Smart People Talk About Ideas

Great IdeaWhen I was in third grade, my teacher, Mrs. Elizabeth Coffey, told me that really intelligent people think and speak more about ideas than they do about other people. I have never forgotten that. I may not have been the most intelligent person in that class, but I have always tried to make up for in diligence what I may have lacked in brain power. Great Minds quoteI thought, “If that’s what smart people do, I’ll do that too !” I’ve since learned that emulating good mentors, whether they be good at relationships, business, investing, or whatever their expertise may be in, is a smart thing to do.

That concept of speaking more about ideas than I do about other people is so deeply engrained in me now that when I’m about to speak about someone else, I ask myself, “Does what I’m about to say put this person in a positive light, or conversely, will it influence others to think negatively about the person?” 

This doesn’t mean that I’ve never made a mistake in this area. I dislike confrontation, so it’s far easier for me to seek advice from others rather than going directly to the person with whom I have a problem and having a direct conversation.  There have been times when I’ve spoken to a trusted friend about a problem involving someone else, so speaking behind that person’s back was necessary to get advice on how to deal with the situation.  Similarly, as a business owner, there were times when I had to have conversations about employee performance with the employee’s supervisor to gain perspective on the quality of the person’s work on behalf of my company. But after gathering information to gain wisdom and perspective, it’s time to have a private conversation with the individual with whom you have a problem.

“What Comes out of your mouth is evidence of who you really are”

There have been times when I declined opportunities that looked amazing to others, but which I had no choice but to decline because I chose not invest time or resources with someone of questionable character or someone who demonstrates through speech or actions less than ethical intentions or motives. I have made discussing ideas rather than people a deliberate lifestyle, and there is no business deal or opportunity that is worth tarnishing my reputation or diminishing my quality of life.

So, if you want to create a life of true success and have everything that goes along with it, choose to speak more about ideas than about people. You just might find that one of your ideas could change the world!

Each of us has a limited number of hours in this life. Let’s spend our time helping others by speaking directly to them about what we’d like to see change rather than gossiping behind their backs to others.

Rhonda Sciortino head shotRhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to start her own business and develop it, along with her other investments, into a multi-million dollar balance sheet. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to a great future. Connect with Rhonda at

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The Body Keeps the Score

by Dee Wilson

Bessel van der Kolk is one of the world’s leading experts on trauma and trauma treatment, and continues to be a creative and provocative researcher and scholar in a subject that is finally receiving the attention it deserves in child welfare. Van der Kolk’s recent book, The Body Keeps the Score, should be required reading for professionals and advocates interested in bringing trauma informed practice to public child welfare agencies, courts, training programs and child and family treatment agencies.

Van der kolk was a member of a group of trauma experts that developed the diagnosis of complex trauma in the early 1990s and lobbied unsuccessfully for its inclusion in the DSM-IV. His scorn for a diagnostic system that fails to distinguish acute trauma resulting from natural disasters or car accidents from chronic trauma perpetrated by caregivers is evident:

“This was a tragic exclusion (from DSM – IV). It meant that large numbers of patients could not be accurately diagnosed … You cannot develop a treatment for a condition that does not exist. Not having a diagnosis now confronts therapists with a serious dilemma: How do we treat people who are coping with the fall-out of abuse, betrayal and abandonment when we are forced to diagnose them with depression, panic disorder, bi-polar illness, or borderline personality, which do not really address what they are coping with?” And Van der kolk continues “To this day, after twenty years and four subsequent re-visions, the DSM and the entire system based on it fail victims of child abuse and neglect – just as they ignored the plight of veterans before PTSD was introduced back in 1980.”

Remarkably, almost the same series of events have occurred in recent years after Van der kolk and some of his colleagues in the National Child Traumatic Network articulated the diagnosis of Developmental Trauma Disorder to give traumatized abused and neglected children a single diagnosis rather than multiple diagnoses. In the proposal to the American Psychiatric Association they stated:

“Studies on the sequelae of childhood trauma in the context of caregiver abuse or neglect consistently demonstrate chronic and severe problems with emotion regulation, impulse control, attention and cognition, dissociation, interpersonal relationships, and self and relational schemas. In absence of a sensitive trauma specific diagnosis, such children are currently diagnosed with an average of 3-8 co-morbid disorders. The continued practice of applying multiple distinct co-morbid diagnoses to traumatized children has grave consequences: it defies parsimony, obscures etiological clarity, and runs the danger of relegating treatment and intervention to a small aspect of the child’s psychopathology rather than promoting a comprehensive treatment approach.”

Once again, however, the relevant DSM subcommittee rejected the proposal on the grounds that “no new diagnosis was required to fill a missing diagnostic niche,” a response which Van der kolk views as clueless, but which most likely reflects an ongoing stubborn resistance to any new diagnosis that would subsume multiple more familiar diagnoses, a denial likely based as much on considerations of power and authority among mental health experts, along with ready access to funding streams, as on intellectual differences among scholars. Clearly, some well-placed clinicians have viewed developmental trauma disorder as a predatory diagnosis with the potential to undermine established treatment protocols and practices. Unfortunately, Van der kolk does not address the interpersonal tensions and conflicts resulting from his evolving understanding of trauma with the same candor as Judith Herman in Trauma and Recovery.

Body Awareness and Mindfulness

For years, Van der kolk’s perspective on recovery from trauma has been divergent from many other therapists and researchers. In The Body Keeps the Score, Van der kolk is critical to the point of dismissive of cognitive behavioral treatment (which he asserts helps only about a third of trauma victims) and other talk therapies, and less concerned with developing a trauma narrative than most other trauma therapists. Van der kolk was an early user and proponent of Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) which, unlike some experts, he does not view as an idiosyncratic version of CBT.

