Are you Supernormal?

“How do we explain resilience?”

Today, Dr. Meg Jay hosted a workshop where she challenged TEDActive attendees to think about “resilience.” Meg gave a talk in 2013 based on some of her research on twentysomethings. Her first book was titled “The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter — and how to make the most of them now.” This workshop was part of her research for her next book. Her workshop titled “Are You Supernormal?” was a conversation about her upcoming book, adversity and the secrets we keep.

The first definition she offered was “good adaptation despite diversity.” But this definition was too clean and didn’t capture the heart of what Meg wanted to explore with her research and the book she was writing. She challenged the group to think beyond the concept of “resilience” and think through the process of what it means to overcome adversity and begin to heal as individuals.

Meg introduced a series of case studies through descriptions of her patients. Each person she described had struggled with tough issues, including sexual abuse, mental illness in the family, bullying by peers, and neglect, but they had also managed to create their own successes. Many of the patients she described were, by any public measure, thriving and building incredible lives for themselves.

When Meg told some of these patients that they were resilient individuals, the response was frequently, “Who? Me?” They had trouble recognizing what they had accomplished, instead downplaying their efforts by comparing their situations to much more extreme examples of adversity.

Meg argued that this type of thinking might be more isolating than healing. She explained that some of these patients took on the roles of “superheroes,” and felt pressure to be perfect, able to adapt quickly to their environments under changing conditions, and constantly “good.” The persona she described said: “On the outside, I look successful. The people around me tell me that I am amazing, but on the inside, I have secrets.” Her patients had trouble appreciating their own strength and putting it in context for themselves.

She found that healing, for these individuals, came from accepting points of weakness.

She asked TEDActive attendees, were her patients “Supernormal” for being able to overcome adversity? Or was this resilience, in fact, remarkable but also part of being truly human?

Meg added that challenges like loss of a parent, physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse, mental illness in the family, poverty, neglect, and a handful of other topics were far more common in the lives of our peers than we might expect. That, in all likelihood, we had all had friends and family members and colleagues who may be struggling with similar challenges.

One goal for the book will be to open up conversations about adversity and resilience. She hopes that readers will realize “I’m not the only one.” That their resilience counted, even if they had not won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.

More of her research and ideas will be available in her forthcoming book that she is writing titled “Supernormal: The Secret World of the Heroic Child.

By Diana Enriquez

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