Full PreFrontal

Ep. 106: Linda Graham – Bouncing Back Like a Skilled Ninja

April 10, 2020 Linda Graham Season 1 Episode 106
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 106: Linda Graham – Bouncing Back Like a Skilled Ninja
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 106: Linda Graham – Bouncing Back Like a Skilled Ninja
Apr 10, 2020 Season 1 Episode 106
Linda Graham

Nothing about the COVID-19 pandemic is business as usual. In fact, the social and economic stressors are taking a toll on every single person’s sense of well-being. Those taking care of children and those in frail health have the added burden of creating a safe home environment while providing critical support with patience, compassion, and positivity; in spite of feeling the opposite. The good news is that decades of research has shown that while being in home confinement and socially distancing, those who will successfully figure out ways and forge a path towards anchored sanity are likely to bounce back like a skilled ninja.

On this episode, guest Dr. Linda Graham, an experienced psychotherapist and Mindful Self-Compassion teacher, shares her expertise about how the mind, body, emotions, heart, and spirit react to threats, losses, and rejections. She discusses how individuals, families, and communities can work together while building protective factors to react to the world of challenge with abundant resilience.

About Linda Graham, MFT
Linda Graham, MFT is an experienced psychotherapist and Mindful Self-Compassion teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She is the author of Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster, and Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being. Her weekly Resources for Recovering Resilience are archived at www.lindagraham-mft.net.



Helpful Books:

Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Show Notes Transcript

Nothing about the COVID-19 pandemic is business as usual. In fact, the social and economic stressors are taking a toll on every single person’s sense of well-being. Those taking care of children and those in frail health have the added burden of creating a safe home environment while providing critical support with patience, compassion, and positivity; in spite of feeling the opposite. The good news is that decades of research has shown that while being in home confinement and socially distancing, those who will successfully figure out ways and forge a path towards anchored sanity are likely to bounce back like a skilled ninja.

On this episode, guest Dr. Linda Graham, an experienced psychotherapist and Mindful Self-Compassion teacher, shares her expertise about how the mind, body, emotions, heart, and spirit react to threats, losses, and rejections. She discusses how individuals, families, and communities can work together while building protective factors to react to the world of challenge with abundant resilience.

About Linda Graham, MFT
Linda Graham, MFT is an experienced psychotherapist and Mindful Self-Compassion teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She is the author of Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster, and Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being. Her weekly Resources for Recovering Resilience are archived at www.lindagraham-mft.net.



Helpful Books:

Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Producer: And welcome back to Full PreFrontal where we are exposing the mysteries of executive function. As always, I am here with our host, Sucheta Kamath. Good morning, my friend, I’m looking forward to today.

Sucheta Kamath: Thank you, Todd. You know, as we discuss today’s topic, it always makes me think of you. You’re a very resilient and vibrant person. All kinds of things you do in your life, you bounce back so well, and I know recent events that you have endured, having to take care of your mom, so this topic will be so up your alley.

Producer: Oh, great. Well, I can’t wait.

Sucheta: So, here’s what I’ve been thinking about as I got prepared for this discussion today. This morning, I saw a client who had returned back to my office after a gap of two years. I saw him when he was in college doing his masters in engineering and since then, he has a job, but he called me because he was experiencing a lot of anxiety about relationships in his life, and having worked with me in the past and worked on executive function and best ways to self regulate, he thought he will start with me. So, I recommended that he work with a psychologist or a psychotherapist, as well as me, and once he came into the office, as I reviewed his current situation, a lot came to light. One thing that was striking was his ability to maintain a work-life balance, that’s what came into question because of various setbacks: his company had a massive layoff since he got hired, he has a new boss and there was a big financial cut back and a lot of creativity that he could deploy by buying or purchasing or implementing new things was on hold. On top of that, he has a one-hour commute one way and he happened to spot a kitten along the roadside that was bleeding, so he picked that kitten up and decided to adopt. In his apartment, no pets are allowed unless you declare, and the landlord came to find and he got fined $500. His girlfriend, over the summer, moved to another part of the country, so mainly, every individual thing that he was enduring by itself would have been fine. It’s just the entire thing coming together one by one and him having to now modulate and manage is what became a big problem for him, the way I see it.

