Resilience, Part 1

Dandelion, Author Robert Flogaus-Flaust (CC BY-SA

“There are children who like dandelions can thrive almost in any environment…They do well even in conditions of stress and adversity.  There are other children who are like orchids, who are extremely sensitive…Under the right nurturing conditions they thrive…But under conditions of adversity…they wilt and they don’t do well.”

-Dr. W. Thomas Boyce, Division of Developmental Medicine, UCSF [1A]

In the wake of World War II, 300 children who had survived the Holocaust were brought to an English estate for rehabilitation [2][3].  Children who had been torn from their parents’ arms; children who had been imprisoned, beaten, and starved; children who had witnessed murder and atrocities were taught to be human again.

In our inner cities, single mothers struggle to raise children in poverty.  Children under the age of ten are killed in drive-by shootings.  Children already victimized are further abused in foster care, their parents lost to addiction.

How do we survive tragedy and evil?  Why are some broken by circumstances, while others endure?

Stress Factors

“Toxic stress is really the kind of stress experienced by a child that is overwhelming, that the child cannot cope with, with his or her own behavior and physiology.”

-Dr. W. Thomas Boyce, Division of Developmental Medicine, UCSF [1B]

A landmark study called the Adverse Childhood Experience Study (ACES) tracked 17,500 adults who had experienced childhood stress in any of 10 categories [1C].  ACES documented a clear link between adversity and poor health outcomes.

Those with an ACES score of 4 or more were at dramatically increased risk for 7 of 10 of the leading causes of death in the United States.  Stress, in other words, is the root cause of chronic disease [4].

Children exposed to toxic stress can develop learning, behavioral, and anger issues.  They are more susceptible to mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and later incarceration.

Measuring Stress

Medicine is on the threshold of developing tests to measure the impact stress has on us [1D].

Cortisol is one indicator.  Known as the stress hormone, cortisol interacts with the brain to regulate mood, motivation, and fear.  Cortisol does this by increasing blood sugar, controlling blood pressure, reducing inflammation, and stabilizing the sleep cycle.

If we can monitor (and moderate) the stress on children, we can help assure that they lead happier and healthier lives.

[1A, 1B, 1C, and 1D]  PBS, “Broken Places”, S1, EP1, .

[2]  PBS, “The Windermere Children”, .

[3]  PBS, “The Windermere Children: In Their Own Words”, .

[4]  National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, “The significance of early childhood adversity” by Clyde Hertzman MD, March 2013,

This series will conclude next week.



Filed under Child Abuse, Child Molestation, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Poverty, Sexual Abuse

29 responses to “Resilience, Part 1

  1. Lady Quixote/Linda Lee

    I’ve taken the Adverse Childhood Experiences/ACE test. I scored 9 out of a possible maximum of 10. The only adverse event on the test that I can’t honestly say I experienced as a child, is having a parent go to prison.

    However, my father was arrested when I was 12 years old, for nearly murdering my mother. But he only spent a day or two in jail, when he was taken to a hospital for emergency treatment of his type 1 diabetes. From the ER, after his blood sugar level was stabilized, he was transferred to the psychiatric ward, where he spent several months. The attempted murder charges were dropped by my mother, because she needed him free and working, in order to pay her child support. Therefore, my father never actually did any time in prison, although he should have. He had come so close to murdering my mother, that I actually thought she was dead, for several terrifying minutes.

    Because of this, I am conflicted about whether my score should really be 10, rather than 9. Either way, I know it is only by the grace of God that I am alive and reasonably healthy! After reading your book, I know that you are a miracle of survival, too!

    • I am not an expert on ACES scoring. The issues surrounding parental imprisonment tend toward abandonment and shame. Given the severe and extended trauma you experienced (including your father’s alcoholism, your mother’s narcissism, and her attempt to commit suicide and murder the children), I can only imagine you qualify for the highest possible rating, Linda.

      As you say, we are here by the grace of God alone. ❤

  2. Francisco Bravo Cabrera

    Hello Anna, very interesting and informative article. I did see the result of toxic stress on children from the inner city in Miami, as a cop, I had to deal with them when they got a little older and I did notice that their attitudes, reactions and overall manner of interacting with people was totally flawed, negative and unproductive. Thank you for bringing such important topics to the readers. All the best,

  3. Hi Anna, I have nominated you for the Mystery Blogger Award. ( You are doing an amazing service to the society and your blog is a light to those who have been in the dark due to abuse and violence.

  4. Anna, your posts are always a blessing to me. I connect with them on many levels. Thank you for being a voice for the weak!

  5. This is an interesting intellectual post. I did a little digging around and found out that NPR has an ACES quiz open to everyone. It is a 10-question quiz that can be completed in less than 1-2 minutes. Basically, the results tell the test taker if they have suffered childhood abuse, neglect, or been in a dysfunctional family.

    I took the quiz and I am a little surprised at the results mainly because I turned out a “normal” adult, at least, in my own opinion, and have never attributed any challenges in my adult life to my childhood experiences.
    Reading your post today helps me understand that similar childhood experiences may not produce similar results in adulthood. I find this clinical perception quite fascinating. I look forward to Part 2 of this post. Great work, Anna! Thanks for sharing. Love and blessings!

    Oh, by the way, the link for the ACES quiz is

  6. Stress is the cause of majority of illnesses. The subtly of stress impacts the whole mind body and spirit some of it becomes so ingrained that dealing with it in a fragile person is not easy. They require a lot of understanding and genuine love. Bless you Anna.

  7. I find it very interesting how many young children have good memories of their childhood years

    I, on the other hand, do not. Could be because I’d rather not remember.

    Interesting about cortisol. Thanks.

  8. Anna, this pretty much says it all- ‘ There are children who like dandelions can thrive almost in any environment’. Yet, they’ve cried so many times, like a dandelion their tears are dry and forgotten. They are parched for attention, their neglected existence. Governments pass them by as the children wilt in suppression. Then suddenly their roots are yanked and are stuck somewhere else in harsh living conditions. Extremely sad.

  9. A short impactful piece. Thanks for those links collected together.

  10. dessertflower5

    A very interesting blog on a thoght provoking thought.

  11. Great post. Some stress (from a difficult experience) is good for character growth, but too much can break us. Stress has taken a toll on my health. I have chronic muscle tightness.

    Suggestion–I would begin paragraph two with “Today,” to create a better transition from paragraph one.

  12. Thank you for sharing this Anna. 👍👍
    On a personal level, I have had the experience of a dysfunctional family growing up…
    So I do understand the importance of a safe and healthy environment…😐

  13. Reblogged this on Stoner on a rollercoaster and commented:
    On May 11, 2020, Anna Waldherr wrote:

  14. Pingback: Resilience, Part 2 – Stoner on a rollercoaster

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.