Meg Jay | Supernormal Resilience (Episode 678)

Meg Jay (@drmegjay) is a clinical psychologist specializing in adult development and the author of Supernormal: The Untold Story of Adversity and Resilience.

The Cheat Sheet:

  • 75 percent of us have grown up dealing with some form of adversity.
  • Being supernormal is having a better-than-average outcome after coping with this adversity.
  • Resilience is resistance to adversity — not immunity.
  • What are the health risks of being too resilient?
  • Some people get so good at dealing with adversity that they forget — or never learn — how to feel.
  • And so much more…


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If you’ve been through adversity during your formative years, would it help you to know you’re in the majority?

In her latest book, Supernormal: The Untold Story of Adversity and Resilience, psychologist Meg Jay tells the tale of ordinary people made extraordinary by all-too-common experiences like divorce, physical or psychological abuse, alcoholism, or having a sibling with special needs — 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. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

More About This Show

As a psychologist, Supernormal: The Untold Story of Adversity and Resilience author Meg Jay regularly works with people one-on-one, behind closed doors. She explains: “Over and over, I hear people say, ‘I’m not like other people; I feel like I’m looking at the world from the outside in; I feel alienated; I’m not normal.’ And what people don’t realize is that, sadly, experiencing adversity is the norm.”

The book is about people who, often before the age of 20, grew up with what research has concluded are common adversities.

“That is anything from alcoholism in the home or mental illness in the home or bullying or domestic violence, sexual abuse, etc.,” says Meg. “These are really more common than people realize — especially when you consider them altogether, 75 percent of us have grown up with at least one of these common adversities.”

What Is Supernormal?

“The word supernormal means above the normal or average,” says Meg. “And I’m playing with the word in the book, really, as a stand-in for the word resilient, because to me, that’s what resilient people are. They have better than average outcomes after adversity. What I like about the word is that it hints at how heroic that is. It takes a lot of strength and courage to get out there and rise above your circumstances.

“For many people who have grown up with tough times, especially those who have figured a way out of it, by the time they get to adulthood, they’re really good at coping with tough things. Whether it’s med school or that cross-country move or whatever it is, by the time people get to adulthood, they’re used to coping with stress and they’re used to looking at a situation and saying, ‘failure’s not an option.'”

Supernormal? You’re In Good Company

Meg points out a lot of famously successful people who she considers supernormal — from Andre Agassi to Jay Z — “not to say this is how successful you need to be to be resilient. I did it to say, ‘Hey, if you’re struggling or you feel less than or abnormal because of your background, you’re really in good company.'”

Not Enough Adversity Can Be Bad

It’s obvious how too much adversity in formative years can be bad. But Meg argues that too little adversity during this time can also be bad.

“One of the largest studies of adversity, done by Mark Seery at SUNY Buffalo, had over 2,000 subjects, ages 18 to 101. What they found was that people who have experienced no adversity were less satisfied, less successful, less high-functioning, if you will, than people who had experienced moderate amounts.

“Where moderate and where too much ends and begins is probably different for everyone, but many people think ‘If I had had a perfect life, I would be a happier person’ — it’s not necessarily true.”

We might think back on adversity we’ve experienced and wish it hadn’t happened, but we might also identify it as something that’s made us stronger or given our lives more meaning or purpose, or make us appreciative and grateful for the good things in our lives.

Nonverbal Superpowers

Meg says that people who have lived through adversity have amazing awareness that almost seems like a superpower because their nonverbal skills are so highly tuned.

“Soldiers will talk about this after having been in combat,” says Meg. “When you’re in a situation that feels like a threat, or that feels dangerous, your brain clicks in to fight or flight and people tend to become more vigilant. You have to really pay attention to your surroundings — that’s how you adapt and how you survive. A lot of people who grow up with hardship, they’re very good at reading people. They’re very good at reading situations. They can be extremely savvy problem solvers.”

Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm in its entirety to learn more about why most supernormals keep their trauma hidden, why social scientists agree that resilience is a phenomenon, why there’s no formula that dictates what traits might translate into someone demonstrating supernormal tendencies while a theoretical identical twin put through the same trials might not, the health risks of being supernormal, and lots more.


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AJ Harbinger - author of 1139 posts on The Art of Charm

AJ Harbinger is one of the world’s top relationship development experts. His company, The Art of Charm, is a leading training facility for top performers that want to overcome social anxiety, develop social capital and build relationships of the highest quality. Raised by a single father, AJ felt a strong desire to learn about relationships and the elements that make them successful. However, this interest went largely untapped for many years. Following the path set out for him by his family, AJ studied biology in college and went on to pursue a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology at the University of Michigan. It was at this time that he began to feel immense pressure from the cancer lab he worked in and began to explore other outlets for expression. It was at this point that The Art of Charm Podcast was born.

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