So, how do we as humans switch from reactive to proactive state and bring our own goals and to focus while handling the unknown, the unseen, and the unanticipated is the million-dollar question, and today’s guest has dedicated her entire life to help solve this problem and help people understand the mind, body, and emotion, heart, and spirit, how to bring synchrony between all of these as one is managing to understand and react to threats, losses, rejection in a most profound and meaningful way.

So, it’s my delight, honor, and privilege to speak with Linda Graham today. She is a marriage and family therapist, she is an experienced psychotherapist, and a mindful self-compassion teacher in the San Francisco Bay area. She has authored amazing works, but two particular books, one is called Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster and her second book, it’s one of my favorite books, is called Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being. Her weekly resources for recovering resilience are archived at her website which we’ll link in our show notes. But I just want to say to people that good things come to those who wait. I had reached out to Linda last year and she was in the midst of managing all her adventures, as well as commitments, and she was gracious enough to come back. So, welcome to the podcast, Linda.

Linda Graham: Thank you, Sucheta, thank you very much for having me.

Sucheta: So, this is a question I’ve been asking all my podcast guests. Since we talk about executive function, resiliency, adaptive flexibility, intentional focus, and goal-directed behaviors, I wanted to start with you as an expert in resilience. If you can share with us when were your executive functions put the test and what is your personal expertise that has shaped your own professional expertise?

Linda: Okay, so I do see the prefrontal cortex of the brain as the CEO of resilience because it does so many functions that are key to our resilience. We think of the prefrontal cortex, center of executive functioning, as what we use for planning and decision-making, and analysis, and judgment and all of that – it’s true, but the prefrontal cortex also manages our body and our nervous system, that’s essential for our resilience, it manages our emotions, if quells the fear response of the amygdala, it’s the structure of the brain that can be used to attune to our own feelings and attune to someone else’s feelings, what we use for empathy, to make sense of our experience, make sense of someone else’s experience, it’s what we use for self-awareness, to know who we are as well as response flexibility and that’s the key to resilience. So, anything that we can do to strengthen our executive functioning, to strengthen the prefrontal cortex applies to resilience as the foundation, the neural platform, of resilience in so many ways: our body-based intelligence, our emotional intelligence, our relational intelligence, our reflective intelligence, so how I came to that is I’m a psychotherapist; I’ve been working with clients for 30 years who may have difficulty facing a disappointment, facing a big stress, or facing an accumulation of difficulties as you alluded in the introduction, even having to deal with real trauma and real trouble, so clients can come into therapy because their own coping mechanisms have been overwhelmed or they are not working very well even if they did in the past, so I help clients learn the tools that would help them develop newer responses: more flexible, more adaptive, more responsive, and to learn that they can, to learn that their resilience is recoverable and to learn that they can use the tools that will make a difference in their functioning. So, I got to learn it because I wanted to have my clients have a way to learn how to become more resilient. I’m going to work with their brains to become more resilient.

Sucheta: That’s wonderful and it’s very interesting. I talked to my colleagues – I’m a speech and language pathologist – I see a difference between psychotherapists or clinical psychologists versus us. We in our training program never receive any therapy for ourselves, so we kind of have to muddle through ourselves as we are dealing with clients difficulties. Probably, part of your training allowed you to experience that being given to you. I’m sure that also helps a lot, right, to understand both roles as you’re immersed in experiencing somebody’s pain, how to maintain that field of protection as you are empowering somebody else?

Linda: Right, so in California, the state board is not allowed to require therapists in training to go through therapy but they give you a huge incentive of getting so many hours towards your license that, of course, most of us do.

Sucheta: Oh, really? I see.

Linda: And most of us want to know our own selves and be able to manage our own selves, our own reactivity. When we’re sitting with a client in therapy, we become a co-regulator of their nervous system, we become a mirror of their emotions, the become a reflection of what they believe about themselves or could they believe something different about themselves, and so our role is to be sort of the wise elder who knows how to manage our own nervous system, who knows how to manage our emotional reactivity, who can be self-aware and self-compassionate,  not just to model that – clients learn from us as role models but to actually entrain the client’s brain to be able to develop their own neural pathways to regulate their nervous system, to regulate their emotions, to be able to be self-aware and self-accepting, or actually helping them build the executive functioning of their brain as they sit in session with us, so it’s important that we have a strong proactive adaptive functioning of our own brain, so that we can help them not just role-model learning cognitively but actually experience the role of what it’s like to be regulated to feel seen and understood, and accepted, to feel empowered to make choices.

