Profiles in Personal Resilience, from STRONGER: Abbey-Robin Tillery

StrongerToday on our blog we’re featuring one of the inspiring individuals featured in STRONGER: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed, by George S. Everly Jr., Ph.D, Douglas A. Strouse, Ph.D., and Dennis K. McCormack, Ph.D. These writers–a stress management expert, a skilled entrepreneur, and a Navy SEAL–draw on their own unique perspectives, extensive research on resilience, and wide-ranging examples of standout people to show why some thrive under pressure while others succumb to it. One of these standout people is Abbey-Robin Tillery.


Abbey-Robin Tillery graduated from the International Baccalaureate Program, rose to the rank of captain in the U.S. Army, and earned a Ph.D. all before age 26. Her contributions to military psychology and stress management have led to the formation of clinics and support programs nationwide. Today, at 34, she serves as a Department of Defense Psychologist. However, statistically, Tillery never should have accomplished any of this.

Her childhood was marked by sexual abuse, parental neglect, poverty, and psychological chaos. At age 15, she made the courageous decision to emancipate herself and wound up changing residences multiple times before graduating from high school. She attended an excellent state school, the University of Colorado, and thrived. She completed her B.A. in three years and was accepted into a Ph.D. program affiliated with Stanford University. After only a year in graduate school, she cofounded an early intervention clinic for acute stress disorder. Despite achieving professional success and being “so smart,” Tillery fell prey to a deeply abusive relationship. While making great strides in college, she was secretly being manipulated and exploited.

Coerced into turning over all of her college loan money, Tillery had to work three part-time jobs just to survive. A year into her Ph.D. program, she faced homelessness. Determined not to quit, Tillery found a way to finance a sailboat and live aboard it while completing her education. She had no running water on board, no way to cook, and no bathroom. She ate food out of student, teacher, and doctors’ lounges and sometimes helped herself—without paying—to Sunday brunch buffets at local hotels. Tillery was able to sustain this fragile existence for two years.

Coinciding with her dissertation year, Tillery faced an unplanned pregnancy, resulting from her abusive relationship. She decided to keep the baby and complete her education, finding ways to make it work. Soon came the darkest point in her life—and what saved her. In 2006, she was confronted with irrefutable evidence that her controlling, abusive lover was also a fraud. Deeply shaken, Tillery felt she could not call herself a psychologist or wear the army uniform after being so deceived. Who would respect her?

After two horrible years of self-doubt, Tillery finally found the courage to tell others what she had endured and how she had stumbled. Thankfully, the response was compassion. Teachers saw Tillery as gifted and believed in her. With their help and support, Tillery not only reconnected to her dream of success; she regained her sense of active optimism and belief in herself.


Dr. George Everly, Jr., Ph.D., is considered one of the “founding fathers” of the modern era of stress management and disaster mental health. He currently serves as Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Public Health at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Professor of Psychology at Loyola University Maryland, and Executive Director of Resiliency at UMBC Training Centers.

Douglas A. Strouse, Ph.D., is the Managing Partner of Wexley Consulting HRD, LLC, an international management and consulting firm. He is also the founder of Global Data Source LLC, a national data management and services firm, and is founder and President of the Chief Executive Officers Club (CEO) of Baltimore, a nonprofit organization that provides an educational forum for executives of small and mid-size companies.

Dennis K. McCormack, Ph.D., is one of the original Navy SEALs, and he pioneered SEAL combat doctrine and tactics in Vietnam. Serving as a supervisory psychologist for the Department of Defense (Army), he received official commendation for meritorious performance of duty for demonstrated professionalism and dedicated commitment to excellence as Chief, Department of Behavioral Medicine, Winn Army Community Hospital, Fort Stewart, Georgia.

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