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Overcome Challenges with Resilience

Purpose: Developing skills of resilience may help someone to cope with any life challenge, trust that they can bounce back from it, and possibly prevent an event from becoming more challenging.


According to psychotherapist and author of the book Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster, Linda Graham, MFT, there are five kinds of intelligences that are foundational to resilience: somatic, emotional, relational within the self, relational with others, and reflective. These intelligences can be strengthened through three key processes of brain change: conditioning, reconditioning, and deconditioning. Response flexibility is the ability to respond to a stressful life event in a way that decreases its impact. To have resilience is to have a well-developed response flexibility.


A person may not be able to change a life event from occurring, but they may be able to change how they respond to the event by coping. A key to coping with an event is shifting perception (attitude) and response (behavior). A quick way to shift attitude and behavior is going from focusing attention on what just happened to focusing attention on coping with what just happened. For example, if someone receives a bad grade on an exam, they may be upset, but then shift attitude and behavior to being motivated to study harder for the next exam and speaking to the teacher about any ways to improve their grade in the class. A key to coping is realizing that the ability to shift attitude and behavior when a small event occurs means that the ability is there to shift attitude and behavior when any event occurs.


Neuroplasticity is the brain's lifelong ability to create new patterns of thinking about and responding to any event. If someone did not learn resilience in early life, they have the ability to develop resilience now, at any age. As new patterns of thinking and responding are developed that lead to more favorable outcomes, these new patterns begin to replace the old patterns. The brain physically remodels itself by decreasing the neural connections of old patterns of thinking and responding which are no longer used while increasing the neural connections of the new patterns of thinking and responding which are now commonly used. Neuroplasticity requires engaging the part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) that is involved in planning, decision making, analysis, and judgement.


Up until the age of three, the prefrontal cortex develops mostly by relationships with people in one's environment. As someone grows older, the prefrontal cortex develops more from expanding the capacity for self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-acceptance. If the relationships early in life did not set a resilient foundation, then coping and response flexibility may be underdeveloped, leading to unskillful habits. Thanks to neuroplasticity, research shows that regardless of past events, unskillful habits of coping can be replaced and the capacities for resilience can become fully developed.


The processes of brain change including conditioning, reconditioning, and deconditioning are all validated by the discoveries of modern neuroscience. Conditioning occurs anytime that a positive or negative experience causes electrical and chemical signals in the brain to form new patterns. New conditioning occurs when someone engages in a new experience that creates more skillful and more resilient patterns in the brain. These new patterns create choices that a person can then select from when responding instead of defaulting to past patterns. Reconditioning is a process that involves recalling a negative experience that derailed resilience in the past and then adding on top of it a memory or visualization of a positive experience. To decrease risk of retraumatization, it is recommended to work with one small piece of a negative memory at a time. The memory of the negative experience does not go away, but the rewiring of the brain causes the negative charge that is associated with the memory to decrease. In neuroscience, brain imaging shows that the brain remodels itself during reconditioning in a process known as memory deconsolidation-reconsolidation. Deconditioning is then a process that involves learning how to focus one's attention on any experience, memory, or imagination instead of being stuck or overly focused on a set way.


The Practice section below contains practices for strengthening resilience that are grounded in the neuroscience of resilience. These skills may help someone to cope with any life challenge, trust that they can bounce back from it, and possibly prevent an event from becoming more challenging. Research shows that the brain learns best through small incremental changes that are repeated many times. Practicing any of the resiliency exercises for twenty minutes a day may be enough to strengthen resiliency and create permanent changes in the brain that fosters a new resilient behavior.

Practice: These practices of strengthening resilience may help someone to overcome challenging times.

This Practice section is split into five subtopics that build on one another. Please begin by clicking on “Somatic intelligence” and progress through all five:


Somatic Intelligence 

Somatic intelligence involves strengthening body-based skills including the breath, touch, movement, and visualization. Having body-based skills may improve a person’s ability to recognize, interpret and manage signals from the nervous system so that a baseline of being relaxed and engaged can quickly be reestablished.

Emotional Intelligence 

Emotional intelligence involves being aware of emotions as they occur. This may allow someone to manage their emotions instead of allowing the emotions to dictate the response. 


Relational Within the Self Intelligence

Relational with the self intelligence involves self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-compassion and a trust in an inner secure base.


Relational with Others Intelligence 

Relational with others intelligence involves building trust and a sense of connection while being able to differentiate oneself from others without feeling withdrawn. This may help someone deepen healthy relationships while disengaging from unconstructive relationships.



Reflective Intelligence 

Reflective intelligence involves observing and reflecting on what is happening, the reason for what is happening, and then implementing response flexibility to make wise choices.

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