Get knocked down. Get up again.
Two boys grew up in abusive homes. One father physically abused his son, while the other father verbally abused his son throughout his childhood.
One grows up to be like his father, terrorising and verbally abusing his wife and children. The other boy, receives a scholarship for academic excellence, gets married, starts a family and becomes a loving father, not repeating his dad’s mistakes.
Two boys. Similar childhood experiences. Two completely different outcomes.
Sounds like a movie you watch on a Saturday afternoon?
How is it possible for one person growing up in similar environments to emerge differently and cautiously make “better” choices?
Of course, all of this cannot merely be blamed on family dynamics that can include favouritism, dysfunctional family systems, and parental behaviour towards children.
Does resilience play a part in this?
Maya Angelou was raped as a child yet she was able to break through the shame and hurt to awe millions with her story. She became an actress, teacher, singer, poet, activist, and a powerful woman—partly spurred on by her difficult upbringing. Her story and words still impact millions of lives today.
Maya Angelou. Photo courtesy of www.independent.com
Oprah Winfrey was also a victim of sexual abuse when she was 9 years old.
“He took me to an ice cream shop—blood still running down my leg—and bought me ice cream,” she said with reference to a cousin who raped her.
Winfrey was sexually abused from the ages of 10 to 14, when she found out she was pregnant. She lost her child two weeks after she gave birth.
Today, she is one of the most influential talk show hosts on television discussing taboo topics and issues swept under the rug like sexual abuse.
Oprah Winfrey at Stanford GSB (Photo by Toni Gauthier)
Tim Roth, an English actor and director after having been sexually assaulted throughout his childhood said in the Daily Mail:
“Things happen to you in your life, but you don’t want to consider yourself to be a victim—you want to be a survivor and the first thing that helps you do that and helps you get through it is speaking and finding your voice.
I’d been wanting to direct a film for years and told my agent to start looking for a script. The first one that came through the door was the one for The War Zone. If you are a survivor of abuse and you get the opportunity to tell a story about that subject, then you can really get in there and tell the truth.”
While it’s easy to see how their stories have made an impact on society today, the process that each of them took to get there would have been one of tremendous pain and broken trust.
You probably have a story of your own. One that may even be worse than any mentioned above.
Being resilient through it is not downplaying what you’ve been through.
It’s a determination to say, “Yes I’ve been there before. I’ve been mistreated. I’ve been abused. I lost a child before I got to know him. I am divorced. I was born into a home that rejected me. I had an abortion. But here I am stronger than before.”
Don’t beat yourself up for things out of your control
Attempting to control situations that are out of your control is like driving a car forward while looking back. You’re bound to crash at some point.
If things have occurred in the past that were out of your control, eventually we will reach a place where we would need to make a decision.
Will I be defined as a product of emotional instability and dysfunction or will I be defined as someone who had difficult experiences and came out of it a better person?
Being resilient may mean taking a break
“We often take a militaristic, ‘tough’ approach to resilience and grit. We imagine a Marine slogging through the mud, a boxer going one more round, or a football player picking himself up off the turf for one more play. We believe that the longer we tough it out, the tougher we are, and therefore the more successful we will be. However, this entire conception is scientifically inaccurate.” —Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan
In their research, they say that to build resilience, one must be able to strategically take a break every now and then. Slogging through extra hours at work may give you the illusion of productivity but it does the opposite. Achor and Gielan say that recovery periods actually raise productivity levels.
Look from an eagle’s point of view occasionally
The eagle is known as the king of the sky. It can dive 125–150 miles (201–322 km/hr) per hour to catch its prey. It is able to see four to five times further than the average human can. That is like being able to see an ant from atop a 10-storey building!
To be able to look from an eagle’s point of view is essentially viewing life from a larger perspective. Will I look back on my life 10 years from now and want to feel the same way about this situation?
Does this build my character? Are these difficult people I deal with meant to shape or frustrate me? The traumatic childhood you may have had does not define your future.
Resiliency isn’t saying that you are in a difficult place. It is saying that the difficult place you were in can make you a stronger person within.
Tamara is a curious creature. She loves thought-provoking conversations over cups of tea. Share your thoughts with her about a time you needed to be resilient. For more Thought of the week articles, click here.