Elizabeth Smart – A Story of Hope and Resilience

I’m intrigued by the story of Elizabeth Smart, the 14-year-old girl who was kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City on June 5, 2002.

The previous evening, Elizabeth’s family attended an award ceremony at Elizabeth’s school. Her father, Ed Smart, locked up the house, as usual, and the family went to bed. In the early morning hours, Brian Mitchell broke into the home and entered the bedroom of Elizabeth and her sister, Mary Katherine. At knife-point, he forced Elizabeth out of bed and down the hallway. Mary Katherine, who had been faking sleep, immediately got out of bed and to tell her parents but froze in fear when she nearly ran into Mitchell and Elizabeth as they looked into her brother’s bedroom. Terrified, Mary Katherine crept back to bed, not daring leave her room for a couple of hours.Shortly before 4:00 AM, she woke her parents, who contacted law enforcement and initiated a massive search, involving up to 2,000 people per day, for several days. Eventually, the community-led search was closed.

Although the family continued to search for their daughter by maintaining a presence in the local and national media, it was several months before a break came. Mary Katherine identified the voice of Mitchell as someone whom the family had met and helped in the past. A drawing of Mitchell’s face was released to the press, including America’s Most Wanted. On March 12, 2003, a biker, who had seen the program the night before, spotted Mitchell, and two female companions, in Sandy, Utah, alerted the police. The trio were picked up and Elizabeth, disguised in a gray wig, sunglasses and a veil, was recognized by police officers and immediately reunited with her family.

Although a television show (which I haven’t seen) was produced about the experience, Elizabeth was understandably hesitant to talk about what happened during her captivity. However, I can imagine that it had to be a terribly frightening experience for a 14-year-old girl. Not only was she torn from her family and a supportive community, we know that she was raped daily (sometimes multiple times a day) for the duration of her captivity.

What I find so inspirational about Elizabeth’s story is that it did not define her (negatively). Although sadly traumatic at the time, she has refused to succumb to the fear, pity, helplessness, or anger we would attribute to such an experience.

I was touched as I read an account of Elizabeth facing her kidnapper in court, last week. I’m quoting from The Salt Lake Tribune.

“Smart drew a deep breath after walking to the center of US District Court Judge Dale Kimball’s courtroom, then turned and faced Mitchell, 57.

‘I don’t have very much to say to you,’ she told an unresponsive defendant. ‘I know exactly what you did,’ she continued. ‘I know that you know what you did was wrong. You did it with a full knowledge. I also want you to know that I have a wonderful life now, that no matter what you do, it will not affect me again.

‘You took away nine months of my life that can never be returned. But in this life of the next, you will have to be held responsible for those actions and I hope you are ready when the time comes.'”

The story goes on to say, “a jubilant Smart, now 23, addressed reporters outside the courthouse, saying she didn’t care that Mitchell hadn’t the courage to look her in the eye. She doesn’t need an apology from him to move forward.”

No doubt that Elizabeth had to work through lots of trauma and grief, which may even continue to haunt her from time to time. But she has gone on to do some great things with her life, including graduating from college, serving a mission for her church and speaking to local groups about how to move forward after a difficult experience. What an inspiration and example of someone claiming responsibility for her life.

So I want to pose a question: What do you think enabled Elizabeth to overcome such trauma and move forward with her life?

Please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts. Not just about Elizabeth but perhaps you. What has enabled you to overcome trauma or difficulties in your life? Let’s support and learn from one another.


About Roger K. Allen
Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation and family development. His tools and methods have helped tens of thousands of people live happier and more effective lives. To learn more, visit www.rogerkallen.com>.

5 responses to “Elizabeth Smart – A Story of Hope and Resilience”

  1. Judy Sabah says:

    i imagine the reason Elizabeth Smart is able to overcome this trauma is that she knows WHO she is. She is not defined by WHAT happens to her. From my perspective, that is each of our biggest project in our lives, to remember WHO we are, no matter WHAT others do. And in my experience, it is a project to remember that. Elizabeth likely had and continues to have wonderful support from friends and family and people all around the world who know of her experience.

    We must remember that we are each Intrinsically valuable, which means we are one of a kind, totally unique, and infinitely valuable beyond measure. This is who we are. There is nothing that can change that.

    • Thanks for your inspirational thoughts, Judy. I think you’re right. Elizabeth must have a deep understand of who she is. Many people have learned that lesson from you.

  2. Monica McNulty says:

    Your question about what it was that allowed Elizabeth to overcome extreme trauma is a powerful one. Although I endured some significant trauma as a child, I’m sure it was nothing compared to the horrendous 9 months that Elizabeth endured. Still, my painful childhood had a huge impact on my life. For me, my ability to truly move beyond my past pain began with a very intentional choice. I remember the day, more than 15 years ago, that I made the decision to choose a different path. I stenciled a small poster with a simple message that still hangs on my wall today. It says “I choose hope. I choose healing. I choose joy. I choose LIFE!” Around the lettering I drew butterflies, flying to freedom.

    I believe freedom begins by realizing that I have the ability to choose. Elizabeth could have chosen to remain bitter and wounded for the rest of her life. Instead she chose to not allow her past pain or the choices of others to determine her future. She refused to see herself as a victim. Fundamentally, I believe it was that choice that set her free.

    I have found that for me it is only possible to reach the point of emotional freedom and personal empowerment if I’m willing to acknowledge and feel and work through the pain in my life. Experiencing the depth of my pain, surrounding myself with loving, supportive people, and experiencing God’s faithfulness in carrying me through it, is ultimately what brought me to the point of freedom. From that point on, I was no longer a victim, and I was truly free to make the new choices that I mention above.

  3. shirin says:

    Hello. I am shirin the student of M.A in general psychology in Iran. I selected “training copying skills to increase resilience on decrease stress in loosing father18-24 years old daughters” as the title of my thesis. I don’t know many things about it and I need new and reliable matter about my subject. Would you send me new matter, article or book? Or introduce book or site that I search new matter? Or if you know any person that active in this grand please send me his/her email or site.
    Please help me. I need help and I don’t know any people that help me. would you send me new matter?
    If you help me I really happy.

    Sorry if I had mistake I’m speak Persian and I’m not good in English.

    I’m waiting for your answer and new matter.

    Thank you shirin

    • Roger Allen says:

      Hi Shirin,

      Thank you for your comment. It is tough for a daughter to lose a father. I assume this happened to you. My condolences. There are also ways to convert such traumas to growth experiences. Look at all the ways in which he blessed your life. See how his presence made you a stronger person. What lessons can you take from him (would he want you to take) to be a strong woman. See how you’re blessed, not victimized. I’ll send you a personal email with some book titles.
      Roger

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