Meg Jay




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There are people who live exceptional lives, who give their all and achieve extraordinary results. We might be tempted to call them superheroes, but the correct term for these people is “supernormals”. As Meg Jay explains in her book, Supernormal: Childhood Adversity and the Untold Story of Resilience, they are people who, not in spite of, but because of their traumatic childhood experiences, become resilient adults capable of going way beyond anything we might expect from an average person. Drawing on nearly two decades of work with clients and students, Jay tells the tale of ordinary people made extraordinary by their all-too-common traumatic experiences, everyday superheroes who have made a life out of dodging bullets and jumping hurdles, every day, in front of our very eyes, as doctors, artists, entrepreneurs, lawyers, parents, activists, teachers, students and readers.

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Analysis and key concepts


75% of the world's population is exposed to harmful events during childhood: what surprises psychologists is that many successful adults become successful precisely because of these experiences, which impelled them to develop a particular characteristic: RESILIENCE


Supernormality was first discovered in the 1960’s, but was only defined 50 years later through the work of neuroscientists and psychologists


Childhood trauma is not only caused by single serious events. Daily struggles during childhood also give rise to chronic stress. The point of no return is a moment which defines the before and after


The human brain remembers negative experiences with great intensity because it records dangerous events to help us survive: its job is to keep us alive, not to make us happy


Among the many examples of supernormal adults are the “super siblings”: men and women who grew up in homes with a child who needed special care


For many supernormals comparisons with superheroes spills over into their romantic lives. Just like superheroes, their lives are too busy for love and rest




Take-home message

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Many useful tips to:

  • Understand the true meaning of resilience, beyond the common clichés.
  • Learn how and why bad experiences are impossible to forget.
  • Recognise the “superhuman” in us and in our loved ones, and learn to help it thrive.

Meg Jay is a clinical psychologist who works at the University of Virginia and has a private practice in Charlottesville. Specialising in the development of "twentysomethings", she worked for twenty years as an instructor of Outward Bound, the non-profit educational organisation founded by Kurt Hahn providing outdoor life-learning experiences. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Psychology Today, and on NPR , the BBC and TED . She also wrote The Defining Decade on the consequences of youth experiences in adult education.

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