As a child I grew up in an environment of unforgiving chaos and danger. Abusive violence and unpredictable explosive expressions of mental illness were my norm. Neglect was a positive thing in my world. I thought everyone lived this way for a long time – people could appear “normal,” but I assumed it was a facade. It wasn’t until I met my wife and began to be assimilated into her family that I learned this wasn’t true. It took many years of therapy and the love and support of my wife for me to understand my story. When my first psychiatrist told me I was exhibiting classic symptoms of PTSD (as an adult), I remember thinking WTF?
The thing is, I wasn’t exactly broken. I had learned to survive and adapt – a skill that would end up serving me well…
Now, I am well aware that things could have turned out very differently, but I want to make an important point here. Struggling and learning to adapt is critical to succeeding as a human being in life. I remember thinking, at some point in my therapy, that I had an edge over most other people. I could remain very cool and calculating in the most dangerous situations. I was hyper-aware of my environment and could read people and sense danger with a high degree of accuracy. I knew how to adapt to my surroundings to achieve the highest degree of functionality. I had learned these things in order to survive.
Overcoming exposure to crippling, extreme stress ultimately enhances our ability to adapt and survive. But the stress doesn’t have to be this severe (indeed, it shouldn’t be) to achieve the same effect. Although every individuals ability to cope differs, we are all stronger than we realize. We are built to survive.