Does Adversity Really Make Us Stronger? Usually Not

Ward B. Davis, Carolyn Priebe, and Daryl R. Van Tongeren: The only type of growth that seems to arise consistently from adversity is deepened relationships. During times of struggle, our relationships with loved ones often become more intimate, meaningful, and rewarding. So the research evidence shows that people do not usually experience positive personality change as a result of adversity. Instead, their personality usually stays roughly the same. Or, in some cases, they might even experience declines in certain areas, such as their self-esteem or their spirituality. But why do people often think they’ve grown from their experiences of adversity, even if they truly haven’t? The answer may lie in the two faces of posttraumatic growth. On the one hand, posttraumatic growth may have a constructive side that helps us feel empowered and triumphant over our struggles. We feel like conquerors, victors. But on the other hand, posttraumatic growth may also have an unhelpful side that leads us to have the illusion that we’ve grown.

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