Successful adults who overcame difficult childhoods have one thing in common – resilience, according to social scientists.
“The dictionary defines resilience as elasticity, which is the ability to recover quickly, and easily…these images are fine for describing recovery from short-term problems, but they don’t capture how resiliency truly works and feels,” said Dr. Meg Jay, author of Supernormal: The Untold Story of Adversity and Resilience.
“The most common childhood adversities aren’t one-time events but chronic sources of stress: bullying, neglect, physical or sexual abuse, the death of a parent or sibling, addiction or mental illness in the home, domestic violence.”
“‘Whatever does not kill us may indeed make us stronger’”
A resilient person does not just rebound from a traumatic experience. What they do is more complex. Resilience is an on-going battle, a way of approaching life, according to Dr. Jay.
Children are at high risk for future problems when they experience four or more adversities at birth, such as poverty, family discord, alcoholism or mental illness in the home, according to a 40-year Kauai Longitudinal Study of 698 individuals.
“There are over 4,800 legal restrictions facing people with convictions after sentence completion…73% of these legal barriers are permanent.”
“SAFE AND SOUND: …” by Californians For Safety and Justice Nov. 2017
“Two-thirds of these high-risk children went on to have difficulties of their own, such as delinquency, unplanned pregnancies and underemployment,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
The other one-third performed average to above-average at school and work, in comparison to their peers who posed low-risk from affluent stable homes. In adulthood, they found supportive partners and built loving families, according to the report.
How did they do it?
According to Dr. Jay, “They were active problem-solvers who, over a period of decades, fought for better lives for themselves…they used whatever strengths they had to their advantage – a particular talent, an engaging personality, a ready intelligence.
“They sought out friends, teachers, neighbors or relatives who cared. They made plans to better themselves and set ambitious but realistic goals for the future.”
Some notable celebrities cited who overcame childhood adversities: relatives sexually abused Oprah Winfrey, Howard Schultz of Starbucks grew up in a housing project, and John D. Rockefeller’s father was a con man and was often absent.
Those who have experienced some adversity tend to have higher functioning and more satisfaction in their lives compared with those who had no experience of adversity, according to a 2010 University of Buffalo study, by psychologist Mark Seery.
Seery also concluded that, “in partial agreement with Nietzsche, that ‘in moderation, whatever does not kill us may indeed make us stronger.’”
“When life inevitably becomes difficult…Resist the defeat in your own mind…Reach out to family, friends or professionals who care,” said Dr. Jay.
It is a myth that resilient people don’t need help. Seeking support is what resilient people do.