The Neuroscience of Resilience: Insight and Awareness

(Post 7/9 in a series)

As we learned in The Neuroscience of Resilience:  Response Flexibility, “In order to cope with change, we have to be able to change how we cope.  The more flexible someone can be, not chaotic or floundering but no longer embedded in their neural cement, the more options they can identify, the more resilient they can be.”  As we continue on in this series on resilience, we are exploring the following questions:

Can we build up our own resilience?  How?  What does the brain and neuroscience have to do with it?

If you haven’t seen the previous posts in this series, I highly recommend you begin with the first article where we explored how regulation of the autonomic nervous system helps us to stay calm and engaged.  It will be useful for you to have the background information and read the follow-up pieces so you can more easily follow where we are going.  Now let’s at another aspect of the neuroscience of resilience:

Insight and Self-Awareness:

The integrative capacity of the pre-frontal cortex is also essential to be able to take in the difficult truth of trauma or tragedy – that “bad things happen to good people.”  To cope with the mysterious and precarious unpredictability of life, we have to be able to expand our perspective from “why me?” to “why not me?”  To realize my pain is part of the pain of the human condition, and get on with the work of coping.

The pre-frontal cortex is what creates the coherent narrative of a life – making sense, making meaning of everything that is happening to us as it happens (or later in wise retrospect).  To make sense of everything that has ever happened to us in one coherent whole.  We must be able to integrate “here’s what happened; here’s what I did or didn’t do; here’s how well that worked, or not; here’s what I’ve learned; here’s what I would do differently now or who I am differently now.”

The pre-frontal cortex creates the neural integration of the “story” – how we relate to our experience that becomes the platform for Dr. Dan Siegel’s acronym for mental health: FACES – to be flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized, stable – and that is the platform for the next step into the unfolding unknown.

See the next article in the series called The Neuroscience of Resilience:  Intuition

(This is a permission granted adaptation of the June 2010 newsletter by Linda Graham, MFT).