Confidential to ASDPs: 5 Ways You Are Stronger Than Covid-19


EDITOR'S NOTE: This post was originally published in April 2020.

(Before we get started:  You might be wondering, “What’s an ASDP? And am I an ASDP?” If you’re an American, and if the national statistics are correct, there’s a 67% chance that the answer is yes. If you live somewhere else in the world, keep reading and you’ll be able to make an informed decision. ASDP stands for Adult Survivor of a Damaged Past, which how I describe adults who have had some kind of negative, dysfunctional and/or abused childhood. You are an ASDP if you were, for instance, a child with one or more alcoholic or otherwise addicted parents. Or if you witnessed – or directly experienced – physical violence as a child. Or if your physical or emotional needs weren’t met. Or if a parent died when you were young. These experiences are examples of what psychologists call “adverse childhood experiences,” or ACEs. You can read more about ACEs here. Being an ASDP could also include growing up with an angry parent, or one who was overly critical, overbearing or controlling. Sometimes we ASDPs may minimize our negative childhood experiences as being “not that bad.”  The key thing to consider is whether you became an adult with strong negative, limiting beliefs about yourself that have gotten in your way of fully enjoying life and achieving your career potential.)

As I write this, we were well into our second month of a national (even global) lockdown – our attempt to stop a novel coronavirus in its tracks. If you’re reading this well into the future, after all our questions have been answered, let me give you a snapshot of our collective frame of mind as it stands right now: We are scared because we don’t know what the future holds for us. In just a few weeks, we plummeted from an historically robust economy to an economic picture we haven’t seen since the Great Depression. Millions have lost their jobs. Businesses have been destroyed. Our loved ones are dying in hospitals isolated from the caring faces and warm hands of family and friends. In one major city, someone was arrested for getting on a city bus without a face mask – the very thing experts told us we didn’t need just a few weeks ago. There are city demonstrations and protests by crowds who are demanding the right to return to their jobs (quite the contrast from previous more common demonstrations against employers). There is a massive hospital set up in the middle of New York City’s Central Park.

This kind of reality isn’t what any of us had in mind for the year 2020. For some of us, it’s hard to hope for anything specific when everything that felt so certain, hopeful, optimistic and within reach just a few months ago has practically disappeared altogether. All of us leading HR functions worldwide are working shoulder-to-shoulder with our CEOs and leaders to make sure we are taking care of our people as best we can, focusing on their health and safety as our number one priority. Additionally, I’m keeping a watch over my fellow ASDPs, especially the ones I know personally, to see how they – correction: we, I’m one too – are handling this time of unspeakable uncertainty.

You know how to do this. You’ve done it before. You’ll figure it out, even as the circumstances keep changing and the ground under your feet won’t stop shifting.

1. Covid is not the worst thing to happen to many ASDPs.

If you were a child who experienced one of the ACEs listed in the article I linked to above or experienced moments in your childhood when you were afraid, alone, feeling unloved, you have already experienced your world crumbling apart. Maybe you grew up never feeling a sense of predictable safety. Or maybe it all blew up in your face over the course of one horrible day that involved police and flashing lights. Either way, whatever you experienced, you were too young to fully cope, absorb and pivot, as you probably can today as an adult. If you’re an ASDP, you might have already experienced the absolute worst overturning of anything that you might have otherwise thought was stable and secure. You got through your childhood. You’ll get through this too. You might not know exactly how at the moment. But you’ll figure it out. Step by step.

2. We already have a track record of prevailing.

Remember, the S in ASDP stands for Survivor. Many of us survived as super-achievers. Some of us survived, despite our own nightmares, health problems, even addictions that were legacies of our attempts to soothe our souls. All of us can be proud of the fact that we survived at all. You know how to do this. You’ve done it before. You’ll figure it out, even as the circumstances keep changing and the ground under your feet won’t stop shifting.

3. We are masters of navigating complexity, unpredictability and uncertainty.

Unlike other diseases that swept the planet in the past destroying millions of lives and families over the course of human history, Covid-19 is more than a deadly bug. This disease comes with the power to destroy nations. It has become a political tool. An economic nuclear bomb. What does that mean to us individually? Complexity, unpredictably, and uncertainty. As we watch nations threatening each other, we are witnessing the closing up of our sweet downtowns that had just begun to blossom again after decades of neglect. We are hearing our local elected officials telling us that our civil rights are suspended for the immediate and unforeseeable future with the desire to keep people from getting sick and dying. We are being told what the special hotline numbers are to call when we want to report our friends and neighbors violating local quarantine restrictions. We are hearing things being said by the elected powerful that we never thought in a million years that we would hear in the United States. We are seeing tension everywhere – our national government leaders against our state leaders; some state leaders defining “non-essential” and “essential” in ways that seem to serve unrelated power agendas; people taking to the streets in opposition to those orders. And for many of us, our own tensions managing working from home with family members, trying to figure out how to have some sense of work-life balance when the boundaries of work and home are completely gone.

This is complexity, unpredictability and uncertainty. As ASDPs, whose parents and guardians might have needed to tell us carefully shaped stories about our childhood realities to encourage our obedience and compliance, we know that reality is not always reported fully and accurately. We have a nose for half-truths and the shading of narratives. And we are practiced at moving through other people’s narratives in ways where we can still be true to ourselves. Sometimes it feels like living in someone else’s manufactured snow globe. But we also know that this, too, is only temporary.

 4. We know how to be on our own.

We ASDPs are often tormented by negative voices in our heads, sounding like parents or other authority figures, telling us that we are all wrong, somehow, and that the world is unsafe, untrustworthy, and crazy. Which is very much how it feels right now to anyone paying attention. But we ASDPs also have an Inner Nurturer who has been with us since our earliest days. This Inner Nurturer has quietly whispered into our souls that we will be okay. That we are okay. And very often we are best okay on our own. Being isolated from community and colleagues is not the worst thing that can happen to an ASDP. Multiple ASDP friends I’ve spoken with are reporting that this time of isolation is a welcome respite from outside influences, emotional noise and distractions that in ordinary days make us forget what we most value.

Are all ASDPs introverts? Absolutely not. But we do know how to get reacquainted with our Inner Nurturer, who has probably been waiting patiently for a chance to cut through the emotional clutter of busy day-to-day living to tell us good things about ourselves.

5. We are grateful for what we have.

This isn’t about material advantages. ASDPs grow up in households both rich and poor. (Sometime the same household can experience both extremes.) This is about the small moments of day-to-day life, no matter who we are. If we grew up in fear of physical abuse, the mere feeling of being an adult who can walk from room to room without cowering is a blessing. Relatively peaceful nights for sleeping. A spring breeze through an open window, with a quiet street below. The sound of spring birds. The Internet so we can do our work in our pjs. Our jobs – for as long as we have them. Our health. Our family’s health. We know about day-to-day blessings, because we know what it’s like to live in day-to-day fear. Because we grew up that way.

And now we can practice the experience of living in joy and as much peace of mind as we can muster moment by moment. Moment-by-moment living is all any of us really have anyway. And, while we ASDPs aren’t stronger, smarter, healthier than anyone else we know, we are bigger than Covid-19. And we have what it takes to prevail and show the world what’s in store for all of us once we’re all on the other side of this pandemic.

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Bio: Susan J. Schmitt Winchester is the Senior Vice President, Chief HR Officer for Applied Materials, in Santa Clara, CA.  This article was written based on the principles from her forthcoming book, Healing at Work: The Adult Survivor’s Guide to Using Career Conflicts to Overcome Your Past and Build the Future You Deserve (with Martha I. Finney). Contact Susan here.

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