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Have you ever met someone who has been through extreme hardship but continued on?
Maybe you have met someone who has experienced significant adversity, fallen, and then stood back up.
Maybe this is you.
It’s called resilience.
It’s not “resiliency,” or a trait only some people have.
Rather, it’s now referred to as “resilience,” or the ability to stand up after extreme adversity and say, “I’ve got this.”
It doesn’t mean you won’t fall.
It doesn’t mean you won’t give up.
What it means is that if you do happen to fall, you will bounce back.
People do this with the help of protective factors.
These include individual characteristics, such as optimism and humor, as well as other factors, such as positive relationships with teachers and other supportive relationships with adults.
For children with complex childhood trauma, their ability to overcome adversity may appear daunting.
Interestingly, though, some children manage to beat the odds.
Exposed to various forms of childhood trauma, five individuals managed to leave their homes and become educated and write their memoirs.
Their stories are ones of childhood abuse, and yet, resilience and success in adulthood.
As a researcher who studies resilience, I would like to share these five stories as remarkable examples of this process.
Educated, by Tara Westover
Born in Idaho, Tara Westover was raised by survivalist parents and did not go to school. Her father was paranoid about the government, the public school system, and westernized medicine. Tara’s mother suffered a brain injury but never received medical care. Despite being abused by her older brother and being shamed for wanting to go to school, Tara taught herself math and was later accepted to Bringham Young University (BYU).
After BYU, she was given the opportunity to study at Kings College, Cambridge. However, she struggled to maintain her scholarship while being estranged from her family and attempting to remain resilient. She has since earned her PhD and shared her story internationally.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance
Raised in the Appalachians by his single mother who suffered from a mental health disorder, J.D. Vance lived a life of a child you’d never expect would end up at Yale Law School. Exposed to violence, alcoholism, and abuse, J.D. Vance managed to move up and out of poverty and childhood trauma by becoming educated. He attributes his success to his grandmother pushing him in school.
Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard, by Liz Murray
Liz Murray lost both of her parents, who were addicted to drugs, as a teenager, to AIDS while growing up in New York City. Homeless, she wrote about her experience in a scholarship essay for the New York Times and won, which paid her way through college. She is known for the Lifetime film made about her life story called “Homeless to Harvard.” She has since attended Teachers College, Columbia University, to study clinical psychology.
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls
Jeannette Walls grew up in poverty in a dysfunctional family. Her father was an alcoholic and had a lofty dream of building a glass castle for their family to live in. Often homeless, the family frequently moved, finding places to live in vacant homes. While her father did not support it, Jeannette left her home and found a way to complete a degree at Barnard College using grants, loans, scholarships, and working at a law firm. She has since written many award-winning books.
Wildflower: A Tale of Transcendence, by Dr. Teresa Van Woy
Dr. Teresa Van Woy was introduced to a life of poverty at the age of seven when her mother took her and her siblings away from their father on a summer vacation that ended with them living in a homeless shelter in San Francisco. She experienced dumpster diving for food and severe emotional abuse. She later found a way out and into a life of transcendence. Today, she is a podiatrist and a loving mother of three daughters.
For more on resilience, please consider the work of Dr. Ann Masten below: