Resilience: Applying Brain Change to Cope with Life’s Challenges More Skillfully

    —
April 5, 2019
Resilience with Linda Graham, Sounds True

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Resilience is our capacities innate in the brain to cope skillfully with both everyday disappointments and extraordinary disasters. Resilience is foundational to our well-being, to a sense of safety and ease in our world.

And because these capacities are innate in the brain, hardwired in by evolution and developed and strengthened by experience, resilience is fundamentally learnable and trainable. We can develop the neural pathways in our brains that allow us to cope with anything, anything at all, and to learn that we can.

Resilience is more than any one particular trait like grit or perseverance.

Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress.
        – American Psychological Association

This process relies on the neuroplasticity of the brain—also innate, fortunately also lifelong—to grow new neurons, connect those neurons in new pathways, to create new circuitry that can reliable support new patterns of response to life’s stressors, whether:

        Barely a wobble – we misplace our car keys and wallet two minutes before we have to dash out the door to go to work, but find them on the kitchen counter and we can re-center ourselves again fairly quickly.

        Glitches and heartaches – the more serious sorrows and struggles that break our hearts and sometimes our spirits—we or someone we love loses a job, or loses a relationship, or loses a home, or loses health, or loses hope.

        Too much – experiencing overwhelm when too many crises pile on top of each other—we get a diagnosis of lung cancer the same day a pipe bursts and the kitchen gets flooded, the same week we’re having to place an aging parent in a nursing home. We can feel like we’re drowning and about to go under, resilience completely derailed, at least temporarily.

No matter what level of disruption to our well-being, we can learn how the brain develops new pathways of resilience, and even rewires old pathways when our habitual patterns of coping no longer work so well. And because we can learn, because we can choose the experiences that will strengthen those circuits of resilience in the brain, we have a responsibility to ourselves and the people we care about to learn to do so.

Mishaps are like knives, that either cut us or serve us, as we grasp them by the blade or the handle.
        – James Russell Lowell

We strengthen our resilience by strengthening capacities of five different “intelligences” in the brain:

1. Somatic intelligence: using body-based tools of breath, touch, movement, and visualization to restore the baseline physiological equilibrium of the nervous system, the brain’s range of resilience that primes the neuroplasticity of the brain for learning and growth.

  • Examples:
    • permission to sigh
    • hand on the heart
    • equanimity for two
    • moving the body from collapse to empowerment
    • imagining a conversation with a compassionate friend
    • forest bathing

2. Emotional intelligence: learning to manage powerful surges of disruptive emotions and cultivating the positive emotions that antidote the built-in negativity bias of the brain, shifting the functioning of the brain out of contraction and reactivity into more receptivity and openness. The direct, measurable cause-and-effect outcome is resilience.

  • Examples:
    • self-compassion break
    • recovering from a shame attack
    • sharing kindness
    • gratitude for the web of life
    • savoring the moment
    • doing one scary thing a day
    • creating a wished-for outcome
    • resting in well-being

3.  Relational intelligence within ourselves: cultivating the self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-appreciation that recover the inner secure base of resilience that is the best protection we have against stress and trauma.

  • Examples:
    • carrying love and appreciation in your wallet
    • deep listening to core strengths
    • cultivating the wiser self
    • dialogue between the wiser self and the inner child
    • lovingkindness for even unlovable parts
    • meeting with the inner critic

4.  Relational intelligence with others: being able to trust other people as both refuges and resources when we’re going through hard times. Recovering the skills that make that possible.

  • Examples:
    • moments of meeting
    • monitoring the rhythm of resonant relating
    • reaching out for and offering help
    • creating a circle of support
    • comfort with closeness and distance
    • communication without shame or blame
    • negotiating change
    • setting limits and boundaries
    • repairing a rupture
    • navigating us vs. them
    • dismantling the drama triangle
    • forgiveness

5. Reflective intelligence: mindfully observing—and shifting—our habitual thought patterns so that we can truly see clearly and choose wisely, discerning what a wise option might be in any given situation.

  • Examples:
    • steadying awareness
    • tracking shifts in experience
    • identifying thought processes that derail resilience
    • what story am I believing now?
    • change every “should” to a “could”
    • finding the gift in the mistake
    • shifting entire mindsets

When we learn to practice these skills little and often, we strengthen our resilience in exactly the way the brain learns best, small experiences repeated many times. We can develop new ways to respond to pressures and tragedies quickly, adaptively, effectively.