Van der kolk comments that “… my professional training, with its focus on understanding and insight, had largely ignored the relevance of the living, breathing body, the foundation of our selves.” He asserts that “many of my patients they could not feel whole areas of their bodies,” and were literally unable to identify objects that he put in their hands when their eyes were closed. According to Van der kolk, trauma victims may often feel disconnected from their bodies, and numb to their internal states, or feel constantly anxious and on edge, profoundly unsafe in their physical being as well as in social relationships. This is because the brain systems that monitor (for the most part unconsciously) “housekeeping” functions in the body such as breathing, appetite elimination, sleeping and waking have been overwhelmed by the perception of threat(s) resulting from the brain’s response to traumatic events and their aftermath. The body is on alert, activated by stress hormones to the extent that physical health is eventually harmed, according to Van der kolk, whose account of mental and emotional functioning has been greatly influenced by Antonio Damasio (see The Feeling of What Happens). Physiological dysregulation, in turn, leads to emotional dysregulation characterized by panic attacks, “meltdowns”, self-harm and other desperate survival strategies, according to Van der kolk.

Given this perspective regarding the suffering of trauma victims, Van der kolk has gravitated in his therapy toward practices developed in various spiritual traditions (especially Buddhism) to regulate internal states, for example mindfulness, meditation, yoga, physical practices like massage and dance, and scientific advances such as neuro-feedback. Feeling safe first means feeling connected to (i.e. aware of, sensitive to) the body and knowing how to calm down, in Van der kolk’s view. He is extraordinarily focused on slow conscious breathing (6 breaths per minute with a pause between breaths) as a means to both physiological and emotion regulation.

The Importance of Social Relationships

The normal response of children to danger is to seek out others for reassurance or protection; a baby’s or toddler’s attachment pattern is a survival strategy. But what if children have been severely harmed, or neglected, or abandoned or repeatedly humiliated by caregivers? The survival strategies these children employ when they fear and distrust caregivers, e.g., numbing, dissociation, rage, social isolation, bullying are likely to puzzle or frighten caregivers, teachers and peers and undermine the potential for stable committed parenting, friendship and intimacy. This is the challenge confronting caregivers, i.e., birth parents, foster parents, adoptive parents, as well as parent educators, therapists and other professionals who work with abused and neglected children and youth. Arguably, a disrupted capacity for intimacy in early adulthood is a common pathway to intergenerational transmission of child maltreatment.

Van der kolk emphasizes the importance of the experience of early nurturance in developing resilient responses to adversity. For the most part, Van der kolk asserts, children who recover quickly from trauma have strong, secure, positive relationships with attuned caregivers, which provides a reliable source of emotional safety in dangerous conditions. But what if children lack nurturing parenting, and/or have experienced multiple unplanned moves in foster care?

Van der kolk’s recommendations for facilitating recovery from early severe abuse and neglect are similar to those of Deborah Gray, Ann Gearity and other trauma experts:

“Since emotion regulation is the critical issue in managing the effects of trauma neglect, it would make an enormous difference if teachers, army sergeants, foster parents and mental health professionals were thoroughly schooled in emotion regulation techniques. Right now, this is mainly the domain of preschool and kindergarten teachers, who deal with immature brains and impulsive behavior on a daily basis …”

Van der kolk has an important cautionary message about the over dependence on psychotropic drugs and verbal therapies to suppress and manage undesirable child behavior. He writes:

“Mainstream Western psychiatric and psychological healing traditions have paid scant attention to self- management … other traditions from around the world rely on mindfulness, movement, rhythm and actions.”

Van der kolk goes on to mention yoga, tai chi, rhythmical drumming, martial arts, conscious breathing and meditation, but he adds “Aside from yoga, few of these popular non- Western healing traditions have been systematically studied for the treatment of PTSD.”

Agency: developing self- leadership

Despite his dismissive comments regarding “talk therapies”, some of Van der kolk’s most interesting chapters in The Body Keeps the Score are about psychodynamic approaches to re-enabling the capacity for agency seemingly lost at the time of traumatic events and subsequently. Van der kolk comments that “almost all (of his patients) had in some way been trapped or immobilized, unable to take action to stave off the inevitable. Their fight/ flight response had been thwarted and the result was either extreme agitation or collapse.” The experience of trauma victims suggests that it is psychologically devastating to be immobilized at a time of severe threat to life and bodily integrity. The self-loathing that so many survivors suffer from may, in part, arise from an inability to forgive oneself for what seems an unforgiveable failure of nerve.

Some readers may remember the outstanding American movie, “Fearless” (1993), about the survivors of a plane crash in which most of the passengers died. One of the story lines in the movie is about a woman who survived the crash but condemns herself for not holding on to her baby who died when the plane hit the ground. No amount of empathy or compassion, or words of understanding, can relieve her self-condemnation until the main character (played by Jeff Bridges) places the young woman in the front seat of his car with instructions to hold on to an object about the size of her deceased child, and then accelerates the car until they hit a wall. Both the Jeff Bridges character, whose take away from the plane accident is that he cannot die, and the mother whose baby died in the crash are injured (though not severely); and their family members are horrified. Nevertheless, the young mother is released from a self-loathing that made it impossible for her to function or accept the love of her husband, extended family and friends. The Jeff Bridges character has a different challenge: he must relearn the fear of death.

Anyone who doubts whether severe life threatening neglect ( often combined with destitution) can be traumatic should read Marilynne Robinson’s extraordinary new novel, Lila, about a young woman who at age 3 or 4 lacked a name or identifiable caregiver and was in danger of starvation or death from exposure to the elements. Lila is rescued and mothered by a homeless woman who drifts from place to place. As a young adult, Lila is redeemed by the love of an elderly minister who must overcome her distrust and expectation of rejection. Lila is not redeemed from sin but from a deep sense of her worthlessness. Like many other trauma victims, she believes herself to be godforsaken, literally a non-entity in the eyes of others.

In the chapter, “Putting the Pieces Together: Self Leadership,” Van der kolk describes Internal Family Systems therapy (IFS), the goal of which is to integrate the fragmented parts of the self. Van der kolk states that “At the core of IFS is the notion that the mind of each of us is like a family in which the members have different levels of maturity, excitability, wisdom and pain.” And he continues, “In trauma, the self-system breaks down, and parts of the self become polarized and go to war with one another.”

