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How I Mined The Lessons Out Of A Painful Childhood--including the 6 things I leaned from child abuse

When I was a little girl, my mother took me to a neighbor and asked her to babysit while she went shopping. Hours later when she didn’t return, the neighbor, who had five children of her own and wasn't happy about having a sixth kid to feed, started calling around in an attempt to find my mother. No one had heard from her or knew where she was. Social services got involved, my grandmother was located, and the next thing I knew I was living in a filthy, dilapidated, shack the size of a garage with my alcoholic and drug-addicted grandmother and my mentally unstable grandfather.

My mother had moved out of state. She never returned. My father was already gone. I spent most of the first 16 years of my life in that shack. I was beaten for any reason and sometimes for no reason at all. I was disciplined with a skillet of hot oil when I was four years old for “talking too much.” (Now I get paid to talk. Irony is God way of working things out beautifully.)

For a time we were homeless as a result of an uninsured fire that made the little shack uninhabitable. I could go on for hours, but I’ve told you this much of my story to make one specific point –- that I am living proof that it is possible to succeed in life, not despite what you’ve been through, but specifically because of it. Here's what I mean.

The sense of abandonment I experienced every time I thought that my mother or father was going to show up and didn’t, typically on birthdays and Christmas, was emotionally devastating, but eventually it developed in me a sense of self-reliance. I learned that no one was going to show up to rescue me from my abusers. That no one was going to show up with food when we had none. That no one was going to magically reach into my life and “fix” everything. Consequently, when I was 13 and started my first job, I knew that no one was going to do the work for me. I didn’t expect anyone to help me. If I didn’t know what to do or how to do something, I would ask for instruction or find a book or other resource to help me. When I emancipated at age 16, I didn’t expect anyone to provide anything for me. When I started my first business at age 27, I knew that success would be up to me. The self-reliance developed in me as a result of abandonment, has served me well.

Poverty taught me to be resourceful. When something breaks and you don’t have the money to replace it, you figure out how to repair it. When your only pair of pants rip, and you have to get to work, you learn how to sew! Poverty also taught me to appreciate every good thing I now have, and it developed in me sensitivity for those who have less than I do.

Being homeless as a result of an uninsured fire led eventually to a sincere appreciation for appropriate insurance coverage. That appreciation, combined with the heartfelt desire to protect people who are doing the significant work of healing wounded kids resulted in a 40- year career in insurance and multiple millions of dollars saved for child caring organizations.

The verbal and physical abuse that I experienced did significant damage; however, it taught me six invaluable lessons that cannot be learned in a classroom.

First, I learned how to read the slightest micro-expressions in the faces of my abusers which helped me to predict their behaviors and make necessary adjustments.

Second, I learned how to manage risk. I learned when to leave, when to hide, when to stick my face in a book (it didn’t take long for me to figure out that if I was reading, I was usually left alone), and when to try to redirect the conversation to a mutually agreed upon "enemy"--some thing or person that the abusers could turn their anger toward.

Third, I learned how to quickly shift from fear, which is passive, to coping, which is active. This ability helped me through multiple crises in business, the worst of which was on 9/11/01 when planes flew into the World Trade Center. My business was located in the second tower. At 40 I started over. I was able to do that because I automatically shift into coping when there's trouble.

Fourth, abuse developed in me the characteristics of courage and resilience. When my 6′ 2″ grandfather turned his aggression toward my much smaller grandmother, I would jump in front of her to shield her. That's courage! I learned through it all that I always survive, which is resilience. Courage and resilience have served me well through the myriad personal and professional trials I have successfully overcome.

Fifth, abuse developed in me an intensely-sensitive “justice meter.” I can sense when someone is being mistreated, and I automatically begin to assess options for intervention. It’s this “justice meter” that leads successful survivors of childhood abuse to gravitate toward careers involving law enforcement, social work, and crisis response.

Sixth, abuse developed in me a deep sense of empathy for other victims of abuse--especially those who are too little or too vulnerable to do anything about it. That empathy led me to founding the only insurance organization in the US that existed solely to protect and defend the good people and organizations that care for children who have been abused.

There are many more examples of mining the lessons out of pain and applying them as stepping stones to success. For me, I sum it up by saying that I have been blessed to go from abandonment, abuse, dysfunction, chaos, and poverty to excellent relationships with quality people, peace, joy, good health, and financial prosperity. I did so, not because I was “lucky,” not because I was at the right place at the right time or knew the right people,

not because I married a wealthy man or bought a winning lottery ticket. I have enjoyed personal and professional success specifically because of the the grace of God to help me discover and leverage the character traits, learned abilities, and coping mechanisms that were developed in me as I lived through painful circumstances.

From today until the day I leave this life, I want to help other survivors of painful circumstances to mine the lessons out of all they’ve been through to find and fulfill the purpose for which they were born and have been perfectly matched. This is the fulfillment of what the Bible says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

Your life will be so much better when you mine the lessons out of what you've been through. Trust me on this. Don't waste your pain. Join me in feeling encouraged, equipped, and empowered.

Rhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because Of What You've Been Through (featured on The Today Show), used the coping skills from her abusive childhood to create personal and professional success. She built two successful businesses, then turned her attention to helping others to find their purpose and their authentic success. More info can be found at

Rhonda Sciortino, mother to one amazing daughter, is the author of Succeed Because Of What You've Been Through (featured on The Today Show).

She used the coping skills from her abusive childhood to create personal and professional success. She built two successful businesses, then turned her attention to helping others to find their purpose and their authentic success. More info can be found at


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