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Hauser, S.T. Allen, J.P. (2006). Overcoming Adversity in Adolescence: Narratives of Resilience. Psychoanal. Inq., 26(4):549-576.

(2006). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 26(4):549-576

Overcoming Adversity in Adolescence: Narratives of Resilience

Stuart T. Hauser, M.D., Ph.D. and Joseph P. Allen, M.D., Ph.D.

Our overarching goal is to understand the unfolding of resilient development. Our person-based approach is based on a follow-back design, enabling us to examine previously recorded adolescent clinical and adult attachment interviews of now-competent young adults who experienced significant adversity during their adolescent years.

In their adolescent years, these young adults encountered three serious misfortunes. Between 13 and 16 years old (middle adolescence) they were sent to live in a psychiatric hospital, from 2 to 12 months. Their physical home ties with their parents and community friends were abruptly severed, as they lived full-time in High Valley Hospital. In addition, experiencing a serious psychiatric disorder leading to hospitalization, regardless of how time limited, can markedly change the experience of self, often leading to lowered self-regard and lowered personal competence. The label of psychiatric patient is made even more indelible by living in a psychiatric hospital. Their third serious misfortune was trauma. Many of the young adults previously reported serious child and adolescent physical abuse at the hands of immediate family members or other close relatives. Using a profile definition (ego development levels, attachment coherence, close relationships, and social competence), we identified nine young adults who were now

functioning in the upper 50th percentile of all former patients and same age high school nonpatient adolescents. After being identified, our intensive study of the narratives embedded in earlier interviews revealed key themes for these resilient young adults—including agency, reflectiveness, relationship recruiting—differentiating them from contrasting young adults, who were also former patients. We illustrate these differences through narratives of two resilient young adults.

Nothing is so fascinating or complicated as a trajectory of a human life. We emerge partly programmed at birth, and we change with our experiences thereafter. Some of us finally blow apart in adulthood like long-fuse time bombs, while others grow to shine brightly like comets. Most of us have less spectacular careers, which are still hard to explain in hindsight, even to ourselves, and impossible to foresee in detail.

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