Like other psychic families, IFS views the self as having three parts with distinct roles: “exiles” ( the toxic rejected parts of the person), “managers” ( critical and perfectionistic) and “firefighters” (emergency responders who act impulsively “whenever an emotion triggers an exiled emotion”). All three parts have an important role to play in protecting the self from “the full terror of annihilation.”

The goal of IFS as described by Van der kolk is to cultivate “mindful self- leadership” through compassion and curiosity regarding every aspect of the self and what trauma victims have done to survive. Non- judgmental curiosity is the therapeutic lynch pin of IFS; but the underlying belief is that the self that we aspire to does not have to be cultivated or developed. Van der kolk asserts that:

“Beneath the surface of the protective parts of trauma survivors there exists an undamaged essence, a Self that is confident, curious and calm, a Self that has been sheltered from destruction by the various protectors that have emerged in their efforts to ensure survival. Once those protectors trust that it is safe to separate, the Self will spontaneously emerge, and the parts can be enlisted in the healing process.”


Van der kolk’s account of recovery from trauma has practical meaning for child welfare systems and for professionals who work with abused and neglected children:

· Safety means not just physical safety but the experience of deep connection to and awareness of the body, so that the survivor’s body and brain are not always, or even usually, on alert. Activities that mobilize purposeful enjoyable physical movements have great therapeutic potential.
· Emotion regulation begins with body awareness especially awareness of breathing, and, in young children, requires the willingness to turn to caregivers for help when they feel vulnerable.
· The capacity to develop and sustain social support necessary for both protection and a sense of security begins with experiences of early nurturance, i.e., attunement, between caregivers and very young children. Managing behavior through consequences and damping down aggressive behavior with drugs is not a substitute for the experience of attuned caregiving.
· A renewed capacity for personal agency is created by the acceptance of split-off parts of the self, a therapeutic process enabled by non-judgmental curiosity regarding the complex array of behaviors and internal processes deployed by victims to survive.


Damasio, Antonio, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness , Harcourt, Inc. 1999.

Fearless, starring Jeff Bridges, Isabella Rossellini and Rosie Perez; screenplay by Rafael Yglesias from his novel, directed by Peter Weir, 1993

Robinson, Marilynne, Lila, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.

Van der kolk, Bessel, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Viking, 2014.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s and are not intended to reflect the views of Casey Family Programs or any other organization.

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Top Ten Ways You Know You Had a Rough Childhood

1. You try to help others who have it rough—it doesn’t matter how busy you are, you do what you can to help others who are going through tough times.

2. You are crazy about fairness. You can’t stand unfairness or injustice—you’ve experienced a lot of unfairness, and you can’t stand to see anyone treated unfairly. You stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves.

3. You work three times harder than anybody else, and you will never, ever give up—you know that there are lots of people who came from solid families, were given what you’ve had to earn, and had lots of good breaks in life, but that doesn’t stop you. You make up in hard work and good attitude for whatever you don’t have.

4. You know that your experiences don’t limit you, but rather qualify you—you know people who had every advantage, but who aren’t able to do some of the things you can do. Because they haven’t been through tough times, they haven’t learned how to figure things out. They don’t know how to read people’s faces, how to figure out who’s in charge, how to get along with difficult people… in other words, they aren’t street savvy. And sometimes, street smarts and common sense makes the difference between success and failure.

5. You run toward problems rather than away from them—you are unable to look the other way and pretend something bad isn’t happening. You don’t shirk responsibilities. You may not know how to solve a problem, but you can be counted on to try to do something to make the situation better.

6. You can handle just about anything because you’ve handled worse—because you’ve been through tough times, you know there is nothing in your life now that can be that bad. You know that challenges are temporary, and one way or the other, the situation will improve.

7. You can get along with just about anybody because you learned how to go along to get along—you figured out how to survive a tough childhood when you were too little and too vulnerable to do anything about your circumstances. There were times when you got through it by going along. That valuable lesson of knowing when to go along to get along serves you well in your adult life.

8. You are fiercely loyal to the people who’ve helped you. and you NEVER, ever forget someone who’s helped you—you remember the teacher who was nice, the kid who invited you to his birthday party, and the neighbor who included you in their family events. You would do just about anything for the people who have been kind to you.

9. You are protective over the people who’ve helped you—you know you’ll lose your good sense and all self-control if anyone tries to harm the people who’ve helped you. You’ll move Heaven and Earth to protect those who have done good by you.

10. You’ll take calculated risks to improve your life—you’ve made it through tough stuff before, and succeed or fail, you’ll make it through the risk you’re taking. You’ve built a good life, and you know you could do it again if you had to.

If you’ve had a rough childhood, I’d like to know what YOUR thoughts on how you survived, how your experiences shaped you, and what you learned. Post your comments at I read every one, and will respond to you.

sb logoRhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through, became a ward of the court at 6 months old. For most of the first 16 years of her life, she was raised by a mentally ill man and an alcoholic woman in an abusive, emotional roller coaster of a childhood.

Rhonda emancipated from the child welfare system at age 16 and used the coping skills from her childhood survival to start her own business and develop it, along with her other investments, into a multi-million dollar balance sheet. She credits a brief stay with a wonderful foster family for teaching her that there was a better way to live. Through her writing, speaking, online courses, radio show, and media appearances, she shares how others can mine the lessons out of what they’ve been through, and succeed because of them.

Rhonda serves as the Child Welfare Specialist for Markel Insurance Company, spokesperson for Foster Care Alumni of America, and the chairperson for Successful Survivors Foundation.

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The Diagnosis That Explained A Lot

I recently learned that I have “hyper-focus ADD.” This is one of seven types of attention deficit disorder that’s been identified by Dr. Daniel Amen of Amen Clinics. AH HA! So THIS is why the building can be on fire around me, and I can continue to work, oblivious to what’s going on around me. What a revelation!

I learned that I have a choice to make. I can lean into this diagnosis, focusing on my work to the exclusion of everything else, because, after all, I have hyper-focus ADD. OR, I can create coping mechanisms to counter balance this tendency to focus on only what’s in front of me.