I am no longer afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.
        – Louisa May Alcott


Linda Graham, MFT is an experienced psychotherapist in the San Francisco Bay Area and author of Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster (2018) and Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being (2013). She integrates modern neuroscience, mindfulness practices, and relational psychology in her international trainings on resilience and well-being. She publishes a monthly e-newsletter and weekly Resources for Recovering Resilience, archived at www.lindagraham-mft.net.


Brain Change Summit, Sounds True

Join Linda & & 25 Leading Experts in the Fields of Neuroscience and Functional Medicine in the Brain Change Summit!

Linda Graham

Also By Author

Resilience: Applying Brain Change to Cope with Life’...

When we learn to practice these five skills, we strengthen our resilience in exactly the way the brain learns best—small experiences repeated many times. We can develop new ways to respond to pressures and tragedies quickly, adaptively, effectively.

Linda Graham: Cultivating Response Flexibility: Neuros...

Linda Graham is a trainer, life coach, author, and ardent researcher in the fields of personal growth and the life of the mind. She’s the author of Bouncing Back: Rewiring the Brain for Maximum Resilience, and with Sounds True will be one of the teachers in the Leading Edge of Psychotherapy online course. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon and Linda talk about recent findings in neuroscience that psychotherapists (and their patients) will find useful in the treatment of shame and anxiety. Linda explains her view of resilience—what it means to be resilient, how to cultivate the quality, and how the brain’s prefrontal cortex is “the CEO” of resilience. Finally, Linda and Tami discuss the intersection of meditation and psychotherapy, including how to reconcile their contradictory aspects through the lens of modern neuroscience. (65 minutes)

You Might Also Enjoy

Episode 1: Love and Loss

As Joanna Macy approaches the end of a long life dedicated to healing our imperiled planet, she begins the conversation with Jessica Serrante, her student and dear friend, “standing afresh with what it’s like to live on Earth at this moment.” As we look into the face of the climate crisis, injustice, and war, difficult feelings arise; all are welcomed.

You are invited to join them at Joanna’s kitchen table, and invited into a deeper sense of your belonging and love for our world.

In this episode:

  • How to connect with the great possibilities that still exist for us even in these precarious times Joanna reflects on her awakening of environmental consciousness
  • Jess reflects on how meeting Joanna changed her life
  • Love, laughter, heartbreak, and the Work That Reconnects
  • Bonus Exercise: “Open Sentences”—a practice for partners

We recommend starting a podcast club with friends or family to do these practices together. Links and assets to help prompt reflection and build community can be found with every episode on WeAreTheGreatTurning.com.

Anita Moorjani: Embodying Love in a Fear-Based World

How do we stem the tides of fear and aggression sweeping over our divided world? How can we spread the love that heals and uplifts everyone? Sharing insights from her bestselling book, Dying to Be Me, and her latest work, Sensitive Is the New Strong, Anita Moorjani offers her hope-giving answers to these questions of compelling urgency for our times. 

Tune in for this remarkable teacher’s inspiring (and in many ways utterly mind-blowing) conversation with Sounds True’s founder, Tami Simon, as they discuss: a nonlinear understanding of time; living fearlessly; how to attune to the helping beings that surround us at all times; raising your vibrational frequency; the practice of asking for signs; following your intuition; how humanity’s belief in scarcity is contributing to our self-destruction; the root cause of the divisiveness in today’s world, and why we need a new way of defining “strength”; moving beyond limitations inherited from our families and cultures; the consequences of repressing oneself; becoming unapologetically who we are; the body as a reflection of our state of consciousness; multiple lives, one soul; embracing your gifts as an empath; and more.

Note: This episode originally aired on Sounds True One, where these special episodes of Insights at the Edge are available to watch live on video and with exclusive access to Q&As with our guests. Learn more at join.soundstrue.com.

What is Somatic Abolitionism?

Somatic Abolitionism is a living, embodied anti-racist practice, a form of culture building, and a way of being in the world. In this immersive audio workshop, Resmaa Menakem presents ten sessions of insights and body-based practices to help listeners liberate themselves—and all of us—from racialized trauma and the strictures of white-body supremacy.

Listen to the first 15 minutes of this audio program:

This is an adapted excerpt from You, Me, Us and Racialized Trauma by Resmaa Menakem.

You, Me, Us, and Racialized Trauma

Somatic Abolitionism is a living, embodied anti-racist practice, a form of culture building, and a way of being in the world. In an immersive audio workshop, Resmaa Menakem presents ten sessions of insights and body-based practices to help listeners liberate themselves—and all of us—from racialized trauma and the strictures of white-body supremacy.

Learn More

>
Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap