One of the first impressions from the positive psychology class I carry around with me is the idea of hope, perhaps the most important ingredient of our personal psyche. What pulled it together for me was the concept of micro changes that are cumulative in nature. The most important part, however, was the understanding that we are in control of these miniature shifts by recognizing the four important “C’s” that I have personally added to my favorite C of all – Compassion:
That we have a Choice about what we feel;
That we can Change how we think and feel;
That we can Cultivate sustainable positive feelings; and
That we can Create and inspire this in others.
A personal goal in pursuing a Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology with a focus on spirituality mind and body was to better understand what happens to our souls when one is abused, abandoned or neglected. In a way, it was to better understand my own childhood trauma so that I could answer two important questions. Are the psychological effects of childhood trauma reversible? If yes, then could one develop a holistic framework that could positively impact the mind, body and soul? Having read Angela Duckworth’s Grit prior to attending this program, I was immensely encouraged to have found more evidence of hope.
Hope for about 300 abandoned, abused, and neglected children that I had been working with for the past three years in Costa Rica. Hope that a framework to positively and durably impact the minds of these children was indeed possible. Hope that gratitude interventions such as those used by Seligman and Steen (Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions, 2005) could, over time, bring affective shift in how these children processed life’s events. Hope that the divine (natural) hierarchy of character strengths, as organized by Peterson and Seligman in Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, 2004, could be altered and restored over time. Hope that the smiles and the optimistic glint in the eyes of these innocent souls could, once again, lighten up the dull environment of the orphanage. Hope that these children may be able to break the vicious cycle of poverty, abuse and neglect and change the directions of future generations in their families. Hope that we could finally begin a journey of healing for which these children had been waiting in line for far too long. Hope that this healing could transform these fragile children into strong adults who can finally claim their right on a self-sustainable life. And hope, that I can begin my own journey of healing.
Some will continue to use science to prove that our genetic make-up has a lot to blame for the ills of our society. The discovery of genes like MAOA-L that show the heritability of psychopathic behavior will always have relevance in the world of psychology and for finding new ways of treating mental disorders. What science sometimes fails to see, however, is the root cause of why such genes even exist in the human genome? Were these genes hereditary or acquired from mutations caused by the environment? Perhaps, these are germline mutations that occurred in the parent’s sperm or egg because of the trauma they may have endured. With no scientific evidence to back the claim, I tend to believe that nurture effects, like those caused by Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), have the power to cause genetic mutations especially when chronic trauma occurs over a prolonged period of time.
However, I am not here to shift opinions based on my personal convictions. I am certainly not here to change the world. I am simply here to find hope. I am here to give hope to those who are steeped in the cesspool of abuse and neglect – one child at a time. And sometimes a little hope to bring about durable and positive change in one life is enough for a lifetime. My hope is that while we may not be able to change the world, we can certainly do our absolute best to change the world of a few who deserve a fair chance at life.
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