Sucheta: And I really appreciate that lens because I think when you are in business in helping people, you feel so obligated to make sure that the help is helping and you sometimes get overzealous and invested in somebody’s progress without really paying attention to the destruction it may cause, and I’m sorry, I will bring us back to the topic of resilience but I do think it’s such a critical matter particularly when I’ve seen executive dysfunction which is dysregulated selves are often not taking good decisions, they are not planning or managing, their not responding to other people’s help, and parents or educators, or therapists, or bosses who are dealing with dysregulated people, it can be a drain, so I appreciate you nudging all of us just the way the state of California is saying you are highly encouraged to take care of yourself.

So, let’s start with the basics. How do you define resilience? And in the context of the 21st century, how do we understand the ability to adapt, adjust, and redirect our own emotions to everyday crises really fit?

Linda: Okay, so we have two questions there. Resilience, I defined as the capacity to bounce back from adversity, from challenge and stress, from disappointment, difficulty, and even disaster. The American Psychological Association talks about resilience as a process. It is a process of managing threats and risks, and stresses, and trauma, and tragedy, so when we’re looking at the capacities of resilience, it’s actually pretty complex and dynamic, and multidimensional, but over all, the umbrella is being able to perceive and respond to a stressor to even be able to perceive and respond to our own reactions to that stressor, and then to be able to choose a wise and skillful response. So, I teach and I talk about in my books being able to handle anything from barely a wobble – you lose your car keys and your wallet but then you find them again – to more serious struggles and heartaches – if you lose a job, if you lose a relationship, if you lose your health, if you lose your home, to more the accumulation of too much too short of a time, we get overwhelmed, and helping people recover that sense of center and grounding, and equilibrium again, so they can cope with multiple stresses at the same time. So, basically, resilience is helping, but because we know that the brain itself learns and changes and grows from experience, I’m trying to help my clients have the experiences where they actually will learn to be more resilient, they will actually send the patterning and responsiveness of their brain in a more adaptive, more flexible direction, so that they are learning not just specific tools but learning that they can use those tools to become more resilient.

Sucheta: I think you’re pointing out two distinct elements there. One is the ability to respond to perceived stressors, and then respond to it appropriately, so sometimes, I find in my work, I have to coach people to recognize that this is causing stress to you because people may be oblivious, like the client that I described, individually, each element was just a minor glitch, like a wobble [inaudible] and not gone to the stratosphere of disaster yet for him, so I’m sure we’ll talk about this, but do you see these as two distinct elements that need to be combined into the process of responding to situations wit resilience?

Linda: Well, I teach a lot about how we all have learned conditioned patterns for navigating our life responding to difficulties from our parents, from earliest interactions with people, from later interactions with teachers and coaches, and friends, and romantic partners. We learn patterns of responding and people come into therapy because often, their patterns have become dysfunctional or maladaptive. They can be too rigid, they can be too chaotic, so we’re helping people even become aware, become aware, and accepting of their patterns, if they have a tendency to go ballistic or a tendency to shut down and collapse, to be able to see what they are patterns are, and then learn to utilize the neural plasticity to rewire those patterns, but the most basic patterns we have of responding to stress are in our nervous system, our autonomic nervous system, and we all have some awareness of that. We know when we activate and mobilize and rev up, and we’re  ready to take action, that can go into fight or flight, or we know that when we get overwhelmed, we shut down, we withdraw, we hide out, we numb out, we collapsed, and that’s an over activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, so we teach clients how to pay attention to what’s even going on in their bodies. Are they breathing rapidly?

Sucheta: I love that.

Linda: Are they breathing deeply? Are they breathing shallowly? Just to notice where they are holding tension in their body, where it’s open and relaxed because those responses to stressors are all unconscious and they shape our behavior, and so if we can become aware of them and choose how to respond differently, hand on the heart, to calm down the stress in your nervous system, taking a deep sigh to regulate your nervous system, very, very basic tools that people can learn to feel safe even in their bodies, and that they could begin to feel safer in their environment.

