Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster

Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster

by Linda Graham


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Whether it’s a critical comment from the boss or a full-blown catastrophe, life continually dishes out challenges. Resilience is the learned capacity to cope with any level of adversity, from the small annoyances of daily life to the struggles and sorrows that break our hearts. Resilience is essential for surviving and thriving in a world full of troubles and tragedies, and it is completely trainable and recoverable — when we know how. In Resilience , Linda Graham offers clear guidance to help you develop somatic, emotional, relational, and reflective intelligence — the skills you need to confidently and effectively cope with life’s inevitable challenges and crises.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608685363
Publisher: New World Library
Publication date: 10/02/2018
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 113,958
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Linda Graham, MFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and mindful self-compassion teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. She integrates neuroscience, mindfulness, and relational psychology in her international trainings, conferences, workshops, and webinars.

Read an Excerpt


The Basics of Strengthening Resilience

All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.

— Helen Keller

Life is full of challenge. We can't avoid that. No matter how hard we try, how earnestly we seek, or how good we become, life throws us curveballs and pulls the rug out from under each and every one of us from time to time. No one is immune from that reality of the human condition. Bumps and bruises, even occasional catastrophes and crises, are so inevitable in human experience that we don't have to take bad things happening to good people so personally.

We can't change the fact that shit happens. What we can change is how we respond, and that's what this book is all about.

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

— James Russell Lowell, Literary Essays

When something challenging or even devastating happens, we have the power — the flexibility — to choose how we respond. It takes practice, and it takes awareness, but that power always lies within us. This chapter gives you a clear map of how you can train your brain to respond to life's challenges in ways that are increasingly skillful and effective. You'll also gain an understanding of how the changes that occur in your brain pathways make the brain itself more resilient.

When Shit Happens: Developing Response Flexibility

When faced with external problems and pressures — car accidents, catastrophic illness, divorce, the loss of a child — or when we are called on to help others face sudden and disastrous shifts in their lives, we can hardly be blamed for seeking to fix the problem by changing the circumstances and conditions "out there." Even when we are tormented by internal messages about how badly we are coping — "I could have thought of that before. Dumb, dumb, dumb!" — we often still focus on fixing the external problem "out there" in order to make ourselves feel better "inside."

Of course, it's important to develop the life skills, resources, and wisdom to create changes in those external circumstances when we can, and to learn to cope well, again and again and again, when we can't. That's part of what resilience is all about. It's all good work, all necessary, all helpful. But every bit as important as focusing on what's "out there" is how we perceive and respond to what's "inside" — to any external stressors, to any internal messages about those stressors, to any internal messages about how well or poorly we're coping, and even to any implicit memories of danger from the past that are triggered by the current event and may feel very real right now. Our capacities for perception and response are among the most important factors determining or predicting our ability to be resilient and regain our balance going forward.

In trying to sort out what accounts for a person's ability to cope with stress, it is useful to distinguish three different kinds of resources. The first is the external support available, and especially the network of social supports. The second bulwark against stress includes a person's psychological resources, such as intelligence, education, and relevant personality factors. The third type of resource refers to the coping strategies that a person uses to confront the stress. Of these three factors, the third one is both the most important factor in determining what effects stress will have and the most flexible resource, the one most under our personal control.

— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Thus the motto of this book is: "How you respond to the issue ... is the issue." (Deep bows to my colleague Frankie Perez at the Momentous Institute in Dallas, Texas, for that phrase.)

Shift Happens, Too

Whatever shit might be happening, the key to coping with the situation is how we shift our perception (our attitude) and our response (behavior). It may seem that there's no end to external stressors, or to negative internal messages about how we're coping with them. That's why creating a shift in perception (attitude) and in our responses to those stressors and those messages (behaviors) may be the most effective choice we can make to strengthen our resilience.

You can experience this power of shifting your attitude and behavior by refocusing your attention from what just happened to how you are coping with what just happened.

Darn! I dropped the plate! It's shattered in a dozen pieces. Double darn — that was the special plate my aunt gave me when I graduated. Sigh. I'll call my aunt to tell her. We'll commiserate. Maybe we can shop for another special plate next week — it will be a good excuse for a visit.

Three thousand bucks for a new transmission! That's a lot of money. And ... at least it's something fixable. The car will still run for another five years, and ... we'll take one less week of vacation this year, and ... in the very long run this is just a big bump on a pickle.

The doc wants to run more tests. Not such good news. This is really, really hard. Well, better to know, better to get the information I need to deal with this head on.

The big lesson of this practice is that if we can shift our attitude and behavior in these circumstances, we can shift them in any circumstances. Knowing this is the big shift.

