Summary of Supernormal

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  • Applicable
  • Innovative
  • Concrete Examples


Clinical psychologist Meg Jay explains one facet of psychology’s evolving view of “resilient” people: adults who triumphed over childhood adversity and achieved great success. Traditionally, society and psychologists thought resilient people possessed a superhuman invulnerability – that they somehow brushed aside adversity to emerge unscathed from the traumas of bullying, sexual abuse, bereavement or absent parents. In reality, Jay argues, resilient children, once they’ve grown up, feel as vulnerable to danger and uncertainty as anyone. But they are more prepared to deal with it since they’ve already learned and developed coping strategies. They know how to be hypervigilant against danger, to read people’s moods and to exercise a high degree of self-control – because they needed these skills as children. They even compensated for absent parents by becoming highly competent at domestic tasks. Such skills pay dividends later in life, laying a path for achievement. But a lifetime of living with the stress of constantly having to cope leaves many of these adults feeling fragile, burdened with alienation from society and within themselves. Jay writes compassionately and vividly about her resilient patients and their difficulty in adjusting to the “normal” world. getAbstract recommends her innovative manual to managers, coaches and teachers dealing with exceptional performers and to anyone seeking a balance between past trauma and present accomplishment, between coping and contentment.

About the Author

Clinical psychologist Meg Jay, PhD, is an associate professor of education at the University of Virginia. She is certified as a clinical trauma professional and a child and adolescent trauma professional.



Exceptionally “Normal”

Researchers believe childhood adversity is a crucial factor in about half of all mental illnesses. They’ve expended a lot of research energy trying to figure out why some children seem impervious to the negative effects of adversity. Such kids somehow emerge from early years of trauma, neglect, abuse and tragedy to grow into accomplished, seemingly well-adapted adults. The psychological term for such people is “resilient.” They are leaders, innovators and virtuosos in medicine, art, business, sports, education, science, and other fields. Their numbers include such celebrities as tennis great Andre Agassi, media mogul and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey and Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz.

When psychologists began studying resilient children in the 1970s, they suspected these children possessed some mysterious quality, a kind of superpower that enabled them to become invulnerable to the negative forces in their lives.

But these kids aren’t invulnerable, and they don’t have superpowers. To shield their vulnerabilities, they devise strategies for coping with unpredictable or dangerous environments. Some of these strategies...

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