Sucheta: Wonderful. So now, coming back to the second question – I’m sorry I interrupted – which was, what are particulars of 21st century that may be putting more than unreasonable pressure or stress on our adaptive resilience system overall? And how do we then – I mean, all because one of the things I talked to you when we had an offline discussion, that I find that the term resilience used to refer to trauma-related or something catastrophic in your life, and now, we are called upon to demonstrate resilience even because of the repeated smaller setbacks that we just don’t seem to have the wherewiths or bandwidths to handle.

Linda: Okay, so I’m going to answer this question in two parts. One, we have a lot of emphasis these days on stress because it may not be that so many people are having to see the line on the savanna or having to deal with tuberculosis. We face a lot of stress in the high-pressure environments that we live in, and so now, neuroscientist, behavioral scientists are framing stress as the body’s response could be positive, could activate, take action, deal, make something happen here or we can perceive it as negative and chronic stress and does have an impact on our physical health – there’s no question about that – chronic stress is a killer, but when we can frame stress as though, I’m supposed to take action and do something here and see stress is an ally rather than as the enemy, we can be far more resilient, so that’s one thing that’s changing in our 21st century understanding. Of course, something that’s changing the 21st century is the discovery of neuroplasticity. That’s only 25 or 30 years old where we have irrefutable evidence that the brain can grow neurons and create new neural pathways lifelong. So, once we know that, once we know we have the possibility, it sort of becomes a responsibility to learn how to use our brain, how to not only recover from a disaster, but how do we pre-wire our brain so that we are more resilient for disasters that haven’t even happened yet, so I think that’s something out of the 21st century. And then, another – I don’t know if you meant to open this can of worms or not –

Sucheta: Yes, please, let’s do it!

Linda: If we begin to understand the impact of digital technology on the brain, yes, using the Internet, using all of our devices, email, texting – all of that brings us so much more information and so much more connection, but there’s an impact on the brain if we are doing a lot of multitasking and every switch from email to text, to having a conversation, going back to the computer, every switch takes metabolic energy, so if you are doing a lot of multitasking and many people are these days, then the brain gets fatigued – after about 60 or 90 minutes, it just goes into a fog and you actually need to get up and walk around and listen to music, or do something else. So, when people become more aware of the impact of multitasking on their brain, what people are concerned about is we want to be able to concentrate on a project for two or three, or four hours at a time, that’s how you write a book, that’s how you create a new software program, that’s how you create a curriculum or develop a political campaign. You need to be able to focus for longer periods of time. When the brain gets fatigued from the multitasking, we are losing the capacity to pay attention for long periods of time, and some of the researchers are concerned that that loss may be permanent, that we may not be able to get back the capacity to just sit down and write something for two or three hours, develop a law brief or something like that. So, that’s a 21st-century stressor that more and more people in the field are becoming aware of and we just need the public to become aware of. You know, I teach this often and we all now wear seatbelts – we do – we pick up our dog’s poop and we do our recycling, we know the causal effect between sugar and tooth decay, we know the causal effect between smoking and lung cancer, we know there’s a causal effect between too much time on our devices and the functioning of our brain. So, to be able to pay attention to that and make wise choices about devices and programs that are designed to be addicting, and be able to say no, check your email four specific times a day, not a constant run throughout the day, taking a digital vacation, walking in nature playing with your kids, that actually builds back the resilience in your brain, and I could go on a rant about it but it is important if we are paying attention to resilience and flexibility, to maintain that flexibility by keeping in our lives than normal activities of normal life: having conversations, playing a game of Batman, dancing to music, we need to be able to do that so that we protect our brains, basically.

Sucheta: I love it. You know what, really like that you actually put that in the context of how the 21st century is operating, and we shouldn’t think that the stresses are coming from outside and we need to just be either like finding ways. I think you setting the town that some of these are choices that we make but there is a perceived competition, unending competition, or a perceived unending loss of opportunity, and these are the line in the savanna for us and I think we may be making choices thinking that even email is an urgent response, so that I do not lose this opportunity, whatever that opportunity may be, so yeah, restructuring your mindset which is kind of you describe often as a resilience mindset. So, as we continue this conversation, tell us a little bit about you started off with the prefrontal cortex, and so there’s the cognitive and affective regulation that the prefrontal system does and that’s why we call it the CEO, CEO who manages the entire company’s mission and vision, and keeps all the employees on track as well as negotiates with the world so that it gets the best deal and moves the agenda of the self forward without being selfish or self-indulgent. So, what is your message for all of us so that we understand this CEO of the brain, particularly for children when it’s in the process of being constructed, and the skills that are demanded are not present, and the skills that go into developing the skills also can be compromised, and so it’s a double edged sword there. Can you talk about that?

Linda: Yes, so we learned resilience in the first place, and the brain develops its capacity for resilience in the first place. In the earliest interaction with our attachment figures, our caregivers, our parents, the brain is kindled and matured in interaction with other brains, and so we learn how to manage our own nervous system by our nervous system being managed by people around us. We learn how to manage our emotions by people around us attuning and reflecting, and helping us manage our emotions. We develop a sense of self by other people seeing and reflecting, and accepting to us who we are. So, the attachment patterns that get established in the brain by 18 months of age are the foundation of our resilience, and throughout our lives, we develop any capacity in the brain but we develop capacities for resilience, interacting with other people and interacting with the world through relationships, relationships are a key of how our brain and our capacities develop. What’s also key is that those capacities get integrated, so when I teach, I begin at the bottom up, inside out, you begin with body-based tools, and then emotion-based tools because the emotions come up from the body, and then our relationship tools within ourselves, really knowing what we’re feeling, what we’re thinking, how we are reacting, who we are, who we choose to be, and then relating to other people in ways that are safe and trustworthy, and then we get to reflecting, we get to cognitive and many people will start there because human beings are so fabulous at thinking and decision-making, and planning, but it’s really one of the later capacities to develop, and so yes, we want to use our prefrontal cortex to be able to make plans and decisions about everything else that we’ve been working with. What are the signals from my body? What are the signals from my emotions or your emotions? What are the signals I get being in relationship to you? And then, the prefrontal cortex pulls all of that together and says, okay, here’s the wisest response I can have in these circumstances. So, the integrations, being a whole person with all these capacities and intelligence of working together is really also a part of our resilience, and many people will rely on a strength in a particular category or a particular direction but then can’t be flexible when something else is needed, and the key to resilience flexibility – being able to choose from many different options, not being wedded to one particular strategy.

Sucheta: So, can you further elaborate this inflexibility and also help our listeners understand that there is inflexibility that could be a mental inflexibility, inability to shift perspective, there can be emotional inflexibility but inflexibility is a sign of resilience, and inflexibility is what you need to expand in order to become more resilient, but that requires to get around your inflexibility, you know what I mean? So, how do you envision that?

Linda: When the brain is maturing and coming into its own maturation, there is both stability and flexibility. There is both, there is order and structure, and there is flexibility, the possibility to change and shift. When out of a testament experience, as people become either too rigid in their responses, it’s what my colleague Bonnie [inaudible] calls your neural cement, too rigid in their responses and no new learning, no new experience gets to happen, they have their view and that’s it, not flexible enough. On the other hand, the brain can develop not enough structure, not enough order and remain too chaotic, what Bonnie calls neural swamp, so there’s learning but it just goes through like water through a sieve – it doesn’t stick, so we want people who are too rigid and inflexible to become more flexible and people who are too chaotic and they are always overwhelmed, and can’t make a decision to become more stable because the mature brain is most stable and flexible, and when we’re resilient, we can actually be able to hold onto some kind of order and some kind of pattern, and be flexible and shift them when we need to.

Sucheta: I love these concepts, the neural cement and neural swamp and it is like a delicate balance between work – I love when people talk about creativity in children and they want children who are struggling in regular classrooms or with regular activities but they are not necessarily not smart, that the parents are pushing or teachers recognize the smarts, so how do I encourage thinking outside the box for this child? And I always like to say, let’s make sure there is a box so that you know when you’re thinking about is what creativity is, so if you can’t maintain the stability through order and structure, then your flexibility or your creativity really is going to be limiting your own ability to execute or deploy that creativity into fruition, right?

Linda: Yes, and I’m going to go another direction with this.

Sucheta: Yes, please.

