|Growing up, I was told two different versions of who I was and who I could become. My stepfather instilled in me that I would never amount to anything. I was a lazy momma’s boy and she wouldn’t be around to protect me forever. He told me that going to college was a waste of money and time. |
Fortunately, my mom offered a powerful counter narrative. I was her little professor who loved to read and learn. She told me I would be the first in our family to go to college and I could do anything I wanted.
While my mom’s version would eventually prevail, the choice was not as easy or as simple as it may seem – or at least it wasn’t for a twelve-year-old trying to find his sense of self. There is a reason they call that period our formative years.
When someone plants these negative stories of ourselves enough times, it’s impossible for them not to take root and grow over time. It may seem silly but his negative words still give me cause for doubt decades later.
I was fortunate to have a positive counter narrative. Not just from my mom but from other family members, friends, teachers and others along the way.
Imagine if I didn’t. That’s the way it is for too many children who grow up in difficult situations and are constantly told a version of their lives that offers little hope or understanding.
There has been much work and research on how to counter this – to build resilience in children who face an unfair share of negative words and experiences in their lives
Less has been done to figure out how to build this resilience in adults. A recent article in the New York Times, How to Build Resilience in Middle Life, points out promising practices and research that could make a huge difference for people of any age.
One suggestion is to “rewrite your story”, saying “study after study has shown that we can benefit from reframing the personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves.”
For example, “In expressive writing studies, college students taught to reframe their college struggles as a growth opportunity got better grades and were less likely to drop out.”
Parents, teachers, friends, employers, judges, social workers, in fact all of us, have the potential to help people write the best version of their story, one that is honest but also offers hope. One based on potential not problems.
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