Strength in Being Broken

"My scars remind me that I did indeed survive my deepest wounds … they remind me that the damage life has inflicted on me has, in many places, left me stronger and more resilient. What hurt me in the past has actually made me better equipped to face the present."
—Steve Goodier

Whether you’ve lost your job, are recovering from physical or emotional pain, or have experienced personal tragedy, know that you can pick up the pieces of your life and patch yourself together stronger than ever. Although the trauma in your past cannot be changed, it can be managed in ways where it no longer dominates your life, and can, in fact, help improve your life. With the proper tools and support, it’s not only possible, but likely, that you will be able to live a positive and empowered life.  

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of mending broken pottery pieces back together with gold. This art form was developed from the idea that by embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create something that is even stronger and more beautiful than what you had before. Every crack is unique, and instead of repairing an item like new, this technique highlights the “scars” as a part of the design. 

In a world that idolizes physical perfection and showy lifestyles, embracing what is broken may seem weird. But learning to accept and honor scars and flaws is a powerful lesson. Viewing Kintsugi as a symbol for healing ourselves shows us something important—in the process of repairing things that have been broken, we can end up creating something that is more unique, beautiful and stronger than what it was before. 

An example of how past struggles can lead to a more fulfilling life is through post-traumatic growth.  Most people have heard of post-traumatic stress, but many do not know about post-traumatic growth— the experience of positive change in your life after going through a highly stressful event. 

Navy SEAL Commander Curt Cronin once said this: “After multiple years of back-to-back deployments, post-traumatic stress disorder continued to grow within the SEAL community. Learning about post-traumatic growth, learning to ask ‘how could these experiences serve us?’ and being pushed to own the experiences that we had been through and use them to fuel our future, proved a powerful tool in helping our individuals, teams and organization thrive, not in spite of the stress but because of it.”

Post-traumatic growth doesn’t mean people emerge unhurt from traumatic events. However, researchers have discovered that many people report the following after experiencing a highly stressful event:1

  • Renewed appreciation of life
  • Enhanced personal strength
  • Stronger, more meaningful relationships
  • Spiritual growth
  • Recognizing new paths for their life

Stressful life events can also help you find the good in things. Finding the upside to misfortune changes the way people cope—they seek out support, report more hope for the future, and have a healthier physical response to stress. How you think about stress matters a great deal in terms of how you process it. Some people view stress as a threat, while others view it as a test of themselves. People who think of stressful events as a challenge and less like a threat report less depression and anxiety, and higher levels of energy, work performance, and life satisfaction.2 Some questions to ask yourself to help develop the ability to view events as challenges could include “Where do I have control in this situation?” and “What are my strengths?”

And finally, stressful life events can increase your empathy for others and lead to improved self-confidence. Empathy is the ability to sense other people’s emotions, combined with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. Living with empathy is more important than ever in our current society, when one can become jaded easily. And while an experience may be truly unpleasant and maybe even the toughest challenge of your life, it can also increase your confidence in your ability to conquer other challenges.

No one would say that stressful events are always a positive thing. But there are ways to embrace your stress response as a powerful tool for helping you overcome the inevitable challenges that you will face in life.  

So, if you feel like your life is out of control and your stress levels are through the roof, know that past battles, even small ones, have given you the ability to manage the one you are facing now, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Resilience doesn’t always look pretty, and some days it’s just about getting through it as best you can. Even if your life feels broken, you can still make something beautiful with the pieces. 

  1. “Posttraumatic Growth: Conceptual Foundations and Empirical Evidence.” R. Tedeschi, L. Calhoun. 2004 
  2. “Rethinking stress: the role of mindsets in determining the stress response.” A. Crum, P. Salovey, S. Achor. 25 February 2013. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
"We all have battles to fight. And it’s often in those battles that we are most alive: it’s on the frontlines of our lives that we earn wisdom, create joy, forge friendships, discover happiness, find love, and do purposeful work.”
—Eric Greitens

Author

  • Jim is the chief executive officer of Family Support Services of Amarillo (FSS), a not-for-profit agency that traces its roots back to 1908, offering counseling and behavioral health services; advocacy services for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking (including Amarillo’s only Safe House for survivors), education and prevention programs for at-risk children, families and adults; and a full-service Veterans Resource Center for veterans, their family members and surviving spouses. Jim has worked in the behavioral health care field for more than 20 years, and has undergraduate and graduate degrees from WTAMU.