Linda: So, what you are talking about in a way, creativity, what you’re talking about in a way is Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of flow and flow is that sweet spot between too much anxiety and too much boredom. If we look at that from and euro signs point of view, too much anxiety is too much activation of the sympathetic nervous system and boredom is too much activation of the parasympathetic; it’s too much shut down, it’s too much collapse, so flow is not being too wrapped up in your nervous system and not being to shut down in your nervous system, you are right in your range of resilience, you are right in this physiological equilibrium that allows you to activate and engage in a calm and relaxed way, so that’s a key to people being resilient, is being able to be in that equilibrium and equanimity in their own physiology, in their own body and nervous system, and so for children especially, you’re helping them come to that physiological equilibrium in their own bodies, and the more that mindfulness is taught in the schools these days, the more kids could become aware of feeling calm, feeling agitated, feeling restless, feeling sleepy. Kids can become aware of their own body state and bring it back to that kind of equilibrium.

Sucheta: Love that. What do you recommend to all of us? How do we strengthen the foundation? And you have this idea of a step-by-step process that can build the foundation of resilience? Do you mind talking to us about that?

Linda:  What I would recommend first is – and this is why clients get so excited about learning how their brains works: the first step is to believe, to trust that you can become more resilient. You can learn these skills and these tools, and practice these exercises and create a change in your own brain and in your own life, so that sense of encouragement and possibility is really the first step.

Sucheta: I love that, and you always, by the way, I’ve said this before to you, but you have an extremely compassionate voice and invitational stance, and I think if you spoke to me that way, I have come to believe or I will believe everything you believe in me which is a wonderful encouraging person to have in your life.

Linda: So, I can share that in my training as a psychotherapist, we were taught to talk low and slow because that creates a sense of safety in the nervous system of the client, and so to talk in that way, low and slow, that prosody helps create a sense of safety, and that is what primes the brain for learning.

Sucheta: I love that, yeah.

Linda: So, the other thing I would recommend right off the bat, my colleague Frankie Perez has a phrase, “How you respond to the issue is the issue.”

Sucheta: I love that.

Linda: So, I’m teaching clients and workshop participants to become aware of how they do it already, just what are their natural patterns of responding to stress or responding to rejection, or responding to disappointment, what do they already do? Becoming aware of that – no shame or blame, we are human beings – bringing understanding and compassion, those are brilliant strategies, kept you alive, if you want to learn something different, we become aware and accepting and then begin to practice the tools that will send the brain in another direction. So yes, then I have a step-by-step because you begin with the body, that’s the grounding, and you begin with the emotions then so you are less reactive, more responsive. It’s important to understand, we have a negativity bias in the brain, we do respond to the negative and we remember the negative more than we do the positive, that’s for survival, and so to be able to cultivate the positive, cultivate positive emotions like gratitude and compassion, and kindness, and joy, and awe and delight, because that shifts the functioning of the brain, it shifts of the functioning out of contraction and reactivity and negativity into a state that’s more open, more receptive, can see the bigger picture. So, you teach positive emotion practice not just to feel better but to do better, and the direct measurable cause and effect outcome is resilience, so I certainly help clients develop more positive experiences and to feel emotions about those experiences because that’s foundational to their resilience.

Sucheta: So, can I ask you a couple of questions about this positive emotional practice which is such a powerful way to create emotional contagion and restructure that framework? So, how does that practice look like when you are working with someone, when you’re helping them build this positive emotional practice, do you have an example for us?

Linda: Okay, so there are many: gratitude, kindness, joy, many of them, but the one I would teach first is self-compassion because self compassion does that shift, it does shift us into a more resilient state but we use self-compassion because very often, negative emotions are what is coming up first. So, clients have fear or anger, or sadness, or jealousy, and they may feel badly about themselves for feeling that way or they don’t know what to do about feeling that way, so the first thing I will teach is self-compassion, it’s putting the hand on the heart which begins to relax the nervous system, and it’s saying ouch, this hurts, this is hard. It’s just an awareness, a mindfulness that I’m having a hard moment here, and then the phrase is may I be kind to myself in this moment that brings the automaticity of however we are reacting.

Sucheta: I love that.

Linda: May I be kind? May I accept this moment exactly as it is? That’s mindfulness. May I accept myself exactly as I am in this moment? That’s the compassion. May I just stop fighting myself and accept myself? That opens up the brain. You can feel it, you can feel the brain opening up to may I give myself all the compassion and courageous action that I need, so that we are opening up to where we can make wise decisions. That’s usually one of the first things I will teach clients because they need to be able to come out of the reactivity into something not just more positive, more open, more spacious, more possibilities, and they can begin to choose wise action.

Sucheta: So, Linda, how do you get them to hear the voice that’s coming from self to self? It’s a certain kind of emotional surrender if you are buying into your own voice, seeing these wonderful encouraging things, but sometimes, people’s negative thoughts are so strong that they feel it’s a façade or it’s not authentic, and of course, that’s why they need to work with some professional, you know? But I’m sure you have some tricks to get people started off without getting professional help.

Linda: Well, one of my favorite quotes from my mentor Diana Fosha, the roots of resilience are to be found in the felt sense of being held in the mind and heart of an empathic, attuned, and self-possessed other, that is the key. Now, whether that happens in therapy, and a therapy is hearing and reflecting every voice that’s going on in the client, positive and negative, or whether it’s a good friend, whether you talk to your dog, whether it’s a prayer to a spiritual figure. It’s the felt sense of being held in the mind and heart, and so that sense of being held safely and reflected, and cared about is the roots of our resilience. People can learn to do that on their own through guided visualizations and guided imagination. The wiser self, the compassionate friend, the good inner parent – people can create those inner resources to hear themselves and to hear and acknowledge, and embrace the various inner parts, and once clients get going on that, they usually can have a lot of fun with that because there are so many inner voices within that are clamoring to be heard, and so turning it into a growth project rather than something to be frightened of.

Sucheta: I love that, I love that growth project. Okay, so we cannot finish a conversation with Linda without your six C’s of coping which is reflective of presence of resilience. Can you walk us through that and maybe give people kind of one nudge how they can think about or contextualize that in their own lives?

Linda: So, you know what? Honestly, I wrote the six C’s in Bouncing Back, and then I keep revising it as I teach. So, if you tell me the six C’s, I can comment on each one and why it’s important to resilience.

Sucheta: Oh, why, sure.

Linda: Okay.

Sucheta: Sorry, and of course, this is like a nerd-ish person heresitting and taking notes, so I wrote down calm, compassion, clarity, connection to resources, competence, and courage. I think you had initially five but you added one is what you told us.

Linda: I added the compassion, right. Okay, so calm, again, calm is beginning with the nervous system. Calm is coming to that range of resilience, that physiological equilibrium where we can be present and pay attention, and know how we are responding and know how we’re responding and know what’s needed.

The compassion is sometimes, we are not calm. Sometimes, we’re just having a really, really hard time and the compassion allows us to care about ourselves that releases the oxytocin from the brain, the hormone of safety and trust, and that down regulates the cortisol, the stress hormone cortisol. So, any time we can bring that compassion, we’re actually bringing some caregiving to ourselves and that helps regulate the nervous system.

The clarity, of course, is mindfulness, is the capacity to see clearly and choose wisely, and if we can’t bring things to awareness, we don’t have the flexibility to choose how to respond.

And then the connections with others, so much of our resilience depends on finding refuge in other people so we can regroup, finding resources in other people so we are not doing it all by ourselves, having a sense of support, community, resourcing with other people –

Sucheta: So critical, yeah.

Linda: Could be a good predictor of how we’re going to be able to grow.

The competence is simply once we know we can do something and we can claim it, and it can just be something small, like I can operate the electric can opener, but once we have a sense of competence, that gives us a sense of confidence. The competence, the capacity of the behavior gives us a sense of trust of ourselves and that’s very important to resilience.

Sucheta: So lovely, yeah.

Linda: And then, courage is simply I have expanded that in my own thinking. The courage is not just a sense of being brave. It’s a sense of moral courage. It’s having the capacity to do the right thing and that is a big part of our resilience as well, to be able to live by our values and manifest that in the world, so that’s how I now see courage.

Sucheta: Wow, and I really like this a little – I wouldn’t call it tweak but kind of really deepening the sense of courage because we are talking about – if we talk about courage to do the next thing, courage to do the difficult thing, it is very egocentric, it is very self-centered, self-oriented, let’s say, but if you talk about the moral courage, it doesn’t exclude the other or the world. I love that, I really, really like that because as you know, those who struggle with executive function resilience, adaptive flexibility are the ones who are not just tripping over themselves but their ability to align themselves for the greater good or making sure that they keep their impact on life of others in check is the capacity that they may not have to look at how, if I throw a tantrum, how does that affect somebody or if I keep the turn for myself, how does that affect somebody? And so this idea that courage is an invitation which is another thing I really like about the way you have structured it, it is not telling somebody to do it or it’s a must, but it’s an invitation to be more generous of you. I really like that.

