Supernormal: The Untold Story of Adversity and Resilience by Meg Jay


BEST SELF-REFLECTION BOOK OF 2017 AWARD GOES TO: Supernormal - The Untold Story of Adversity and Resilience by Meg Jay! If you’ve been through any childhood adversity (any form of family instability or debilitating health or mental illness, etc) and if as an adult you tend to dive into work at all costs, experience depression, and have health issues, GET THIS BOOK! You are likely what the author, Meg Jay, calls a “supernormal, “everyday superheros who have made a life out of dodging bullets and leaping over obstacles, hiding in plain sight as teachers, artists, doctors, lawyers, parents, students….” 

This is the first book I’ve read that effectively explains the befuddling phenomena of why a subset of kids who have grown up in adverse situations succeed as adults COMBINED with the latest neuroscience research on what longterm stress does to the brain and body. 

And if you happen to have experienced a perfectly supportive, emotional stable childhood, gift them this book or read it to better understand all the supernormals around you.  

“…we romanticize upward mobility in all forms and sometimes forget about its difficult: exhaustion, vulnerability, loneliness. Naturally, we are amazed by those who are resilient, yet as we have focused do How do they do it”, we have forgotten also to ask, How does it feel?” p16

“‘…most people prefer the certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty.’”  Virgina Satir p27

For the supernormal, to fight often means to attack a problem. Rather than raging against another person, for supernormal, fighting the good fight is more about battling against a situation—poverty, discrimination, abuse, bullying, unfairness, abandonment—whatever the case may be. Fueled by some original injustice, the supernormal are not afraid to work long and hard without immediate rewards, even in the face of multiple setbacks…In fact, they usually feel they have no choice. Failure is not an option, as they say, because neither is keeping on with life the way it is.” p63

“This redirection of energy from powerlessness toward purposeful activity has long been recognized as therapeutic for trauma and grief—“Work, work, work. This is the single most important goal of traumatized people throughout the world.” 

“Decades of research on resilient children shows that, when faced with chronic stress, good copers know how to retreat to safe places and how to take time away for themselves.” p 79

“when we are unable to transform reality, sometimes we cope by transforming it in our minds, becoming engrossed in daydreaming or fantasy…Many supernormal adults recall having rich fantasy lives as children…What they fantasies share in their ability to remove the child from a state of fear, helplessness and hopelessness, transporting her to a place where anything she can dream up is possible, even a happy life.” p 86

“For many supernormal, the most wide-open place to escape is the future. For the child with an average and expectable life, living in the present may represent being able to be carefree and spontaneous, while thinking about the future may feel scary and uncertain. For many supernormal, however, rather than being afraid of change, what they fear most is that life wills tay the same. In looking head, in being hold, they have nothing to lose.” p 90

“Prolonged stress not only keeps the amygdala activated, but also suppressed activity in the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, both parts of the brain that help us downshift our own arousal…As a result, supernormal children and adults can feel locked in to their own hyperarousal, simply male to make it stop. In this way, vigilance can persist for fear, and even for a lifetime, after the original exposure to danger…as the supernormal child may take those ‘traumatic expectations’ and her ‘anxiety of premonitions’ everywhere she goes…When bad things happen again and again, the brain learns that danger is not an unusual encounter but rather a way of life…Vigilance helps us manage external difficulties yet, over time, it can take a toll on the brain and body, leading to an array of inner difficulties: upset stomach and diarrhea, over- or underrating, immunosuppression, insomnia, lowered sex drive, heart disease, anxiety, depression, and —most simply—exhaustion…Not only do those who experience chronic stress have trouble falling asleep, but once they do, they often don’t sleep as deeply, spending less time in what is called delta sleep.” p 109

“By adulthood, many supernormals attribute their survival and their success to their special ability to control their days and, therefore, their destinies.” p. 124

“As difficult as it is to have thoughts or feelings about a problem that no one wants to talk about, it is even more difficult to have thoughts or feelings about a problem no one can talk about because no one knows what it is.” p. 125

“…called disenfranchised grief, or the sort of sorrow that follows from a loss that is not widely acknowledged. Though they may not typically be recognized as orphans, or even consciously think of themselves as such, those who have been abandoned by a parent also feel bereaved. They feel left alone and left behind, and deprived of the care and protection a mother or father might provide, though they may not feel entitled to their very real experience of loss.” p. 138

