What is it that makes one person who has experienced abuse and trauma sink into despair while others rise above seemingly unfathomable depths to triumph? Samantha Pellicciotti is just such a resilient thriver. Her story could’ve turned out entirely differently. Born to parents whose addictions led them to neglect her needs, endangering her life and bringing her into the foster care system, Pelliciotti might easily have become a statistic. But instead of destroying her future, her adverse experiences — among them parental incarceration, a series of at times unsavory sleeping arrangements, as well as a pre-teen sexual assault perpetrated by someone she’d trusted — became catalysts for her success. Now 18, she’ll graduate from high school as valedictorian, and she’s heading to Temple University in Philadelphia. She’s the first in her family to attend college. Her parents and half-siblings are all either in recovery or plagued by addiction. Samantha’s career goal is to join the FBI so that she can advocate for and protect those like herself. She credits her school community for bolstering her in reaching this lofty point.
Another Story of the Value of Support
A 9-year-old boy at the mercy of an abusive father sneaks out of the house to martial arts classes. There he learns to strengthen both his body and his resolve to protect himself once he’s able. When he was 12, the abuse ceased. “I was bigger and stronger than my father,” he explains. “I knocked him on his ass, and he never touched me again.” The story doesn’t end there. He continued to study and earn black belts in various disciplines. In high school, a young woman he was involved with what gang raped when he wasn’t around. She later ended her life. As a result, he began to teach self-defense classes for women, hoping to prevent others from experiencing the same fate as his girlfriend. Someone asked him how it was that he didn’t become violent, addicted to substances, or suicidal. He replied, “I had two people who believed in me: my grandmother and my martial arts sensei.”
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress.” These include family and workplace struggles, addiction, abuse, illness, job loss, death of a loved one, and financial challenges. As evidenced in the examples above, it’s entirely possible to become like a flexible rubber band and bounce back from adversity. Are these two people exceptions to the rule, or did they know a secret that others who’ve succumbed to the effects of trauma might be missing? According to the APA, resilient people aren’t necessarily born, but made. The association said support is the primary factor in developing resilience, but it also points to the ability to make and carry out realistic plans, a positive view of oneself, communication and problem-solving skills, and the ability to manage impulses as factors associated with the ability to bounce back from challenges. By Edie Weinstein, LSW Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein1