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December 5, 2022 45 min

The rags to riches success story is everywhere - usually with a side of trauma somewhere: the homeless child with mental health issues overcomes all the odds to win an Ivy league scholarship. After graduation, they continue to “rise above” their past by joining the world’s most famous tech company. If they can do it, anyone can. 


It’s a story we hear over and over again. But what if those transformation stories actually hide some deeply screwed up practices? Author Emi Nietfeld joins us to explore our beliefs about resilience, and our weird fascination with stories of triumph.


In this episode we cover: 


  • The main problem with “survival” memoirs
  • Who gets to survive? Who gets to thrive? Whose stories are believed? 
  • The underbelly of scholarship programs (hint: the more tragic your story, the more money you get)
  • why one successful person can undermine everyone else’s chances of being seen and believed
  • How the practice of motivational interviewing could change the course of mental healthcare

Content note: this episode includes discussion of eating disorders, self harm, and hospitalization

Notable quotes: 

“As a culture, we believe in this fantasy that anything bad can be made good, that no matter what we lose, what tragedies happen to us, we can - through our sheer force of will - twist them into something better. And that feels awful if you're the person who's lost something.” - Emi Nietfeld


About our guest:

Emi Nietfeld is the author of Acceptance, a memoir of survival that explores our beliefs about resilience, and our weird fascination with stories of triumph. Her essays have appeared in New York Times, Longreads, Vice, and Boulevard, they’ve been cited in The Best American Essays of 2021 and have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. 


Find her at

Additional resources

The basics of motivational interviewing 

Get in touch:

Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Here After with Megan Devine. Tune in, subscribe, leave a review, send in your questions, and share the show with everyone you know. Together, we can make things better, even when they can’t be made right. 


Have a question, comment, or a topic you’d like us to cover? call us at (323) 643-3768 or visit


For more information, including clinical training and consulting, visit us at


For grief support & education, follow us at @refugeingrief on IG, FB, TW, and @hereafterpod on TT


Check out Megan’s best-selling books - It’s Okay That You're Not Okay and How to Carry What Can’t Be Fixed

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