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Book ‘Supernormal’ reveals key to success

Posted January. 19, 2019 07:41,   

Updated January. 19, 2019 07:41


Let’s close our eyes for a second.

Becoming a super hero is not an unusual thing to hear when people tell about their childhood dreams. We’ve all been there, imagining ourselves to put on a cape and fly in the sky, or wear a mask and climb up a building. It doesn’t have to be supernatural powers; everyone wants to be extraordinarily good in something. As we grow old, however, such fantasies fade away, and we find ourselves too normal, or even left behind others. Lack of confidence often makes us stoop.

Yet, there’s a book that gives us a pat on the shoulder. Not originally intended to help people relax, “Supernormal: The Untold Story of Adversity and Resilience” focuses on those who “soared to unexpected heights after childhood adversity.” In other words, the book tells the tale of ordinary people who have overcome hardships in their own way.

Author Meg Jay, who is an associate professor of Education at the University of Virginia, is also a well-known clinical psychologist. Having provided counseling for numerous people for over 20 years, she has taken interest in those who have “turned adversity into opportunity.” For example, people who had to experience family trouble when young are likely to have behavior or learning disorders growing up. Even if they don’t develop mental illnesses, they can easily become troublemakers. Still, not a few people manage to grow into “adults who are competent, confident, and caring” despite their unlucky childhood. “Supernormal” pays attention to “resilience” as a power to get over difficulties and become the latter.

First, we need to take note of the “fight-or-flight response” of a brain to understand resilience. Fight literally means actions to counter perceived events. Paul, who became a successful naval officer, had experienced serious bullying when young. It was a tough time, but he rather used his anger at fellow students to “achieve his goal of protecting his life and improving the situation he faced.” Anger is often considered a negative emotion, but it sometimes plays a positive role that helps people overcome obstacles.

Meanwhile, the flight response can be equally effective. A young child subject to domestic violence may find it difficult to “fight” adults’ violence. In such a case, it is better for the child to pretend to surrender to the situation while “keeping his distance” from the source of the issue, to protect his feelings from getting hurt. In short, the fight response is centered around “a problem,” whereas the flight response rather focuses on “an emotion” to control a person’s stress. This may sound as a futile theory, but there are a number of cases in reality where the fight-or-flight response worked.

“Supernormal” takes one step further, by not confining its content to the bright side of those who have overcome courageous battles. Though having become a grown-up, they still have pain and agony in their mind, just like super heroes in cartoons or films. They seem to be leading a fabulous life on the surface, but are in fact not free for anguish because they are in the end “normal.” The book’s greatest virtue comes from the fact that it, being a scientific book, exudes affection for people from every single page.

Yang-Hwan Jung ray@donga.com