When, at times, a person asks me what makes me resilient despite an upbringing and youth that was so damaging, I first think about how I was no different than anyone else. I feel the self that is me and feel ordinary in my extraordinari-ness. I believe anyone else in my situation could have responded as I did. But the inquiring person tends toward doubtfulness. Then I consider what made me rise above my circumstances.

First, I knew instinctively that the way I was being treated at home and later at school was wrong. It was not loving and supportive. It was abusive. It disconfirmed my humanity. The way I was treated felt awful, and so I decided that such behavior was the opposite of how I would treat others. I learned a lot by doing the opposite, and it prevented a good deal of heartache on my part. For example, I stayed away from drugs and gangs, vandalism and crime, truancy, and pregnancy. A few key exemplary figures demonstrated kindness, appreciation, and compassion and these influences shaped my principles and values.

Second, I noticed that many people around me insisted that their way of life was correct and anything different was wrong. History is littered with examples of this type of human defensiveness and the wars that breed from such narrow perspectives. As it happens, I became the “identified patient” to my mother, and she did plenty to make me think that I was crazy. She achieved her aim in part as my emotional woundedness prompted me to see myself as flawed. This perspective enabled me to get help to determine out what WAS wrong with me, and this willingness to get help early made it possible for me to address my problems.

Third, I had a great affinity for stories of heroic figures in history. The lives of Helen Keller, Anne Frank, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were among those that spoke to my own desire to embody strength, endurance, power, and other resiliency competencies. Given the challenges, hardships, and adversities that I faced in my youth and young adulthood, I had to leverage my wherewithal to cope with pain; and I often felt that I was not resilient because my lack of ease over-shadowed the ease that ultimately characterize people who are resilient. Now I believe differently: Resiliency is the process that moves us through stages of coping–impairment, succumbing, languishing, synthesis, and thriving.

I have visited all the stages of resiliency according to the H.E.R.O.E.S. model. The challenge is to keep our resiliency status evolving, moving ever upward toward thriving. We all have the native potential to thrive, regardless of how difficult the process. The opportunity for resiliency always exists, and we must find it. And we must know that we are each extraordinary. We are born of free will so that we may be our own HEROES.

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