You may be thinking, “what’s the big deal? It’s not a bad thing to focus on what you’re doing.” True enough—being able to focus on whatever you’re doing without distraction is a very valuable skill, especially when I’m writing an article or a book, creating materials for a workshop, working on a keynote, or reading detailed reports of child welfare measurements across the country. But where this valuable skill can derail and run me right off into a ditch is when I am so engrossed in what I’m doing that I lose track of time or of what’s going on around me.

Before learning coping mechanisms to compensate for what I choose to see as my “valuable skill,” I was always late. I would be late getting out the door in the morning. I would misjudge the time it would take to get where I was supposed to go. I’d be so focused on the audio book I was listening to in the car on the ride to my destination, that I’d miss the turn and waste valuable time trying to get back on track to where I was supposed to be.

To add to these blunders, when I would realize that I was late, I’d start to feel anxious and upset. I knew that making someone wait for me was disrespectful and inconvenient. My tardiness said, “I don’t value you or your time.” The truth was that I DID value the person and his or her time, but I had no idea how to correct my behavior.

Before learning that I could shore up my areas of weakness with coping mechanisms, I blamed everything and everyone except myself. The dryer broke, so it took too long for my blouse to dry. The dog ran out the front door, so I had to chase him down before I could leave. I couldn’t find my keys. The heel of my shoe broke. The car had a flat tire. There was traffic I hadn’t counted on. Blahblahblah

I’ll never forget the day when a friend of mine told me about coping mechanisms her husband had learned after a traumatic brain injury. In hindsight I can see that she had shared this information for my benefit in the hopes of trying to help me without coming right out and saying, “you are really screwing things up for yourself—get it together.” Thankfully I “got it!”

I learned that I should plan on the weekends what I was going to wear each day of the next week. That way if a button needed to be sewed on or something needed to be washed, I had ample time to get it done. I learned to put the dog in the backyard before opening the front door. I learned to put my keys in exactly the same spot every time they left my hands, and so on. I turned the stuff of daily disasters into routine activities, and thereby eliminated the majority of the causes of the anxiety-prompting episodes in my life. Of course, you can’t avoid everything that could ever arise, but now if I’m late for an appointment, it’s certain that something unavoidable has happened.

The issue of not being aware of what’s going on around me while I’m focused on what I’m doing is a little more difficult to manage. The downside of this particular issue is that I don’t hear what’s said—even when it’s said directly to me.

I can actually be looking right at someone as though I’m engaged in the conversation, and have absolutely no idea what was just said. What’s going on in my head may be the tragedy I was just evaluating, the latest foster care results, or what I’m going to make for dinner. I don’t mean to be completely tuned out to what others are saying, but the gears of my mind don’t shift quickly from one subject to another. Consequently, if someone steps in to tell me something and steps right back out, I may not even be aware that he or she stopped in. If someone texts or calls with a quick bit of information when I’m deep in thought on something else, the information given to me will not register in my mind. I used to think I was just terribly forgetful, and then I realized that you cannot recall information that you didn’t take in to begin with.

One of my employees learned quickly that I could be looking right at her, nodding, and adding the occasional comment, and still not have heard a single word she said. She tried various things, and landed on a system of knocking on my door, standing in front of me, saying my name firmly, and then waiting until I stopped what I was doing, turned toward her, and there was recognition in my eyes, before she would speak.

Through the years I’ve learned that I have the power to pull myself up out of the hyper-focus trance I go into. I can set the alarm on my computer and push myself to get up every couple of hours, walk around, drink some water, check voicemail, etc. Importantly, I’ve learned not to allow myself to go into that hyper focus mode where it’s not appropriate—when I am on a tight schedule, when I’m sitting in an airport waiting for a plane or in some other public place, or while waiting for a meeting to begin. I’ve learned that I can literally tell myself, “NOT NOW!

I’ve learned that living out this “diagnosis” is a choice. I can see it as a disadvantage and use it to make excuses or I can learn how to use it to my advantage, such as when I have a block of time and have an important project to complete. I cherish the times when I can silence the phone, close the door, and sit alone with my computer and focus completely on one project to the exclusion of everything else. I choose to see this diagnosis as the recognition of a skill that I can use to my advantage—a tool I can use to do what I was created to do.

What situation, label, or diagnosis do you deal with? I challenge you today to consider the ways you can take charge and use whatever it is to your advantage.

RhondaSciortinoHeadshotRhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to start her own business and develop it, along with her other investments, into a multi-million dollar balance sheet. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to a great future.

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You Have the “Secret Weapon” of Success

Every survivor of abuse wants to succeed, but few know how to do it.  My heart breaks for the foster alumni I’ve seen who have tried, failed, and who then find themselves in an emotional ditch, unwilling or unable to risk the pain of failure. They’ve endured too much pain already without risking the heartbreak of perceived failure.

Having gone from abandonment, abuse, and poverty to successful business person, child advocate, radio show host, author, and speaker, I’ve learned how to go from less than nothing to survival to authentic success, and I am now focused on significance.

In response to the struggling I’ve seen in the lives of my foster alumni brothers and sister, I’ve created a training program that I’ve named YOUR REAL SUCCESS. I gave it that name because I wanted to emphasize that each of us is unique in the world, so what success looks like for each of us will be unique. For example, my personal and professional success started with a career in insurance. Whodathunk it?!

Insurance taught me how to manage risk, it taught me how to look beneath the facts for the triggers that cause tragedy, and it gave me the means to invest in the things that have reaped the financial rewards that have allowed me to help others in ways I could never have imagined. When my passion about helping kids who have been abused intersected with what I knew about risk management, my unique success helped me go to the next level of doing something significant with my life.

YOUR REAL SUCCESS probably won’t look anything like mine. Just like there being only one Taylor Swift, only one Blake Mycoskie (founder of Tom’s Shoes), only one Larry Page (co-founder and CEO of Google), only one Oprah Winfrey, and only one YOU. You may not know what you were created to do, but there are clues that will help you find it and characteristics and coping mechanisms that will help you make it a reality in your life.