Between a stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. The last of human freedoms is to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances.

— attributed to Viktor Frankl

This shift is how we move from "poor me" to an empowered, active "I." It's a shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, a way of keeping the mind open to learning. We can change any internal messages we may be hearing about how we are coping (or not) or have coped (or not) in the past. Strengthening resilience includes coming to see ourselves as people who can be resilient, are competent at coping, and are competent at learning how to cope.


All of the capacities that develop and strengthen your resilience — inner calm in the midst of the storms, seeing options clearly, shifting perspectives and responding flexibly, choosing to choose wise actions, persevering in the face of doubt and discouragement — all of these capacities are innate in your own being because they are evolutionarily innate in your own brain.

All your life, your brain has the flexibility to create new patterns of response to life events because of its neuroplasticity. A mature adult brain is physically stable, but its functioning is fluid and malleable, not inert or fixed. Your brain can grow new neurons, connect those neurons in new circuits, embed new learning in new neural networks of memory and habit, and rewire those networks whenever it needs to.

The adult brain's ability to continue to develop and change its functioning — lifelong — is without question the most exciting discovery of modern neuroscience. Neuroplasticity in the adult human brain was accepted as scientific truth only about thirty years ago, with the development of imaging technology that allowed neuroscientists to see these changes actually happening in the prefrontal cortex, the brain's center of executive functioning, as well as elsewhere in the brain. Neuroplasticity is the engine of all learning, at every point in the human life span.

Neuroplasticity means that all of the capacities of resilience you need are learnable and recoverable. Even if you didn't fully develop your capacities for resilience in early life — maybe because of a lack of healthy role models, less-than-secure early attachment, or the experience of too many adversities or traumas before your brain had developed the necessary circuitry to cope — you can develop them now. That's right. The human brain can always learn new patterns of coping, install those patterns in new neural circuitry, and even rewire the old circuitry when old patterns no longer serve a constructive purpose. The neural networks underlying your coping strategies and behaviors can be shaped and modified by your own choices, by self-directed neuroplasticity. You can learn, change, and grow now because your brain can learn, change, and grow always.

Nurturing Response Flexibility in the Brain

Self-directed neuroplasticity requires the engagement of the prefrontal cortex, the center of executive functioning in the brain. It's the structure we rely on most for our planning, decision-making, analyses, and judgments. The prefrontal cortex also performs many other functions essential to our resilience: it regulates functions of the body and the nervous system, manages a broad range of emotions, and quells the fear response of the amygdala. (That quelling is essential for resilience!) The prefrontal cortex allows us to attune to the felt sense of our experience and that of others, to empathize with the meaning of our experience and that of others, and to become aware of the self as it evolves through time. It is the seat of our inner moral compass. And it is the structure of response flexibility — our capacity to shift gears, perspectives, attitudes, and behaviors.

All of these capacities, especially the capacity to shift gears smoothly, mature as your prefrontal cortex matures. All of the brain's growth, development, learning, unlearning, and rewiring is dependent on experience. Experience is how the brain learns, unlearns, and relearns anything, ever. That's obvious in our initial development: learning to walk, talk, read, play baseball, and bake cookies.

We now know that experience is the catalyst of the brain's neuroplasticity and learning for our entire lives. At any time, we can choose the experiences that direct the brain's learning toward better functioning. Resilience can be strengthened — or diminished — at any time by experience.

As noted by Richard J. Davidson, founder and director of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, University of Wisconsin, Madison: "The brain is shaped by experience. And based upon everything we know about the brain in neuroscience, change is not only possible, but is actually the rule rather than the exception. It's really just a question of which influences we're going to choose for the brain. And because we have a choice about what experiences we want to use to shape our brain, we have a responsibility to choose the experiences that will shape the brain toward the wise and the wholesome."

How Response Flexibility Can Get Derailed

Let's look at four sets of experiences that can affect the development of the brain's response flexibility and can explain why we sometimes experience difficulties in being resilient and coping.

1. Early Entrainment and Attachment Conditioning

Because our earliest experiences kindle the development and maturation of the brain's prefrontal cortex, we get a head start in developing response flexibility when the people closest to us growing up — parents, other family members, peers, teachers, coaches, and other important adults — have and demonstrate this capacity themselves. We learn from these role models by observing what helps them cope and what doesn't — keeping calm and carrying on or stomping out the door in tight-lipped anger.

We have this capacity to observe and replicate responses because our brains are entrained to function in precisely the same way that other brains around us are functioning, especially when we are very young. This entrainment in our early attachment relationships (other brains doing our learning for us) is the neurobiological underpinning of conditioning our behavior: it is nature's way of being efficient. Your brain learns to regulate its own nervous system as a result of that nervous system being regulated by people around you. It learns to manage and express a wide range of emotions by having those emotions perceived and validated by people around you. And it learns to attune to its own experiences by people around you attuning to your experiences.

