What is a Supersurvivor?
It’s probably fair to say that we live in traumatic times. From hurricanes to mall shootings, financial downturns to terrorist attacks, we’ve been exposed to a lot of tragedy in the past decade. In the midst of all this adversity, it’s tempting to become pessimistic and fall into a kind of fatalistic hopelessness. It’s easy to overlook the amazing potential for resilience in us as human beings. Amazingly, even in midst of trauma, people continue to smile, to love, to celebrate, to create, and to renew. In making this observation, we absolutely do not mean to belittle the impact of traumatic times or the suffering many have endured and continue to endure. Suffering is real, but resilience is also real. It is an incredible and encouraging fact about human nature that, contrary to popular belief, after a period of emotional turmoil, most trauma survivors eventually recover and return to their lives. They bounce back.
And in some cases, they do much more. They bounce forward, and in truly remarkable ways. “A significant minority, as a result of the trauma, feel called upon to engage in a wider world,” writes Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry Judith Herman Herman in her book Trauma and Recovery. They refocus their energies on a new calling, on a new mission, on a new path, on helping others who have been victimized, on education, on legal reforms, or any number of other big goals. They move beyond mere resilience. They transform the meaning of their personal tragedies by making them the bases for change.
We call these people supersurvivors.
A New York businesswoman struck by cancer changes her life and becomes an international rock star. A man loses his eyesight and attempts to become the first blind person to row a boat across the Atlantic Ocean, and succeeds. A young basketball player, mangled in a horrible car wreck, rebuilds his body and becomes one of Hollywood’s most successful stuntmen. According to research, over half of people alive today will experience a trauma at some point in their lives. Some will suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder. Most will find ways of rebuilding their lives. But sometimes, survivors do more than bounce back. Sometimes they bounce forward.
Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering & Success explores extraordinary accomplishments in the wake of catastrophic trauma to help us understand how ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things. Supersurvivors offers a bold new vision for understanding and harnessing resilience through the lens of positive psychology.
Beginning where resilience ends, Supersurvivors examines the stories and science behind the surprising number of cases in which survivors don’t just grow; they revolutionize their lives. Having survived, these individuals radically deviate from their previous life paths. In so doing, they transform the meaning of their personal tragedies by making them the basis for dramatic and long-term life change, often discovering hidden parts of themselves and contributing to the world in ways they never thought possible.
Supersurvivors: The Suprising Link Between Suffering and Success is due to be released by HarperCollins/HarperWave in June, 2014. In the meantime, look for Supersurvivors blog entries on PsychologyToday.com and HuffingtonPost.com, and stay tuned to this web site for more information.