When you hear the names Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, and Eleanor Roosevelt, what’s one characteristic that comes to mind that unites them all? For me, it’s incredible strength. These women are three of the strongest women in recent history, despite overcoming challenging and traumatic childhoods. We tend to always look at the negative aspects that growing up in troubled situations brings. Perhaps, however, there are some positive attributes, too.
Why Some Of The Strongest Women Come From Troubled Childhoods
Oprah Winfrey is famous for her talk show and now her entire TV network. What many don’t know is the incredible adversity she had to overcome as a child. She endured extreme poverty and abuse of all kinds, only to take that negativity and trauma and allow it to push her on to greatness. (1)
Maya Angelou is another one of the strongest women to overcome childhood abuse. At less than 10 years old, her mother’s boyfriend raped her. When she confessed it to her uncles, they killed him. Traumatized, she didn’t speak for five years. Today, she is one of the most prolific poets and writers to have ever lived. (2)
Eleanor Roosevelt is another powerful woman who pulled herself out of the trauma of her father having drunk himself to death. All of these women overcame very difficult childhoods to live incredible lives in which they gave back to countless people. (3)
Trauma Isn’t A Death Sentence
If there’s anything that these women, and countless other people both before and after them, have proven, it’s that childhood trauma does not have to define you. That is to say, it doesn’t have to define you negatively. Often, the strongest women (and men, for that matter) are those who had to overcome some kind of adversity in their lives. In some cases, these difficulties taught the resilience and self-reliance required to achieve amazing things.
“[I learned] The ability to mediate. I was always the go-between for my parents who refused to speak to each other. Now I am an attorney.” said a woman named Jenn who experienced a difficult childhood. (4)
“I notice everything. The slightest change in tone of voice, body language, routine. I don’t miss a trick. I’ve managed to work through a lot but, this is something I can’t shake and it is exhausting.” said trauma survivor Jaclyn. (4)
The ability to sense whether or not someone is being genuine is a common thread, however, so is the lack of ability to trust others via their words. Reading the dynamics of a room and seeing through people’s ‘fake’, for better or worse, is also a common skill. (5)
“I can see how people stand in relation to each other in an instant,” says Sarah, who grew up with two alcoholic parents. “I can see where fear is coming from, where openness is coming from.” (4)
Difficult Childhoods Still Aren’t A “Good Thing”
Adversity is one of the greatest teachers, so naturally, through any difficult situation, you will learn something – resilience, how not to make the same mistake twice, or something about yourself emotionally. All of this, of course, doesn’t mean childhood trauma is a good thing. There is plenty of research to show the lasting negative impacts those challenging early years can have on people mentally, emotionally, and physically. (6)
You also don’t have to have a difficult childhood to be strong. Strength, resilience, and intuition can be taught in ways that also don’t have a lasting psychological impact. Here are just a few ways you can develop the same skills that allowed Oprah to become the queen of television and Maya Angelou, the prolific writer.
1. Find long-term challenges
The thing about surviving a traumatic childhood is that it takes years (you’re entire growing up life) to get through. Long-term challenges can be playing a sport, like martial arts, running, or joining a team. If athletics aren’t your thing, consider picking up a new instrument or joining a debate team. (3)
2. Learn to combat your own mind
We all have inner demons that tell us that we are not good enough. Don’t listen to those voices, and instead actively fight back against them. Learning to silence your own inner critic is a powerful skill that will help you in nearly every situation in your life. (3)
3. Take up healthy coping mechanisms
Life is stressful. Being an adult is hard. Using healthy coping strategies – exercise, journaling, meditation, etc. – will help you to remain grounded through those difficult times. It will also help you to channel negative energy and not let it consume you. One of the best coping mechanisms is to brainstorm solutions, either by yourself or with someone else. These will likely not be quick fixes, but having a plan to move through the challenge will make you feel much more at ease. (3)
4. Build yourself a support network
Asking for help doesn’t make you weak or mean that you won’t build the strength you desire. In fact, often, simply asking for help is the hardest thing you can do. Humans are not solitary creatures and are not meant to go through hard times (or happy times) alone. This can be friends, family, or a professional. (3)
5. Remind yourself that you are powerful
You maybe didn’t grow up with alcoholic parents or experience abuse at an early age. This doesn’t mean that you haven’t gone through challenges in your life. The strongest women are the ones who remind themselves that they have survived every hard time life has brought them so far, big or small. You have, too, so give yourself some credit. You’ve survived the past, you will make it through the present, and you will also continue to do so in the future. (3)
The Strongest Women Are The Ones Who Teach Themselves To Be Strong
Women like Oprah and Eleanor Roosevelt were forced at an early age to find their inner strength. The truth is, you have that strength in you, too; you just have to allow it to come out. Adversity does not have to define you negatively and does not speak at all to your character. The strongest women do not allow adversity to harden them. Instead, they use it to build their own strength while also allowing themselves to be more compassionate towards others. (3)
You are a strong person, no matter what life has or hasn’t put in your way. Tap into that, harness that, and use it to build the life that you deserve.
- “Oprah Winfrey Biography.” Notable Biographies
- “Maya Angelou is born.” History. April 4.
- “75 Percent of Super-High Achievers Come From Troubled Families. Here’s Why.” INC. Jessica Stillman.
- “22 Habits of People Who Grew Up in ‘Broken’ Homes.” The Mighty. Juliette V. November 20, 2018
- “Surprising Benefits for Those Who Had Tough Childhoods.” Psychology Today. Megan Hustad. March 7, 2017
- “Dysfunctional Family Relationships.” Brown