I finished reading Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers yesterday, and while I’m not going to get into a full review of the book on this site, I did want to talk about one particular section that, I think, is significant for child abuse survivors.
If you’re not familiar with the book, Gladwell spends a great deal of time looking at the successes of the world, Bill Gates, etc., and peering behind the curtain to try and explain why it was more than just talent and effort that got them where they are today. Not that they don’t have plenty of talent and haven’t worked hard, but lots of other people work hard and have talent without seeing that level of success. One of the chapters deals with the issue of high IQ scores, and whether that translates into success.
In it Gladwell talks about a study done by Lewis Terman, in which Terman sought out the absolute brightest, most intelligent children he could find, and tracked them, assuming thay he would, of course, be tracking the future leaders of the world. In some cases, he was, but in many others, he wasn’t. IQ, it turns out, wasn’t the determining factor in what these kids accomplished in their adult lives. However, looking back on Terman’s findings, we can discover that there is a factor that, in many cases, did help determine those accomplishments, family income. Upon further study and through the use of individual stories, Gladwell then goes on to talk about Emotional Intelligence, or the ability to navigate through life successfully. The kids who grew up in families with more economic resources were involved in more activities, felt more confident and knew how to interconnect with people to get where they wanted to go. Other children, with similarly high IQ’s simply didn’t have those skills.
As I said, this is significant for abuse survivors, not necessarily because of family income disparities, but because so many of us spent our childhood merely surviving, as opposed to learning these emotional intelligent skills. Is it any wonder then, that many survivors struggle to make their own way in the adult world? We are quick to assume that our inability to be as accomplished as others is a sign of needing to do more healing, but it may not really be that. All the healing in the world isn’t going to go back and teach us how to navigate the world. Those are skills parents are supposed to install in their children, but many fail to.
For example, I was one of those “elite” students all through High School. I was in the gifted program, tested with a rather high IQ, and was considered brilliant by most everyone growing up. They probably would have expected me to grow up to work on Wall Street or go to law school. And then I practically flunked out of college, and even now I don’t have a degree, and have spent years and years working in various tedious jobs before finding a bit of a “calling” working with technology.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about my life, I’m happy, healthy and have plenty. My life could be much, much worse than it is. On the other hand, I got to college with no sense of self, no self-discipline, with no idea how to ask for help when I ran into problems, or even an understanding that I could ask for help. I didn’t know how to make connections with people so that they could help me, etc. My IQ didn’t really help me at all.
Let’s face it, in today’s business world, it takes a combination of being good at your work, and knowing the right people, in order to truly succeed, and abuse survivors don’t grow up with the skills necessary to connect with people. Quite the opposite, usually. I’ve been working hard the last few years to change that, to teach myself how to navigate the world, and to connect with people who I can learn from, but it’s a struggle. I’m 40 years old, trying to learn things that other people learn in their teens, but I’m learning, and I’m getting better. That’s all I can do. I’m not a child, and while I could just give up and whine about not learning the things I should have as a child, it won’t help me accomplish the things I want to accomplish in life. It’s wasted energy.