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Are there upsides to a chaotic childhood?

In an effort to overturn negative stereotypes, researchers are delving into how a chaotic childhood may yield potential strengths. In her article titled Up from Chaos, Megan Hustad interviews research psychologists and reports that "adults who as children were reared in stressful homes may have a greater willingness to leave something undone - a lack of perfectionism that helps them do what's necessary without dwelling on what could have been - compared with those reared in homes with the luxury of routinely expecting perfection."

Hustad goes on to state that "a child growing up in a stable, loving home who is presented with a candy bar and told that if she waits a half hour, she can have two, would be wise to wait. But if her home is chaotic and her caregivers deliver only sporadically on their promises, it would be quite reasonable to take the candy bar while the getting is good. Grabbing what you can when it's in front of you in this context is not 'impulsive' or "shortsighted,' as those behaviors are typically labeled. It's strategic." That strengths may be derived from optimal as well as adverse experiences is the good news take-home message.


Hustad, M. (2017, April). Up from Chaos. Psychology Today, pp. 73-79.

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