Are your children and teens resilient? Do they bounce back after they’ve been disappointed or faced hostility, bullies, abuse or trauma? Are you resilient? Do you know how to resist a hostile, abusive, controlling or bullying husband or wife? Can you resist your self-bullying tendencies? How about abusive, controlling or bullying friends, relatives or neighbors? How about at work; hostile, abusive, bullying bosses, managers or co-workers? Do you bounce back from getting passed over, terminated or fired from a hostile workplace? You know – lies, yelling, cursing, back-stabbing, verbal abuse, demeaning insults, harassment, false complaints or accusations. According to a Newsweek article written by Mary Carmichael (The Resiliency Gene: A genetic variant may protect some abused kids from depression and other long-term effects) the National Institute of Mental Health is funding studies to find the genes associated with resiliency to hostility, abuse and trauma. As a former practicing biochemist, I can say that, of course, we’ll find genes associated with almost every pattern of behavior.
But, I think it’s a dead end if we focus merely on the genetic expressions of what’s going on.
Why do I think it’s a dead end? Because you end up thinking that either you have the right stuff or you don’t. That belief won’t help your children develop strength of character or as much resilience as they can. For example, contrast the behavior of the teen in cyber-bullying suicide case with the teen who was acquitted of punching a racist tormentor . . Worrying about the resiliency gene won’t help you be courageous either. You’ll remain a victim; hoping the system can be made 100 percent safe and fair. You’re better off thinking that you can develop the right stuff to protect yourself, to create a bully-free environment. That approach to make the world totally and completely safe is being tried right now in our schools .
Resiliency is something that we’ve seen and studied throughout history. For example, in their elegant studies of about 700 famous men and women (“Cradles of Eminence,” 1962), Victor and Mildred Goertzel, called the eminent survivors of childhood abuse and trauma, “The Invulnerables.” Our history is full of men and women who failed and then bounced back, struggled and succeeded.
In my coaching of adults (including parents wanting to know how to help their children), I encourage them to focus on the “free will” aspects of their lives. You have much more control over what you create in life right now, than you do over your genetics. No matter what life throws at us, whether we’re subjected to natural disasters, large scale human destruction or individual family brutality and trauma, we all must struggle to rise above those events in order to create as great a life as we can. We can take charge of our efforts even though we can’t control the results.
Inspire your children by them to look back at their inheritance. Think of what their ancestors must have lived through. No matter what their ancestry, they come from an unbroken line of men and women who survived drought, flood, plague, famine, disease, war, uprooting, slavery, rape and every other form of disappointment, hostility, control, abuse, brutality and trauma known. Everyone one of their ancestors survived long enough to make a baby who grew up to make a baby who grew up to make a baby … until they were born. If one of their ancestors hadn’t grown up to do his or her part, they wouldn’t be here. They have a legacy of survivors.
Also think of their mental and spiritual inheritance. There must have been people who took in some of their ancestors and nurtured, encouraged and stimulated them; even though they weren’t blood relatives. Despite all the abuse and trauma, here they are. They have the legacy of survivors. Stop worrying about their genes and start training them to be mentally, emotionally and spiritually strong. Start helping them develop the discipline that’s worthy of all the struggle and effort that went into getting them here.
I remember the stories of what my grandparents went through in order to get here. They didn’t have credit cards, cell phones, health insurance or own their homes. How can I let them down by not living as gloriously as I can? How can I let them down by not encouraging my children to do the same – no matter what their genetics has given them?