“…those who triumph over hardship—who overcome a hard-knock life—do so, at least in part, because they have a quality she called “adoptability,” or a knack for being taken in by others. When life is difficult at home, or parents are not there, many supernormal children find surrogate parents or substitute caregivers to make up the difference. Sometimes they have some sort of talent in sports or school or the arts—or even more often they have the sort of personality—that gets the attention of family members, teachers, neighbors, or friends. This is important because one of the single best predictors of good adjustment after adversity is having external support, and being adoptable attracts the attention of those who might help. Resilient children and teens are skilled at what psychoanalyst Stuart Hauser called “recruiting relationships.” p. 139

“Many supernormals feel like everyone’s favorite houseguest… ‘A normal child, if he has confidence in father and mother, pulls out all the stops. In the course of time, he tries out his power to disrupt, to destroy, to frighten, to wear down, to waste, to wangle, and to appropriate.’ . . supernormals, cannot have confidence in their mothers and fathers; nor can they be certain that their surrogates will keep them around. They know better than just to be normal children.” p. 141

“Scrappers that they are, supernormals fashion whole lives out of the bits and pieces of the lives of others. Wherever they go, they take care not to ask for too much or to get too comfortable because they are entitled to none of it.” p. 141

“…Every moment of every day, she felt like an interloper, like she was expendable. Nothing would have hurt more than for someone to tell Nadia she was too much trouble, that she was inconvenient, and so, to protect herself, she made herself easy. Malleable and agreeable, she went along with whatever her host or her roommates wanted, never caring whether they stayed home or went out or ordered pizza or went to a movie. When some of the girls she lived with took long, poorly timed baths or ate other people’s leftovers, Nadia wondered what it would be like to be so unconcerned.” p. 142

“One of the most poignant differences, at least to the powerless, is that those in power are free to be themselves. They can feel what they feel and want what they want. They can be spontaneous and make choices largely without fear. They can be consistent inside and out. The powerless find it prudent to hide their true feelings and wishes—especially if they are not happy, easy ones.” p. 143

“Part of the disenfranchised grief that many supernormals feel, but never reveal, is the unacknowledged loss of the full range of their feelings: They lose the luxury of being able to be unappreciative or difficult, even for a moment.” p. 144

“Although neglect is at least as harmful to children as physical or sexual abuse, it tends to receive the least amount of attention from professionals.” pp. 186-187

“The true spirit of a reboot, of course, goes far beyond just changing one’s circumstances; the intention, for most superheroes and supernormals, is to change one’s identity. It is an opportunity to start over not as the same person in a new place but as a new person altogether. To this end, many supernormals wake up in their new surroundings and experiment with who they are. They reinvent themselves again and again, trying to be this sort of person or that sort of worker. Some find power in symbolic gestures, such as by refashioning their lives with changes to their lifestyle or their appearance, or by getting rid of objects and possessions from the past that weigh them down. Others change who they are, quite literally, by changing their names.” pp. 211-212

“Most notably, it was not the type of adversity that predicted health problems; it was keeping one’s troubles to oneself. That is, a death in the family that had not been talked about with others was just as harmful as was sexual abuse that had not been disclosed. From his work in this area, Pennebaker has concluded that “the act of not discussing or confiding the event with another may be more damaging than having experienced the event per se.” Keeping secrets, it seems, may be bad for one’s health. These data may be concerning for the many, many supernormals who have a secret, but other work by Pennebaker suggests it is never too late to open up; that relief can come from talking about our darkest days even many years after those dark days have occurred. p. 238

“Silence can reflect not having a voice, but it can also be an expression of freedom: freedom from opening ourselves up to more pain; freedom from being defined by one or two of our experiences, especially those that are not of our choosing…abused. There is a certain freedom that comes with being undefined and uncategorized, or in not being entirely known by everyone. ” p. 246

“As love quiets the amygdala and reduces stress hormones, the brain becomes less concerned with fight or flight and is more open to newer, more expansive learning. Throughout life, the brain adapts and readapts to the world around, such that if the world changes, then the brain changes, too. This is neuroplasticity, and not only does this concept apply to love, but psychologist Louis Cozolino argues that “the greatest contributor to [neuroplasticity] is love.” p. 294

“According to trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk, healing from trauma is “as much about remembering how we survived as it is about what is broken.” Often it is about remembering who out there in the world helped us survive, too. p. 298



Tricia Wang