Turning Trials into Triumph: Lessons from the Life of Maya Angelou

By: Davine Holness

Abuse: from selective mutism and PTSD to fame and fortune

Abuse: selective mutism turns to triumph

On May 28 2014, author and activist Dr. Maya Angelou passed away peacefully in her home.  Her work has touched the lives of many, and her story can inspire us today.  Despite the physical abuse and psychological trauma of her past, she rose to great financial success, world renown, and a fulfilled life.

At the age of eight, Angelou was raped by her mother’s then-boyfriend.  She told her brother who told the rest of the family.  When the law found Angelou’s rapist guilty but only jailed him for one day, her uncles retaliated by beating the rapist to death.  Angelou felt that her words had killed a man, and so out of fear and guilt she stopped speaking.  This selective mutism – a psychological problem that affects many children worldwide – lasted for nearly five years of Angelou’s young life.  With the help of a teacher and literature, she was able to find her voice.  She eventually turned this painful past into several autobiographies and poems, as well as a passion for activism and supporting those who suffered like she did.  Her life is an example of how finding and pursuing a passion can help you overcome devastating circumstances, and how a troubled past doesn’t have to hold you back.  Though recovering from the pain of traumatic experiences is a struggle, rebounding can propel you into greater success.

For help recovering from a painful experience (such as verbal abuse, physical abuse, or rape) or selective mutism/, feel free to contact the Manhattan or Bergen County, New Jersey offices of Arista Counseling & Psychotherapy at or (212) 722-1920.  Visit www.acenterfortherapy.com for more information.



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