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Nietzsche Was Wrong: If It Doesn’t Kill You, It Makes You Weaker

Updated on December 18, 2014
Dr Billy Kidd profile image

Dr. Billy Kidd was a psychotherapist and researcher for 20 years. He has also studied history, religion, and has been active in politics.

There is a reason why soldiers get post-traumatic stress disorder.

There is a reason why people who are tortured act a little crazy.

There is a reason why chronic-stress makes you fat.

There is a reason why people simply give up.

Biological Set Points

The reason is: Things that cause great stress on your mind and body cause a re-wiring of your biological set points. What this means is that your body suffers from the wear and tear of stress. In response to stress, key biological regulators change the threshold for which they will respond. These regulators include heart rate, sugar and acid level in the blood, temperature, immune response to pathogens, rate of burning and storing fat and water, as well as many other things.

When the body and mind are over-taxed chronically, your biological regulators will not return to their normal positions when the stressor is taken off. This is called homeostatic imbalance. This puts you at risk of many diseases, especially cardiovascular disease and autoimmune disorders, such as diabetes and CIDP. It also causes people to put on weight because the system that regulates their metabolism has changed.

Strong Willed People

Strong-willed, self-centered people generally reject this notion of homeostatic imbalance. They cite Nietzsche, who said: “If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.” Nietzsche’s ubermensch—superman—was one who willed himself to power. So some folks believe that you can will your way through mile-high chronic stressors and achieve your goal without it having adverse affects.

Two Different Kinds of People

What some folks do not realize, however, is that we’re talking two different things here: a) the will to kick anyone out of your way who stops you from reaching the top and b) the psychological and physical scars that remain from getting kicking or being kicked. In later life, Nietzsche would have rejected the notion that you can overcome all your mental scars and become a stronger person. After all, he went mad at age 45. Whatever it was that hit him made him weaker.

This has implications for people who strive hard to achieve success. Find the easy, smart way to do things. Fourteen-hour work days won’t necessarily pay off because the stress of it can change your biological set points. The confusion this causes will force you to spend half your time simply fixing your mistakes. Also, don’t try to push things through simply with willpower when it would go smoother if you learned how to cooperate and assembled a team to do the work for you.

And lastly, if you think you’re the center of the universe and all-powerful, remember that power in itself can drive people crazy. So, be careful. Don’t get burnt out when you could be friendly and have fun doing whatever it is that you are striving to do.

Nietzsche's Uber Man

Funny how fate has it. Nietzsche popularized the Uber Man, the man that was above others. The strong man genetically, and hence physically and intellectually. The Uber Man has the will to tackle the powers that be and win. But fate would have it that Nietzsche would die in a mental hospital. So much for Uber Man.

Regardless, Hitler picked up on it and used it in his propaganda that Germans were natural born Uber Men. How well did that work for him? OK, until Hitler himself went crazy thinking, that as Uber Man, he could not loose any battle. So he shot the generals who disagreed with him and went to war against Russia. Russia put an end to this nonsense by slamming Hitler's forces.

So if you think you are Uber Man and think that it takes pain to make gain, beware.


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    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 2 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks for the feedback Jewels!

    • Jewels profile image

      Jewels 2 years ago from Australia

      Hmmm homeostatic imbalance sounds like it has a link to inflammation. I was reading your hub on PTSD and then came to this one......because I have been looking at issue of PTSD outside of war zones. Meaning, I personally was in a situation of high stress for 6 years which required strong acts of will and what felt like little reward. The after effects years later have resulted in a complete lack of will. So whilst some of my experience has made me wiser and possibly in some cases stronger, there is definitely a weakness that has resulted. Food for thought. Perhaps food is not a good substitute here!!

    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 2 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      I actually get bored if I try to relax in the way most people relax, e.g. pedicures, laying on a beach, etc. I love to be active and thinking, and nothing makes me happier than a new problem to solve. I need challenge and it takes a lot to overwhelm me. Guess I am blessed.

    • SunkistGirl profile image

      Ann Pingrey-Korthas 5 years ago from Utah, United States

      Thanks for sharing this. I learned something new today from reading your article. I do believe that what doesn't kill you will make you stronger, even if in some small way. I also believe, since reading your article, that chronic or a very stressful time can change your biological receptors. I have experienced this and still trying to find how to cope and deal with life in this "new position." While my experience wasn't related to work, but a personal family situation. I actually had a few too many situations all hit within a short period of few years. While that sounds "cope-able", the issues were major things that I hope no one ever has to face. The incidents have made me a stronger person and shaped me in ways that would not otherwise have happened, I can also see where I have "weakened." Knowing why I am in this weakened state (thanks to your article!), I can now better cope with life and find how to live in this new state. Thank you for sharing!

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 5 years ago from California, United States of America

      I'm glad I've found someone talking about this subject, especially since socially struggling seems so often encouraged. I have often joked, "What doesn't kill you could maim you for life." What you have illuminated here has deep and wide social implications.

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Hi, Kartika. Yes, I've studied the neuropsychology of stress. It makes many of your major biological systems weaker if it is chronic. And chronic stress can make you fat by resetting your metabolism rate. But big stressful challenges can make you psychologically stronger if their limited in time and are not life- or livelihood-threatening. It's the biology that gets upset first. Then, the hippocampus, which records long-term memory, downsizes in order to help you forget--and make you dumber. That's a big part of PTSD--the brain downsizes in response to stress.

    • kartika damon profile image

      kartika damon 5 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

      I love this! This is the first article I've come across that calls out this absurd statement. It had always seemed wrong to me when I hear it. Great research.

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      That's some amazing stuff, alancaster149.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 5 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Hitler was a Nietsche fan who willed himself to power. Trouble was, Nietsche wasn't a Hitler fan and probably reached out to him from beyond the grave... Not that I believe that, but it could be a good idea for a story. Hitler suffered incessantly from stress in WWI. Being a runner, he didn't have a weapon to fire back with... (Wonder if he was a conscie when he was called up?) There's a story about one of the snipers of the Sherwood Foresters - a Midland regiment - catching a runner with a bullet between the legs. Hitler took a bullet between the legs, and he was in the right sector. (Small world, eh?) He was sexually assaulted by one of the officers in hospital.