What Does Not Destroy Us Makes Us Stronger. Or Weaker. Or More Fearful

Nietzsche said, “What does not destroy me makes me stronger.” I’m not sure if that is strictly true. Sometimes that which doesn’t destroy us makes us makes us weaker because it makes us fearful of living, fearful of more trauma, fearful of fear itself.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”

In life, we often have to do the thing we think we cannot do. Too many times during the past eighteen months I’ve felt that I can’t survive the pain of losing my life mate (we were together for 34 years). Panic kept washing over me, as if I’d been set down in the middle of an alien world with no idea how to deal with all the horror being thrown at me. I feared every new step, every change. I’d been especially fearful of growing old alone. Sometimes I still am. I’ve seen what dying can do. It’s a terrible way to end one’s life, and it seems even more terrible when one has to face it alone. Of course, there’s a chance that it will be decades before I have to face the grim reaper, and who knows what will happen until then?!

Well, I do know one thing that will happen: this discussion about life, writing, and the writing life!

So, what do you fear? How do you deal with your fear?

If you are a writer, how does that fear work its way into your stories? What do your characters fear? How do they deal with the fear? Is the fear a plot driver, something that drives the story forward or is it more of a subplot, a way of developing your character? Is the fear justified? Is the fear realized? (I mean, does the thing the character fear happen, and if not, why not?) How does the character deal with the fear? How does the fear change the character? How does facing his/her fear change the character?

6 Responses to “What Does Not Destroy Us Makes Us Stronger. Or Weaker. Or More Fearful”

  1. eritta Says:

    I fear mostly two things: dying before I’m done, and losing my husband too soon. I naturally fear losing others, but especially him – in a way that could be crippling if I let it. I think part of the problem is that I’ve only just barely dealt with real-life death, rather than killing characters. I’ve always been an outside observer to the effects, not really close to whoever died.

    As for dying before I’m done, one might argue that I’ll never be done, but maybe it’d more like dying without a legacy of some sort, a mark. That could get dangerous very quickly for me.

    I’ve got so many characters that their fears are across the board. Two in particular come to mind in relation to my fear though. One actually had the same basic fear as I, losing her partner before they’d had time together, which was realized. One did not fear losing her partner, and in fact was certain he would outlive her, when he died suddenly in an accident. In both cases, I was reduced to a sobbing wreck while writing their reactions and struggles, the fear and pain was so close to mine. In a way, though, it was therapeutic. Both of them picked themselves up and found a way to live again.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Eritta, Writing about such a loss and feeling the characters’ pain is a good way of dealing with our own pain at a bit of distance. Losing a husband is something worth fearing. It’s a terrible thing, and it’s almost impossible to learn to deal with the realtiy of it.

  2. Stephen Leslie France Says:

    The title of your post caught my attention immediately; although I completely understand the Nietzsche philosophy, I have never been a firm believer. The human response to any form of hardship, physical or mental is relative. Arguably, famous worldly philosophies or theories should be universal.

    With regard to fear, it is perhaps the strongest emotion in the world currently, seconded by love. It is a perfect agent to assist in writing since it is alive and active. Writing is also the best doctor for purifying terror.

    As an author writes about a character’s frightening experience, fear keeps the central idea/image/event/situation that they are drawing inspiration from vivid in the mind. Subsequently, the description of the character’s experience will be richer, realistic and more credible. Also, the act of writing can assist in curing fear in the author him/herself.

    It can be a very productive process, especially if the character faces the fear in a way that strengthens the writer to destroy their own demons.

    Fear should be used as a means to strengthen the potency of prose and hopefully as a bi-product, cleanse the writer of their haunts.


    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Maybe that’s why writing is so compelling — no matter what we are writing about, we are really writing about ourselves and our fears and, as you say, cleansing ourselves of our haunts.

  3. Malcom Hendee Says:

    I don’t know if anyone is still checking this post, I came across this page while looking for the proper Nietzsche’s quote “That which does not ……”. I had always heard it as ‘kill me’, but recently I heard it was properly ‘Destroy me’. It seems to me the ‘Destroy me’ would be a more appropriate version. I could see the loss of a spouse nearly destroying someone, that may not make you stronger in the short term anyway.

    I would like to share this here, I never post stuff online, but I was thinking of this just the other day after talking to a friend about how her father lost her mother to a wasting illness. I was reading a self help book years ago written by a psychologist who told of a man who had lost his wife of many years and was beside himself with grief. He complained that he could not function without her. He could not go on like he was. The psychologist explained that if the man had died first, that would have left his wife alive to bear the unbearable burden of trudging on through life without her spouse. According to the author, that made the man’s load much easier to bear when he was able to see his burden as a weight he was bearing so his beloved wife did not have to tote that burden.

    $.02 worth of psycho-babble, but that always struck a resonant chord with me and I hope someone reads it here and it helps them too.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s a good point, and one I often thought of while dealing with the pain. He suffered so much in life, I’m glad he didn’t have to deal with grief over me. I just would have liked a few more years with him, of course. He died way too young.

      I’m glad you stopped by and left a comment. These grief posts get a lot of views, and I’m sure many people will be comforted by your story. Thank you.

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