One of the most important things you should know as you work to earn your success is what makes YOU so awesome! Know who you really are, what you are passionate about, and what bothers you. Know what you do well. Know what comes naturally to you. Mine the lessons out of what you’ve been through and what you’ve learned along the way, especially those things you are able to do because of the unique “training” you’ve had through abandonment, abuse, dysfunction, chaos, and whatever else you’ve experienced. This reflection on yourself is important because once you know your unique combination of skills, strengths, and abilities, you can learn how to communicate them to others, and in so doing, you’ll be positioning yourself to connect with others who can help you create your real success. Knowledge of yourself and the ability to communicate it is one of the keys to success!

Two words of caution about communicating your awesomeness: First, this does NOT mean talking to everyone who will listen about all you, what you’ve been through, what’s been done to you, and what you’ve done and want to do with your life. It DOES mean communicating in a clear, concise way, who you are, what you want to do with your life, and how you want to help others. This gives potential employers, business partners, and colleagues a clear understanding of how you might be a good person to fill a need. Secondly, learn to communicate about yourself in 3 minutes or less and then STOP. Give others an opportunity to speak, to tell about him or herself, to ask questions, or to change the subject entirely. I’ve noticed that too many foster alumni destroy opportunities by spewing out TMI (too much information) about their personal lives, choices, and other issues that are not relevant to creating success. The sad thing about this is that most alumni who shoot themselves in the proverbial foot have no idea that they’ve just destroyed their chances of success with everyone within earshot.

In my upcoming YOUR REAL SUCCESS program, participants will learn how to mine the lessons out of what they’ve been through, and then how to effectively communicate their unique combination of awesomeness.

One of the most significant aspects of the program is that participants will learn to identify in themselves the characteristics of successful survivors that have been acquired and honed in the adversity they’ve experienced. It’s those characteristics that can be our “secret weapon” in the creation of our authentic success.

So, what are the characteristics of successful survivors of trauma?  I have identified 15 characteristics, but we’ll focus here on the five most common “secret weapons” of successful survivors.

#1  We’re stronger than the average person

  • When adversity strikes, we may be saddened or angry but unlike people who are debilitated by the trauma, we take the development more or less in stride.
  • We are known for pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps to keep going despite the challenges, how we feel, or how bleak the future may appear.
  • We see adversity as a challenge and an opportunity. When others go to bed and pull the covers up over their heads, we dig in and get to work.

#2  We’re tenacious, persistent and assertive

  • Our experience tells us that we’ve made it through worse, so if we just keep trying, we’ll make it through our present challenges too!
  • Like the young mother who went to 27 different apartment buildings before she convinced one building manager to rent to her for what she could pay rather than the advertised rent.
  • We aren’t afraid to ask for exceptions. Being told “NO” isn’t nearly as bad as what we’ve experienced in our lives!

#3  We’re resourceful 

  • In going without some of the necessities of life, we’ve had to figure out how to get by.
    • We can make a meal out of the heal of the bread and a couple drops of ketchup.
    • Without the money to replace what was broken, we had to figure out how to fix it.
    • Without money to buy a new pair of pants when we grew too tall, we figured out how to let out the hem or hem them into shorts.

#4  We quickly shift from fear to action

  • In the event of an emergency, you want us around! If anyone can survive a crisis, it’s going to be someone who’s survived some rough stuff in their life.
  • We make excellent first responders, emergency room staff, combat soldiers, or any other position that requires rapid decision making and the ability to act decisively.
  • The military trains this ability, which they call “mental toughness.” We already completed a more dangerous form of boot camp when we were too little or too vulnerable to avoid it.

#5  We’re courageous

  • We’ve shielded younger siblings from abuse or sexual molestation.
  • We’ve tried to protect our mothers.
  • We’ve learned how to walk through embattled neighborhoods and how to survive interactions with gang members and drug dealers.

Hopefully these five characteristics that are common to successful survivors of abuse have given you an idea of the types of characteristics that you have, or that you can develop, that can be translated into success in the workplace, which translates into income, which is the tool you’ll need to establish independence and financial security.

You may not have every one of these characteristics, but you have exactly the combination of strengths that you will need to fulfill what I call your “life assignment,” which is the creation of your own personal and professional success. My hope that is that you learned something about yourself that you were previously unaware of. You have strengths you have yet to uncover.

Once you know your unique awesomeness and learn to articulate that to employers, colleagues, and potential business partners, you’ll be well on your way to success!

To fast track your success, start by signing up for the online, self-paced course, Succeed Because Of What You’ve Been Through Level 1. For your copy of my free ebook on Success Tips, emails, and event announcements, subscribe at Much more information will be in the YOUR REAL SUCCESS program. To bring YOUR REAL SUCCESS to your area, contact Rhonda at [email protected].

Rhonda SciortinoRhondaSciortinoHeadshot, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to start her own business and develop it, along with her other investments, into a multi-million dollar balance sheet. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to a great future.

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So, You Want to Be a Success?

time-for-successI have been an employee and an employer. As an employee in an insurance agency, I had to look professional. As an employer, I had to look like a leader. Nothing in my life had prepared me for either role.

I grew up in poverty, abuse, and even spent a time homeless. My clothes came from thrift stores and whatever we could find and use at the county dump. Now I live in a home overlooking the ocean among millionaire and billionaire entrepreneurs and professional athletes. Along the way I’ve earned success, and I enjoy helping others earn theirs.

My upcoming program, called Your Real Success,will share what I learned along the path from foster care to millionaire. The following are some basics to help you create the life you want to live.

So, what do YOU need to do to launch your successful life? Here are the first 5 steps:

1. Decide who you want to be, and intentionally adopt the body language, posture, and expressions that best portray the person you want to be. If you’re not sure about those things, find a television personality who comes close and watch the way he or she carries him- or herself. Confidence comes from within. Lack of it is obvious to all.

2. Know and clearly articulate who you are and what you want to accomplish. Communicating who you are and what you want to do will open doors to the path that will get you where you want to go. Being confident of who you are and what you stand for will be attractive to others who may be in a position to help you or to those who will cheer you on in achieving your goals.

