adversity trauma compassion responses emotional intelligenceIt was third of July – my mother’s birthday. I was three and a half years old and I’d pleaded with my mother to let me stay all night with Grandma.

It was the enticement of playing with all my aunts, uncles and cousins that had encouraged me to ask mom for this opportunity. And what a fun night it was. Grandpa was up six times telling us to be quiet or else. (That was a record.)

Beautiful day

The next day was a typical gorgeous summer day in Idaho. We asked Grandma if we could go across the street to play on the playground equipment of the school. We were tired of riding our stick horses and picking wild berries from the hill beyond the house.

Grandma gave us a loud and emphatic “No,” but she was busy finishing the potato salad and didn’t notice that we four kids had snuck out of the yard, crept through the bushes, and escaped.

For several minutes it was great, until I – not paying attention to where I was going – got hit full in the face by a metal swing holding a high-schooler.


Pandemonium broke out. Everyone screamed, including me. I was dragged back across the road with everyone yelling for Grandma and Grandpa.

Grandma grabbed a homemade quilt; Grandpa started the 1935 Ford and we headed for the nearest hospital, 10 miles away.

Blood gushing

I was a bit of a disaster. The swing had sliced my tongue nearly off, and the end of my nose was barely hanging on. And blood was gushing everywhere.

I don’t remember much of the emergency operation. There were hundreds and hundreds of stitches to replace my nose and reattach my tongue. I remember swathes of bandages around my head, and I remember existing on only things I could suck up through a straw – apple juice, orange juice, liquid jello, and my favorite, a chocolate malt milkshake.


For years after, every time I met someone new, the interaction began with the words, “What happened to you?”

Those words began to leave a deep, negative impression on my young brain. I decided I must be very ugly indeed.

And so I retreated from the world. I had always loved books, but now they were not only my friends but my salvation. And I took my concerns and questions inside.

I became the mother/father-pleasing daughter, and the teacher-pleasing student, in order not to draw attention to myself.


Gradually the scars on my face faded; unfortunately, the scars on my heart and soul lasted a great deal longer.

As an adult, I look back upon this incident and understand the value of adversity – how it drove me to improve myself in other ways. However, I also wonder how my experience could’ve been less damaging to my young psyche so that the emotional scars were less enduring and painful.


Have you ever seen a child lose their hair during cancer treatment? Or had a family member burned in an accident? It’s difficult to know the right thing to say and do, isn’t it?

I’ve learned there are ways to respond to those who are facing a similar trauma that are helpful, and others that are not so helpful. (Hint: ‘What the heck happened to you?’ is unhelpful. ;-))

Thing is, we often don’t know what is helpful and what isn’t. Here are some considerations to ponder, preferably before you react in the moment:

1. Consider a response that focuses on the inner self. Our identities are so wrapped up in our physical appearance that damage to our outsides can have a profound effect on our insides. I learned the hard way how this can happen.

2. Consider a response that has “empathy” as the focus. It is my deep desire that we learn empathic, compassionate methods of handling these situations in order that the beauty held within us isn’t driven so deep, it becomes lost. We must not become defined by our appearance, and only our appearance, for that way lies loneliness, sadness and a feeling of not being ‘enough.’

3. Consider a response that builds relationship – a win/win for both. Let us support those around us who are suffering trauma. Respond to them with kindness and understanding and concern. You will make friends for life.

Do you have a kind, thoughtful response to someone facing adversity that you’d like to share? Please tell us in the comments because we can make the world a better place for those facing adversity by learning from the experiences and feedback of others.

Or ‘like’ the Six Seconds Facebook page for more valuable information about emotional intelligence. I would so appreciate it! Thank you.

The 7th International NexusEQ Conference is taking place at HARVARD UNIVERSITY in Boston, June 24-26, 2013. Please reserve the date, you can read more details about it here. :-)

Anabel Jensen

President of Six Seconds and professor of education, Anabel Jensen, Ph.D., is a master teacher and a pioneer in emotional intelligence education. A two-time Federal Blue Ribbon winner for excellence in education, she was Executive Director of the Nueva School from 1983 to 1997 where she helped develop the Self-Science curriculum featured in Daniel Goleman’s 1995 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence.

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