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Finding Strength- How to Overcome Anything

Finding Strength- How to Overcome Anything - Published on...

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Published on Psychology Today ( http://www.psychologytoday.com) Home > Finding Strength: How to Overcome Anything Finding Strength: How to Overcome Anything By admin Created Apr 30 1998 - 11:00pm Are some of us born more resilient than others? Can strength be taught? What follows is a breakthrough report detailing what only decades of research can show -- how people overcome terrible trauma, and just what it takes to survive and thrive. For most of us, high-voltage transmission lines are blots on the landscape. They slice up the sky and emit a sinister little hum of energy that translates into "Stay back if you want to see tomorrow." So, for David Miller to like power lines so much -- to see in them uplift and promise and future -- well, you first have to understand the landscape of a child whose mother decided not to keep him. He was born in 1960, in Reidsville, North Carolina, in a neighborhood of small, neat ranch houses -- in the African-American-only part of town. This was, after all, the deep South of over forty years ago. He lived with his grandparents. His mother left him there; she couldn't do it, everyone knew that. She was 24, pregnant by mistake. "It's not that I didn't see my mother," Miller says, "but my grandparents raised me." Yet because his grandparents both worked -- his grandfather at a dry cleaners, his grandmother as a laundry attendant -- "I was a latchkey kid before the coin was termed." And when they were home, they had little patience for a small boy's antics. "My grandmother would save up my spankings all week," says Miller. "Friday was judgment day." If the offense was grave enough, he ended up with welts across his back. You might imagine that he was a child standing on a slippery hillside, his birth merely the first skidding step downward. In his spare time, though, he used to walk under the power lines. "It seemed like hours and miles," he recalls, "but I was pretty small." And he'd follow them with his feet and then his eyes until they disappeared into the clouded edges of the sky. And he'd think about where they went and wonder about the world beyond.
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Miller is 37 now and an assistant professor of social work at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He's chosen to study resilience -- the ability, let's say, to stand steady on such treacherous hillsides, even to climb them -- among other at-risk children, young African-Americans from the poor and drug-overrun neighborhoods of the inner city. "I'm interested in strengths," he says. "What strengths allow you to deal with the violence, and the guns held to your head, and the fear of being molested? What is it that allows children to grow up in that and not be immobilized?" And when he talks to teenagers there, he remembers his own climb. "I do see myself as resilient. I always believed in my own abilities. I wasn't handcuffed by where I grew up. I'm happy with my life." And when he travels to New York or Miami or into the power-line neighborhoods of Cleveland, where he lives, he still looks up and watches that unexpected flight of utility hardware to the horizon. And he thinks, "Oh, this is where they
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