3. Create your signature look. Find a hairstyle (and for women, makeup) that looks good on you and that matches who you want to be, and stick with it. Learn the colors that look best on you, and invest in clothes that are in this range of colors. Stick with a style that is appropriate for the industry in which you hope to become successful. If you want to thrive in corporate America, go with suits. Dress like management. If you’re going into theater or music, for example, your look will be entirely different. Wherever you go, look and carry yourself like an industry leader, and eventually you will be.

4. Be prepared for opportunity. Never leave the house unprepared for the opportunity of your life because you never know when that opportunity will present itself.

5. Adopt attitude, language, and behavior that matches who you want to be. There’s no point in dressing up and looking the part and then ruining it with a bad attitude, foul mouth, or unethical behavior. Choose a positive attitude (sometimes you have to choose every ten minutes), speak like the person you want to be, and live with the highest level of integrity as though your grandmother and her pastor were watching…because with smart phones and social networking, they just might be.

RhondaRhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through, is the National Child Welfare Specialist for Markel Insurance Company. Rhonda is a foster alum who chairs the Successful Survivors Foundation and serves as a spokesperson for Foster Care Alumni of America. Her weekly radio show can be heard at

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Kinship Parenting

rhonda_kinship_parentingIn the summer of 1940, my grandmother met a tall, handsome lifeguard at Santa Monica Beach. She fell head over heels for this black-haired, blue-eyed Irishman who won every dance contest he ever entered. Within a few weeks they were married, and almost immediately the fairy tale began to fade.

That tall, handsome man had a violent temper. He had been left homeless by his mother at the age of 12, responsible for his little brother and sister. He raised his siblings by stealing clothes off clothes lines and vegetables out of gardens. There were scars on his head and back where he’d been beaten and burned. The details of those stories were the influence for the ever-present anger that flared for any reason or no reason at all.

Within two years my grandmother had two babies and a husband who, because of his violent outbursts, depression, and lack of ambition, had a hard time holding a job. For a time they lived in a post WWII government work program housing project. For several years that family of four lived in a 16-foot travel trailer in a campground. Finally, they moved into my grandmother’s parents’ home, where they lived out the rest of their volatile relationship. Both of their children were eager to get away from the chaos and abuse. Their son signed up for the Navy on his 18th birthday, and their daughter, my mother, exited the abuse by running away with the first boy who would marry her. She was 17.

My mother wasn’t married long before the excitement of it all wore off. Her friends were going to dances and parties, and she was home taking care of a baby who kept her from having fun. So she packed her clothes, loaded her car, left me with a neighbor on the pretext of going shopping, and moved away with a young man she had only recently met. He made her feel wanted and promised her a new life — the life she’d longed to have. She didn’t know if that opportunity would ever happen again, so she seized it.

In the 1960’s, if the child welfare people could find a family member to take a child, their work was done. So I was left in the care of my mentally ill grandfather and my alcoholic grandmother in a dilapidated shack the size of a garage. The plumbing didn’t work, the electricity was off half the time, and we frequently had nothing to eat.

I think my grandparents did the best they knew how to do, but their best was dismal. The fact that they took me in somehow satisfied their sense of obligation, but they made it clear that they didn’t want me and hadn’t planned for taking on the responsibility of raising another child.

I have a fairly good idea of how they felt and what they thought because they screamed it out daily. Normal conversations didn’t take place in that shack. There was either screaming or cowering or both. There was sarcasm and flying objects hurled in rage in the general vicinity of one’s opponent. And then there were the rage-inspired beatings.

A social worker rarely showed up. So with no oversight or concern of being caught, I was burned with cigarettes, stripped naked and beaten, and suffered second- and third-degree burns after my grandmother threw a skillet of hot oil on me. On one occasion, a social worker did come to the door to find that I had two black eyes. One could be explained away, but two…not so easily. So, I wound up in the care of a wonderful foster family for a brief period of time. It was brief because those people did the dastardly deed of taking me to church, which was frowned upon in the years just after the Supreme Court decision to remove prayer from schools.

My grandfather filed a complaint against the county, and I was removed from that clean, safe foster home and placed back into that filthy shack with the people who made it clear that they wished I’d never been born. You might wonder why in the world they’d go to such lengths if they didn’t want me. The answer is because I was accompanied by a monthly welfare check, a $60 per month child support check from my biological father, food stamps, and free “government” cheese and powdered milk.

Having told this story, I have to interject that there are wonderful people raising their grandchildren throughout the United States. There are people who, when they thought they were all through raising children, took on the heavy responsibility of raising another. Many wonder if they have what it takes — the stamina, the patience, the money, and all the rest of what’s needed to raise good people in a world that has normalized what used to be wrong and that uses words like “dope” and “bad” to mean “terrific.” I applaud all grandparents who have stepped up to raise their children’s children.

The point I want to make here is that in some cases the people who neglect, abuse, or abandon their children were victims of abuse themselves, so placing their children back into that dysfunctional or abusive environment is only going to serve to perpetuate the generational cycle of abuse.

It’s been demonstrated time and again that abuse is generational. In these cases, placing a child who’s been abused into a completely unrelated foster home can be the best thing that could happen in the life of that child. It certainly was with me. The foster family whom I stayed with for that brief time showed me in their living that there were people who didn’t raise their voices to one another and didn’t hit each other. They showed me that there were people who lived in a clean house and had enough to eat. They seemed to enjoy one another. And they had faith, hope, and love — three things I had never seen before. Prior to being exposed to those people, I had no idea that there was a different way to live. Without exposure to them, I could easily have gone the way of my mother, my grandfather, and unnamed generations before them.

Instead of someone delighting in my grandfather and gently teaching him right from wrong, his mother showed clearly that she valued her new boyfriend more than she did her children. Leaving them homeless and hungry showed indisputably that she considered my grandfather and his siblings worthless. Consequently, my grandfather went through life feeling worthless. He made choices that a person who felt hopeless and worthless would make. His hurt, anger, and depression influenced the way he treated his wife and children, and the result was that he raised up another generation of abusers. My mother abandoned me, and her brother was accused of molesting his children.

