Experience and hardship come to mind but they seem too general and they don't communicate the end result. They can be used depending on the context of course but there might be a word for a type of experience that conveys this proverb better. (if not a single word, a two-word phrase).

Example sentence:

I've suffered through a lot of adversity in my life, experiences that didn't kill me, but made me stronger, turned me into a fighter. These ordeals were (my) _______.

  • 1
    influences? formative experiences? motivators?
    – Jim
    May 12, 2015 at 16:15
  • It's kind of what is meant by "being experienced" or , figuratively "hardened"
    – P. O.
    May 12, 2015 at 16:16
  • @Jim: Good suggestions. They are apt as an answer but there might be a word that conveys the strong sense of "that which doesn't kill you" and the end result "that makes you stronger". I've seen surprising answers in the past for similar questions.
    – ermanen
    May 12, 2015 at 16:18
  • @P.Obertelli: Thanks. I mentioned "experience" also but I think what I'm looking for is a special kind of experience combined with hardship. But you can use them depending on the context as well.
    – ermanen
    May 12, 2015 at 16:21
  • 1
    These were the "turning points" / "cross-roads" / "watershed events" / "crisis points" in my life.
    – Jim
    May 12, 2015 at 16:41

4 Answers 4


1. I've been through a lot in my life and turned me into a fighter.

2. The experience determined the very things that didn't kill me but made me stronger.

There are connotations here of ORDEAL, TRIAL, TESTING, and of a process of distillation, in the sense of separating or extracting the essential and vital elements within, and of a refining process, in the sense of being purified of what is coarse, debasing, or superfluous, again it is a reduction to what is essential, vital, true and strong.

This is the purpose of the alchemist's retort, and of the crucible.

3. These ordeals were my crucible."

CRUCIBLE noun: 2. a. An extremely difficult experience or situation; a severe test or trial: "the emotional crucible of a wartime deployment" (Kristin Henderson). See synonyms at trial. see, The Free Dictionary

  • 1
    Great! A new sense of the word for me. It looks like a metaphor also because a crucible is a container made to endure great heat. +1
    – ermanen
    May 12, 2015 at 16:59
  • 1
    I'm continually impressed by what people on this site can come up with for these "a word for..." questions
    – Jason
    May 12, 2015 at 21:13

I'm not sure if there is a word that means that specifically, but it can always be inferred using other terms.

One that springs to mind is foundation.

The experience determined the very things that didn't kill me but made me stronger. These things are my foundation(s).

This suggests it is the deepest thing within the personality, which is then built upon, which will likely imply it was caused by something deeply profound (such as a near-death experience etc.) You then may need to elaborate, but I think it would be understood what is meant from the context.

You can use other words like inspiration or motivation, but I don't think they quite have the gravitas that you're looking for.

  • 1
    It is great to see answers that explain nuances. +1
    – ermanen
    May 12, 2015 at 16:57

Just to niggle, it's more of a famous quotation than a proverb, though you could argue that it has, alas, become one.

For your short phrase, you might go with 'fate' and I think sick old Fritz might approve.

I have problems with your experience "determining the very things". Might I suggest cutting out the middle altogether, and run straight from "I've been through a lot in my life and it turned me into a fighter" into "This was what failed to kill me but made me stronger", or, using the quotation more verbatim, "This was the 'whatever' that 'did not kill me but made me stronger'" Just my ten rappen.

  • Thanks. I think it became a "proverb" after the quotation.
    – ermanen
    May 12, 2015 at 16:22
  • It's an aphorism. Nov 26, 2021 at 19:36

I was going to suggest inoculation. I had guessed that the etymology was related to 'noxious' -- a poison -- that made you stronger.

Upon research that derivation turns out to be incorrect, but I think it is still a possible answer, even if it is a bit metaphorical.


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