Much of this conditioned learning happens by three years of age, before there is even any conscious awareness of its happening. The brain encodes this procedural learning into implicit memory (out of awareness). This, too, is part of the brain's extraordinary efficiency.

The brain learns most of its processes for regulating itself, responding and relating to others in this way, from others before we begin to make our own choices and learn on our own. Research has shown that secure attachment and early entrainment to other healthy brains and well-regulated nervous systems are the best buffers we have against later stress and trauma.

As we grow older, we do begin to make our own choices and learn on our own. The prefrontal cortex matures, and we learn less through entrainment (though that process can continue throughout life) and more from our own expanding capacities of self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-acceptance. These capacities support an increasing ability to select the experiences we want to use that can develop all of our brain's capacities, and all of those experiences create changes in our brain's neural circuitry and thus in our behaviors.

2. If Response Flexibility Didn't Fully Mature

Alas, if our earliest attachment relationships didn't provide that skillful entrainment and shaping of the brain's development or the role modeling of resilience — if we experienced too much neglect or indifference, criticism or rejection, or mixed messages and unpredictability — our brain will struggle to develop the capacities it needs to be resilient: regulating our stress responses and powerful emotions of anger, fear, sadness; learning how to trust ourselves and trust others; learning how to make sense of what's really happening and what to do about it; learning how to shift gears; learning how to learn.

The growth of the neural circuitry needed to support resilience can bog down in defensiveness and rigidity or fail to gel and remain chaotic — states that my colleague Bonnie Badenoch calls "neural cement" or "neural swamp." Instead we develop habits of coping that are not very skillful — either not flexible enough or stable enough. (Please note: This is entirely normal in human experience.)

3. Adverse Childhood Experiences and Trauma

Too many adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse, addiction, or violence in the home or community, can make it difficult for a growing child to learn to cope at all because those experiences compromise the organic development of the brain. For a child who grows up with an alcoholic parent and a bullying older brother and another parent in denial about the behaviors of either, the trauma in the home can overwhelm and even traumatize the growing brain. Such disruption can prevent the brain from developing properly, which impairs its capacities for learning to cope. Thinking and memory can be impaired, and the ability to regulate emotions and relate to others can be very compromised. A young person may learn to cope by dissociating: "checking out," not being present. In this state, a person's sense of aliveness, of hope for the future, and sense of self can disappear, too.

4. Acute Trauma

At any time, the impact of acute trauma — such as catastrophic illness, the death of a loved one, the loss of a home in a natural disaster — can knock the functioning of the prefrontal cortex offline, at least temporarily. Without the more comprehensive options offered by the higher brain, we find ourselves resorting to the more limited reactivity of the survival-oriented lower brain and the automatic patterns already conditioned in our neural circuitry. Researchers have found that 75 percent of all Americans experience at least one traumatizing event in their lifetime, so most of us can expect a real challenge to our resilience at some point in our lives. Researchers have also found, as stated so eloquently by Peter Levine, developer of Somatic Experiencing trauma therapy, that "trauma is a fact of life. It doesn't have to be a life sentence."

Here's the good news. Even if your capacity for response flexibility didn't fully mature as you were growing up or seems derailed now by some disruptive life event, you can still make the choices now that will help you fully develop and recover your capacities of resilience.

Let's explore processes of brain change you can learn now to do precisely that.


Excerpted from "Resilience"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Linda Graham.
Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents



Chapter One

The Basics of Strengthening Resilience

How We Learn to Bounce Back


Chapter Two

Practices for Somatic Intelligence:

Breath, Touch, Movement, Social Engagement, Visualization

Chapter Three

Practices for Emotional Intelligence

Self-Compassion, Mindful Empathy, Positivity, Theory of Mind

Chapter Four

Practices for Relational Intelligence within Your Self

Self-Awareness, Self-Acceptance, Inner Secure Base

Chapter Five

Practices fpr Relational Intelligence with Others

Trust, Common Humanity, Interdependence, Refuges, Resources

Chapter Six

Practices for Reflective Intelligence

Mindfulness, Seeing Clearly, Choosing Wisely, Equanimity

Chapter Seven

Full-On Resilience

Coping with Anything, Anything at All


Chapter Eight

The Ongoing Care and Nourishing of Your Amazing Brain

Practices of Exercise-Movement, Sleep-Rest, Nutrition,

Laughter-Play, Hanging Out with Healthy Brains, Digital Vacations






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