“Superheroes need to be able to take off their capes, put their feet up, love others and be loved, because love heals.”
That’s a central message Meg Jay, Ph.D., delivered during a presentation at The Barry Robinson Center in November. Jay is the author of Supernormal: The Secret World of the Family Hero.
This book and her presentation focused on the world of the supernormal: those who soar to unexpected heights after childhood adversity. Jay is a clinical psychologist and also author of The Defining Decade: Why Your 20s Matter and How to Make the Most of Them.
She shared sobering statistics on the incidence of childhood adversity. These “adverse childhood experiences” include loss of a parent to death or divorce; bullying; alcoholism or drug abuse in the home; mental illness in a parent or a sibling; neglect; emotional, physical or sexual abuse; having a parent in jail; or growing up alongside domestic violence.
Nearly 75% of people experience at least one of these adverse experiences by age 20. But people often keep these experiences secret, as along with their courageous battles to overcome them.
In Supernormal, Jay shares stories of ordinary people made extraordinary by these all-too-common experiences. Everyday superheroes who have made a life out of dodging bullets and leaping over obstacles, even as they hide in plain sight as doctors, artists, entrepreneurs, lawyers, parents, activists, teachers, students and readers.
Jay’s book gives a voice to the supernormals as they reveal not only “How do they do it?” but also “How does it feel?”
During her presentation to BRC employees and community professionals, Jay talked about how heroic it is for supernormals to be resilient.
“We focus on their resilience, not their being damaged, but being strong and courageous,” she said. “We focus not on what happened to them, but on how they overcame what happened.”
For BRC employees and others who provide trauma-informed care, Jay stressed the importance of helping children and teens develop resilience by seeing more than one way out of a situation.
“Resilient people found ways to put distance between their problems and themselves,” she said. “Young children may escape into play or reading. Older kids may find a safe place in the backyard or a friend’s house. And after graduation, it may be college, military or a job far away from home.”
Significant for BRC’s focus on military-connected families, Jay said that about 75% of military members have a background that includes adverse childhood experiences.
“Those who make it often feel compelled to give back. We often find these resilient people in the helping professions – the family hero turned pro,” she said.
Jay also shared research about the connection between adverse childhood experiences and physical health in adult life. The cumulative effects of constantly living in “fight or flight” mode has been linked to serious illnesses later in life.
But the good news is that this connection can be disrupted, Jay explained, with the positive cumulative effects of calming, soothing relationships. She paraphrased trauma expert Dr. Bruce Perry on helping children heal from adversity.
“What works best is anything that increases the quality and quantity of relationships in a child’s life.”
That powerful message resonates with BRC, where all interactions are focused on making connections with residents and showing them that relationships can be safe.
Learn more about BRCs treatment approach.