Response to trauma: Resilient parent, resilient child

Monday, February 16th, 2015

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Dr. Joyce Mikal-Flynn, instructor at California State University, Sacramento, is the author of Turning Tragedy into Triumph: Metahabilitation: A Contemporary Model of Rehabilitation.

Dr. Joyce Mikal-Flynn, instructor at California State University, Sacramento, is the author of Turning Tragedy into Triumph: Metahabilitation: A Contemporary Model of Rehabilitation.

A near death episode in 1990 caused Dr. Joyce Mikal-Flynn, an instructor at the California State University, Sacramento, to confront the actual death of her previous life and then she chose to begin anew; something inside her changed. Her motivation and mission for life transformed as she focused more on family and less on career and pursued academic inquiries to understand near death survivors and what she calls “enhanced survivorship”. Her book Turning Tragedy into Triumph: Metahabilitation: A contemporary Model of Rehabilitation (2012), describes the stages anindividual goes through to find their power:

  • Acute phase (staying alive)
  • Turning point – it is a choice that only the individual can make
  • Treatment – whatever next steps or modalitities the main thing is the individual is taking action and have some sense of control
  • Acceptance and adaptation – a time to reflect about where you were, where you are now, and where you want to head
  • Return to life – a different life because you have changed
  • Ongoing rehabilitation as you organize your thinking to accommodate all the crises that happen in life – you become resilient.

In Mikal-Flynn’s experience, the journey to experience greatness in response to trauma, which she calls MetaHabilitation, (“meta” means greater and “habilitation” means to become functional), began with a simple question: “Why not me?” instead of “Why me?” when her doctors told her she would never run a marathon or resume the active life before her heart gave out. This seminal question, “why not me?” represents a mind shift from that of a victim to one of a hero or champion. Because she literally had to start over from the beginning, learning how to talk and feed herself, and it was a grueling process to recover, it would have been easy to believe what the experts were telling her about the trauma to her body: that she would never regain the capabilities she had before the incident. What she discovered through this mind shift to “why not me?” is that a response to trauma can be more than recovery when you put your mind to embrace it; it is the discovery of the greatness inside yourself, connecting with the divinity within that fosters resilience in the face of great adversity.

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven”. – John Milton, Paradise Lost

Mustard seeds of faith harvest greatness

Last December I sat down with Dr. Mikal-Flynn to discuss her ongoing research about trauma and human nature, which has led her into exploring what she refers to as “collateral” or “secondary” trauma that loved ones experience when they witness the suffering of an individual or a group. Talking with many different individuals who survived horrific circumstances (such as the director of the Boston Marathon and the families impacted by the bombing two years ago), Mikal-Flyn is finding that resilience is learned through a shared response to single tragic incident or event. “I found that when interviewing the children associated with events, the ones who were resilient and making a good life afterwards credit their parents,” she said. “They invariably tell me that how my parents handled it, gave me hope and confidence that if they could handle it, I could handle it.”

Yep. Resilience is learned through experience.

“Gleaning this information from individuals and communities who mastered the ability to remember the past but live in the present is essential in gaining information to assist people at the outset.” – Dr. Joyce Mikal-Flynn

My two cents: Faith and spiritual resilience

So parents who are struggling with the traumas and adult issues hyped in modern life (i.e., cyberbullying, addiction and exploitation) that rob them and their children of their joy, it is imperative to be mindful about your faith which equips you to overcome fear and respond with confidence in your child’s God-given capacity to become stronger as they respond to their own struggle.

My faith and over 30 years of parenthood informs me that by the grace of God, a mustard seed of faith is all that is required. What you choose to believe about your personal power when confronted with adversity, translates to our children as a lack of confidence when we do not declare the one mustard seed of faith that makes a free society possible as true for you and your child (see: Reviving Parenthood). In this regard, it is the state of your heart and mind is the key because that is where we find our power; no matter what is happening we have command over our own intellect and will. So what you believe matters, and your faith demonstrated by your response to trauma and adversity has a profound impact on your child, as Mikal-Flynn explains in an email:

“The parents of the resilient children got them back into their normal routines right away,” she said. “There was a team-like approach that everyone doing their part to survive and carry on makes a difference and there was a shared sense of empowerment.”

According to Mikal-Flynn, the kids indicated their confidence came from collaborating with the survivor(s). She observed that survival as a collaborative process can strengthen family bonds and individual resilience; by helping the survivor stand strong and overcome the trauma everyone gains confidence in the power that comes from taking charge of your intellect and will against the odds presented by daunting and painful circumstances. “Basically, individuals, families and communities who survived to live ‘post trauma’ well moved on. They remember the event but they carried on, some in a big way. They recognize [that] staying in the mode of grief and despair was not helpful. It is understandable but not productive,” Mikal-Flynn said. “Gleaning this information from individuals and communities who mastered the ability to remember the past but live in the present is essential in gaining information to assist people at the outset.”

Her research has also started to explore the epigenetic factors, i.e., the “resilient response” genes in our DNA that shut on or off in response to events, which will offer more insight to understand the specific conditions and needs of individuals in crisis.

Tips for parents responding to trauma with self, child or family

  • Do not be afraid to talk about the feelings the incident inspires; feelings are real and need to be acknowledged and discussed, AND they are not the facts.
  • Recognize that each child is different, and may have different needs to respond. Do not expect a uniform reaction from family members.
  • It is prudent to seek professional counseling to validate your assumptions and address any behaviors that may indicate continued distress for the survivor and the loved ones – especially if symptoms of depression, anxiety or anti-social behavior occur.

(Note: Dr. Mikal-Flynn will be a featured speaker at the first inaugural Banana Moments Foundation event on “Meeting the Spiritual and Mental Health Needs of Modern Youth and Families”, on June 13, 2015, 8 a.m. This event is limited seating and will be offered through invitation to professionals serving youth and families. There will be CEUs for behavioral therapy, nursing and addiction intervention and recovery counseling.)

Next MetaHabilitation certification training:

Saturday, February 28th
Sunday, March 1st

Exchange Bank
2nd floor conference room
440 Aviation Blvd
Santa Rosa, CA

Banana Moments Foundation is dedicated to strengthening the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. To make a donation, please go go: Donations. Your generous support is greatly appreciated.


Joanna Jullien (Photo: Christi Benz)

Joanna Jullien
(Photo: Christi Benz)

Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.

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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna ( and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.