are self-critical and prevent people from being truly creative or feeling good about themselves These habits are often based on statements either verbal or non-verbal conveyed to them in early childhood.

Injunctions- This to be taken from transactional analysis and the work of Eric Berne (see Stewart and Jones 1987) injunctions are negative script messages either verbal or non- verbal which are conveyed to us in childhood about how you should be and these go on to influence people in later life in sometimes a limiting and destructive way The main injunctions are Don’t be you, Don’t grow up, Don’t feel, Don’t think, Don’t exist, Don’t be a child, Don’t make it, Don’t be important, Don’t be close, Don’t belong Don’t be well.

Self-responsibility- Self-responsibility encompasses an attitude towards living in which people take full responsibility for their actions and feelings and for the direction in which their life goes on and the choices which they do or do not make. Self-responsibility is whereby people accept the central role in changing negative situations rather than expecting someone else to do it for them

Alan Heyes Systemic Family Practitioner Counsellor and Coach and founder of Rewrite your story a charity that supports Young People to maintain good mental health

To find out more about Albert Ellis visit read some of his books which are available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

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