The Secrets of Resilience by M. Jay
What does it take to conquer life’s adversities? Lessons from successful adults who overcame difficult childhoods
Does early hardship in life keep children from becoming successful adults? It’s an urgent question for parents and educators, who worry that children growing up in difficult circumstances will fail to reach their full potential, or worse, sink into despair and dysfunction.
….When the researchers asked these resilient adults how they understood their own success in retrospect [especially given their difficult childhoods], the majority reported that their most important asset was determination.
“I am a fighter – I am determined – I will survive,” said one woman who made her way out of an abusive childhood. “I give it 100% before I give up. I will never lose hope.”
… And another who became an aerospace engineer put it this way: “I don’t let problems take control. I just pick myself up and start all over – you can always try again.”
Other research has suggested the importance of the fighter within. In a 2010 paper in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Anke Ehlers of the University of Oxford reported on 81 adults who had formerly been held as political prisoners in East Germany.
They had been subjected to mental and physical abuse, including beatings, threats and being kept in the dark.
Decades after their release, about two-thirds of the former prisoners had, at some point, met criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while about one-third of the prisoners had not.
What made some more likely to suffer from PTSD? Dr. Ehlers found that the extent to which prisoners had fought back in their own minds made a bigger difference than the severity of the abuse they had suffered.
Those who felt mentally defeated – who felt like they were “nothing” or who quit caring what became of them – were more likely to report symptoms of PTSD later.
By contrast, prisoners who had resisted from within – even if they appeared to have given up on the outside, by complying with guards or signing false confessions – fared better down the line.
This sort of inner defiance is, in part, how one man – an officer in the military who came to me for a consultation – told me he survived years of bullying as a child and teen: “I refused to accept what they said about me was true.”
…A minister once shared a parable with me that neatly captures this point:
Two brothers are raised in a home in which the father is a violent alcoholic. One brother grows up to be a drinker and an abuser, while the other becomes an abuser, while the other becomes an abstinent man and a model prisoner. When asked how they came to be who they were, both brothers gave the same answer: “Given who my father was, how could I not?”
…Back in 1962, the Goertzels’ finding that so many prominent people had grown up with hard times may have seemed counterintuitive but, given what we now know about stress and coping, it isn’t so surprising.
Coping with stress is a lot like exercise: We become stronger with practice.
…. In a multiyear study of more than 2,000 adults aged 18 to 101, published in 2010 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, University at Buffalo psychologist Mark Seery and colleagues found that those who had known some adversity were both higher-functioning and more satisfied with their lives than those who had experienced extremely high levels of hard-ship – and compared with those who had experienced no adversity at all.
They also coped better with more recent problems they encountered, leading the study’s authors to conclude, in partial agreement with Nietzsche, that “in moderation, whatever does not kill us may indeed make us stronger.”
So where does that leave those of us who would like to be more resilient? It helps to take on long-form projects that feel like challenges rather than threats. Whether taking up crew or judo, studying for an advanced degree or mastering an instrument, hard things that aren’t emotional or unexpected help us practice for those that are.
And when life inevitably becomes difficult, own the fighter within. Resist defeat in your own mind by a school yard bully or an alcoholic parent. Fighting back on the inside is where battling back on the outside begins.
Reach out to family, friends or professionals who care. It is a myth that resilient people don’t need help. Seeking support is what most resilient people do.
…Make a realistic plan to improve your situation, and work toward it day by day.
…Finally, remember the ways you have been courageous and strong. Too often we remember what has gone wrong in life rather than what we did to survive and thrive. …
How People Learn to Become Resilient by Maria Konnikova
Why the Best Success Stories Often Begin With Failureby Amy Crawford
Why the Best Success Stories Often Begin With Failure by Amy Crawford