What Doesn't Kill Us

The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth
by Stephen Joseph Ph.D. | 288 pages

Stephen Joseph is one of the world’s leading researchers on the science of posttraumatic growth. He is also a professor and therapist. He started his career studying posttraumatic stress. In the process, he saw that many people experienced significant growth as a result of the stress they endured--at which point, he started developing his ideas on posttraumatic growth. Fast-forward a few decades and here we are. the title is a play on Nietzsche’s famous dictum: “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” While the sub-title perfectly captures the focus of the book: “The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth.” Big Ideas we explore include: Eudaimonic Treadmills (note: there aren't any!), posttraumatic growth (and how to use stress as the engine for growth), the shattered vase (taking the pieces and making an antifragile mosaic), harvesting hope (the 1 + 2 + 3s for trauma survivors).


“In short, while the adoption of PTSD as a diagnostic category has been beneficial in terms of increasing access to psychological therapies for those who need them, it has been detrimental in these three ways: in taking responsibility away from people, in creating a culture of expectation, and ignoring the personal growth that often arises following trauma.

The aim of this book is to correct the imbalance—to show that trauma can have both negative and positive implications, and that the negative and positive go hand in hand. I challenge the trauma industry by offering a new perspective: namely, that posttraumatic stress is a natural and normal process of adaptation to adversity that marks the beginning of a transformative journey. Recovery from trauma consists of finding new meaning, creating new webs of understanding, and finding reparative methods centered on the sharing of memories. Viewed in this light, posttraumatic stress can be understood as a search for meaning in which the drive to revisit, remember, and think about the trauma is a normal urge to make sense of a shocking experience, to grasp new realities and incorporate them into one’s own life story. At the heart of this book is the idea that posttraumatic stress is the engine of transformation—of a process known as posttraumatic growth. …

Drawing on the wisdom of the ancient philosophers, the insights of existential and evolutionary psychologists, and the optimism of modern positive psychology, I present the new psychology of adversity—a fresh, inspiring, and humanizing perspective on how to manage life and its inevitable challenges.”

~ Stephen Joseph from What Doesn’t Kill Us

I got this book after I saw Stephen Joseph’s testimonial in Positive Psychology and the Body by Kate Hefferon. It was another one of those titles/sub-title combos that just jumped out at me.

Of course, the title is a play on Nietzsche’s famous dictum:What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.While the sub-title perfectly captures the focus of the book: “The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth.” (Get a copy of the book here.)

Stephen Joseph is one of the world’s leading researchers on the science of posttraumatic growth. He is also a professor and therapist.

He started his career studying posttraumatic stress. In the process, he saw that many people experienced significant growth as a result of the stress they endured. At which point, he started developing his ideas on posttraumatic growth. Fast-forward a few decades and here we are.

btw: Martin Seligman followed a similar track. He started out studying learned helplessness, discovered that some people, no matter how much stress they endured, maintained optimism and then shifted his research to Learned Optimism to figure out what made THOSE people tick.

The book is packed with scientific wisdom on how to use stress as an engine for growth and I’m excited to share some of my favorite Big Ideas so let’s jump straight in!

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