Here’s my point: If a social worker had taken a closer look at my grandparents and the way they lived, he or she would have seen that they were not fit to raise a child. He or she would have seen that the shack was uninhabitable. Had the social worker checked up on me regularly, he or she would have seen the obvious signs of abuse that many of my grammar school teachers saw. Unfortunately, they were not mandatory reporters in those days. And the school system, as well as our culture, didn’t support “interfering” in what was considered the private family affairs of others. Additionally, knowing that a social worker could show up at any time may have prevented some of the abuse.

Thankfully, things are much different today. Biological family members are not automatically considered qualified to parent because of some bloodline connection. And counseling and therapy is available to the child and family. Social workers remain involved for support and oversight. And strong efforts are made to reunify parents with their children. Given my circumstances, I always wonder, though, about the efficacy of trying to reunify parents with children they cannot care for or simply do not want.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include a few words about the positives of kinship placement. Living with my maternal grandparents, I had access to pictures of family. My mother sent pictures to her mother of her and the children she kept and the life she lived. So, although I didn’t see my mother or hear from her, I felt connected to her through the pictures she sent. I knew what she looked like. I heard stories about her — not all good, but they helped create a sense of connection nonetheless. Although it may sound odd, there was comfort in knowing what she looked like and seeing the pictures of where she lived. Because of those pictures, she seemed real to me. I knew my great-grandmother (yes, the one who left her children). She wasn’t a nice old lady, but there was a sense of roots and stability in knowing her. Being connected, even loosely, to these “vertical generations” gave me a slight sense of belonging to a family. I say “slight” because I looked different and my name was different. The family was not a solid, supportive family, but I suppose there was some value in that connection.

An indirect benefit of my placement with grandparents was that, as a result of not moving around a lot, I was able to finish high school in the same school district where I started kindergarten. Having consistent education contributed to a sense of stability that I desperately needed. I found solace in education. I was safe at school, so I threw myself into school work.

In conclusion, I want to thank the family members who take a deep breath, up their vitamin intake, and step up to the responsibility of raising another generation. I know you feel like you didn’t sign up for this, yet you do it anyway. I thank the social workers, psychologists, and teachers who invest in the lives of children who experience the pain of abandonment long after the placement is settled. I thank the volunteer mentors, coaches, and CASAs who stay involved and help provide a sense of stability, consistency, worth, and value to children who have been abandoned and abused. And I thank the churches and ministries that provide respite care and support to kids and families who so desperately need it.

Rhonda Sciortino overcame abandonment, abuse, poverty, filth, and hunger, and built a life of affluence, order, fulfillment, and excellent relationships. Her desire is to help others mine the lessons out of their pain and apply them to their future to create their own success. She has written several books, including Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through and the first in the Emerge Successfully series of gift books, The Prayer That Covers It All. Sciortino is the host of Rhonda’s Radio Show on am590 The Answer in Southern California, where she interviews people who have overcome adversity as well as those who help others overcome.

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Ridiculous Faith

My faith seems absurd to others—even to some other Christians. My ridiculous faith is the basis for my expectation of miraculous resolution to seemingly impossible situations.

I didn’t just wake up one day to have a ridiculous level of faith. It GREW from a tiny seed into an entire garden that permeates my every area of my life. My faith is no longer in a little box in a section of my heart. It now is integrated into every thought, word, and action.

Some say that my faith is a gift from God—as though anyone, anywhere couldn’t also have the same level of faith. It seems like an excuse to me to write off ridiculous faith as something that only a select few get to have. They may be right, I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers. But what I do know is that my faith has grown incrementally with every answered prayer.

Ridiculous FaithNo, every prayer isn’t answered the way I would like it to be. But in many cases, the answers have been much better than what I was asking for. To give you a sense of what I’m talking about, consider that as a child, I wanted a pair of shoes that didn’t have holes in the bottom or in the toes. It was uncomfortable to have cold, wet feet in school all day because of worn out shoes that had walked through rain and mud to get to school. It was embarrassing to have my toes stick out of the holes that were cut in the end of cheap canvas shoes to accommodate my growing feet. I wanted nothing more than to find a pair of usable shoes at the county dump. There were many times that we didn’t find any. But what God did eventually provide for me is a closet full of beautiful shoes, including a pair of those ridiculously expensive shoes with the red soles that were a very extravagant gift from my husband!

When I was that little girl picking through the disgusting, smelly, dirty county dump hoping for a pair of shoes that were used and ill-fitting, it would have been absurd for me to think that I could ever have what I now enjoy. Back then I wasn’t even aware that there were people who had more than one pair of shoes. So the thought of having multiple pairs of shoes in different colors and styles, some for pants, some for skirts, some dressy, some casual, etc., would never have crossed my mind. But God knew. He didn’t want to give me an old, dirty, used pair of shoes. He wanted to give me a closet full of beautiful new shoes in exactly my size. He wanted to give me blessings I didn’t even know to ask for.

It probably sounds ridiculous to some people that I should use this as an example of why I have ridiculous faith now. But this one story is just a tiny example of the reason for my faith. I’ve seen friends healed of terminal cancer, I’ve seen my husband healed from an infection that was diagnosed as “incurable.” I’ve seen my daughter delivered from addiction to drugs, cigarettes, and debilitating depression. I’ve been healed of cancer, migraine headaches, and 17 years of chronic neck pain that was diagnosed as “manageable,” not curable. I’ve gone from abandoned, unwanted and unloved, to being chosen and loved by some of the best people in the world. I went from being homeless and hungry to living in a paid-for house overlooking the ocean complete with a pantry full of food!