So, as we end, I wanted to ask you, what do people do whose prefrontal systems is in a delay, is in a chaotic state or who has experienced a lot of neurological genuine deficit and they don’t have these abilities to self-direct or take the perspective of the other, or have this difficulty in speaking in two voices which is me speaking as me and then me guiding me as the sage or the guru, and what they find is that dimensionality often creates roadblocks and their ability to benefit from going into Barnes & Noble, like self-help section – they just can’t seem to do it by themselves, but they don’t have the wisdom to seek the help because they are very dismissive or inflexible. I’m sure you see some of that as well, right?

Linda: So, it’s got two things going. One, there can be a neurological deficit, there can be a deficit that comes from attachment patterns that didn’t fully mature the brain, and so you need to be in a healthy resonant empathic relationship that will kickstart the development of the brain or trauma can derail the development of the brain, and then you need a good trauma therapy that will not only help heal the psychological wounding but also kickstart the development of the brain, so that people can do all those functions that you’re talking about. Most of the time, if someone, their own prefrontal cortex is not functioning fully, they will need someone else to provide that prefrontal cortex temporarily until their own brain can catch up, so whether that’s a parent or a romantic partner or a therapist, or any kind of help like that, very often will get our brains back online by working with people whose healthy brains are already online.

Sucheta: And then, the second part, was there another way to conceptualize those who have or built – like I have seen in my practice, I work with a lot of concussions and brain injuries, and people who had some trauma in their lives prior to the brain injury, the brain injury unleashes those effects of the trauma which was managed, so I had a woman that I saw, she had a car accident and she developed significant concussion-related neurological and psychological symptoms, but she was a victim of childhood abuse and she had had therapy for 11 years, and she was highly successful, managed, and because this particular event in her life caused incredible regression, and a massive system back step back in her ability to cope. The very coping system was under attack.

Linda: So I would bring in first for the person within themselves, for anyone around who’s trying to help his compassion. Just compassion, we can’t necessarily always fix or heal everything that had been damaged, but the compassion can go a long way in helping us accept the reality, and William James says, acceptance is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune. So, not that we stop there but I think we have to begin there, the acceptance of the compassion, and the allowing which allows whatever strength and capacities are there to come to the fore. So, that’s what I would recommend.

Sucheta: Wow, lovely. So, thank you, Linda, for giving us such a wide lens and deep dive at the same time. Of course, we can talk for hours as you can see, and is there anything in closing that your experience has taught you that makes you so happy that you learned all that there is to learn about resilience and you keep learning more, but what is one of the C’s or more than one of the C’s that have influenced your own ability to guide the client’s or the trainers that you train.

Linda: I guess of those C’s to end with here, I would look at clarity, there’s a quote from James Russell Lowell where he says mishaps are like knives that either cut us or serve us as we grasp them by the blade or by the handle, and I think our clarity helps us perceive, are we grasping a difficult situation by the blade or by the handle? Is there some learning? Is there some growth? Can there be posttraumatic growth out of this difficult event? And that mindset of looking for the growth and a learning, and a new possibility really contributes to people being resilient.

Sucheta: I love that. Well, I have found so much inspiration to handle the knife by the handle.

So, once again, I am incredibly grateful for your time and your expertise, and loving compassionate way of sharing your knowledge, and all my listeners are going to be thrilled and feel very encouraged to explore their own inner coping mechanism, so thank you for being on the podcast today, Linda.

Linda: Thank you for having me and for the depth of our conversation, I really appreciate it.

Producer: All right, unfortunately, that’s all the time we have for today. What a great conversation, Sucheta, I’ll be thinking about her notion that you can learn how to turn stress into an ally. I think a lot about that, that’s fascinating to think about.

So, suspect you know someone who could benefit from this conversation, so we would love for you to forward it directly to them so they can benefit. So, on behalf of our host, Sucheta Kamath, today’s guest, Linda Graham, and all of us at Cerebral Matters, thanks for tuning in and listening, and we look forward to seeing you again right here next week on Full PreFrontal.