Through the many years since I decided to believe that Jesus is the Only Son Of God (yes, it was simply a decision that I made without any emotional experience or fanfare), my faith has grown as though ascending a set of stairs. I’ve experienced so many beautifully answered prayers, that it’s no longer a choice that I’ve made to believe. My faith is now a fully integrated aspect of who I am. No one can tell me that God isn’t real or that Jesus isn’t Who He said He is. It would be like someone telling me that Newport Beach, CA doesn’t exist. I KNOW that it does because I live there! I KNOW that God exists, that He loves us beyond our capability to understand, and that He longs to bless us with much more than we know to ask for because I live with Him and His Love.

I wish that everyone had this level of faith. But each of us gets to make our own choices. My faith may have been a gift from God, but I am convinced that every one of us can have the same gift of ridiculous faith if only we choose to ask for it and expect to receive it. Ridiculous faith that connects with the immeasurable Love of God is what lifts us up out of painful circumstances to find and fulfill our own unique success.

RhondaRhonda Sciortino, author of The Prayer That Covers It All, was raised by atheists, introduced to Jesus by a foster parent when she was a child. Rhondas faith journey was influenced by a faith-filled high teacher, the Lutheran pastor who baptized her, a Rabbi who answered her myriad questions, the Baptist minister who invited her to a public profession of faith, the Pentecostal youth pastor whose prayers resulted in miraculous healing, the Church of Christ pastor who helped launch her career, the Norbertine Priest who encouraged her, her Assemblies of God friends who cheer her on, and myriad friends from various denominations and non-denominational churches all over the US. Rhonda is a fully yielded believer in Christ who focuses on the Words of Jesus.

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Cancer Can Add Years to your Life

I recently had the delightful opportunity to meet with an amazing 94-year-old man who is sharp as a tack with a quick wit and dry sense of humor that belies his age. This extraordinary man has been, and still is, a practicing psychologist. He has specialized in working with terminally ill cancer patients since shortly after World War II. Imagine nearly 70 years of working with people who were expected to die. Especially when your approach is to truly care about, and even love, your patients.

blogDr. Larry LeShan speaks to therapists in one of his 18 books about the importance of truly caring about his patients. He admonishes therapists and caregivers NOT to compartmentalize feelings of grief and loss as they grieve with and about dying patients who become friends. With this approach and with this demographic of patients, it would seem that Larry LeShan would be grieving continuously. He says that the feelings of grief and loss are what drove him to what turned out to be a revolutionary approach to therapy.

LeShan found that doing traditional therapy with dying people wasn’t helping them enjoy their last days. He said that asking a dying person what was wrong with his life felt absurd. So, he began to ask what was right and good and significant about his patient’s lives. He said that the shift in the patient’s mindset was immediately obvious—facial expressions and body language spoke loudly that for those moments together life wasn’t dominated by cancer, but by what was good and significant in life.

Just weeks after throwing the book of traditional therapeutic methods out the proverbial window, Dr. Larry LeShan noticed that his patients were living beyond their dismal prognosis!

Dr. LeShan began to follow his patients’medical progress, and what he found was remarkable. Cancer cells halted growth, some tumors shrank, and some patients went into remission. Over 50% of his patients, diagnosed as terminally ill, lived at least ten years beyond their prognosis!

So what was his secret?

Dr. LeShan believes that when we focus on what’s good in our lives, find our passion, and live in it as best we can, we “unlock”our immune systems. He believes that focusing on our significance and our passion gives our bodies a reason to fight.

In his book, Cancer As A Turning Point, LeShan tells stories of people who made minor tweaks and of those who made major changes in their lives to focus on the things that were significant to them—the things about which they were passionate, who went on to live for years beyond the cancer that had threatened to kill them. He also tells of those who, for one reason or another, chose not to go in the direction of their dreams, who succumbed to the cancer.

Cancer_as_a_turning_pointHaving read some of his books and after the pleasure of spending several hours with him, I’m fully convinced that one could put almost anything in the place of “cancer,”and use any milestone or game changer as a turning point toward finding one’s passion in life. In fact, why wait for some life-threatening diagnosis or life altering game-changer? Why not find our passion and begin to live in that now? Dr. LeShan, himself, is a perfect example of how living out one’s passion contributes to a long, healthy, productive life. At 94, he still lights up when a patient finds her passion and makes the decision to dramatically alter her life to pursue it.

As I left Dr. LeShan’s little apartment in New York, I decided that I didn’t need a cancer diagnosis to change my life. I dug out the files full of notes I’ve made for a step-by-step program for finding the intersection of passion and expertise, and I began to create the YOUR REAL SUCCESS program. Watch for it in 2015.

RhondaSciortinoHeadshotRhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to start her own business and develop it, along with her other investments, into a multi-million dollar balance sheet. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to a great future.  

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Before you do something drastic ….

Women make dramatic changes in hairstyle. Or they bad hair stylego splurge on something they probably shouldn’t buy—like a car. Or they get a tattoo, or quit their job, or move out of state. Why do we do these dramatic things?

When we feel that our circumstances are out of control, we often DO SOMETHING, almost anything, to feel that we have some control.

bad tattooUnfortunately, in our effort to gain control over our circumstances, we sometimes do things that negatively affect the trajectory of our lives.

Next time you feel tempted to do something dramatic, consider this:

  1. Give yourself 24+ hours. If after that cool-off period, you still feel strongly, and then consider the change.
  2. Find alternatives that are less dramatic and aren’t irreparable like doing something outside your normal routine. For example, take a different way home from work. Get up an hour early and pray, meditate, or read something you wouldn’t ordinarily read. Or try some ethnicity of food you’ve never eaten before.
  3. Make a life plan, complete with bucket list of what you’d like to do with the rest of your life.
  4. Make a two-columned list with one column being those things that need to change but are outside of your control, and the other column being those things you can influence. Decide to “delegate to God” those things outside your control and take specific steps to change those areas you can influence.

Once you’ve identified those things you can and should change that are within your ability to influence, and will favorably change the trajectory of your life, confidently go for it!


Rhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve BeenRhonda Pic New Through, is the National Child Welfare Specialist for Markel Insurance Company. Rhonda is a foster alum who chairs the Successful Survivors Foundation and serves as a spokesperson for Foster Care Alumni of America. Her weekly radio show can be heard at

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