Resources for Recovering Resilience: Clearing the Way for Positive Neuroplasticity

Several clients last week brought in an excellent article sub-titled “Clearing the Way for Positive Neuroplasticity,” exploring how experiences we might not even think of as trauma – freezing in an argument with a spouse, feeling shamed in front of a boss, “losing it” when something we hoped for falls through – can derail the positive experiences of loving ourselves and others. “We may talk about love and encourage self-loving exercises, but where there is a powerful protective part of us who does not feel worthy of love, deserving of love, or feels threatened by the positive experiences of feelings such as love, those practices designed to return us to a loving state are rendered difficult if not impossible to achieve.”

[Here’s the link to Rick Hanson’s Wise Brain Bulletin which posted the article last week. WBB is a super-excellent resource of cutting ideas in the arena of brain change and brain care. I encourage you to check it out and subscribe – it’s free and it’s terrific.]

The article’s authors, Lisa Schwarz and Ron Schwenkler, suggest the Comprehensive Resource Model to address the trauma that may be giving rise to co-dependence and people pleasing, panic attacks and depression, phobias and addictions. Part of their treatment plan is exploring, in a safe, mindful compassionate context:

1. What happened, from the earliest (pre-conscious) beginnings to the present.

2. What didn’t happen that should have happened, particularly in terms of secure parenting and the profound grief if that didn’t happen.

3. The experience and paradox of being attached to a “perpetrator” – anyone who inflicted pain and suffering either advertently or inadvertently – and the consequences of that neglect or abuse.

4. How your life was shaped and limited as a result, including any rage, hopelessness, and sadness shaping the belief that your dreams and heart’s desires are unattainable.

The CRM model is body-based and heart-centered, as all trauma therapies are these days, creating a sense of physiological as well as psychological safely, and then scaffolding resources and techniques on top of that base.

An exercise offered in the article to use at home for self-care practices in preparation for the facilitation of positive neuroplasticity:

1. When feeling distressed, activated, or “symptomatic,” ask your body not your brain, “How old do I feel right now”? Take the first answer that pops into your head.

2. See yourself at that age and begin the attunement behaviors of eye contact, physical contact (in your mind’s eye), breathe together, give that part of self the reassuring soothing messages needed, and simply make space to be together in the moment without expectation.

3. Find the eye position that anchors this sense of connection between adult self and child self. Keep your eyes on that eye position throughout the exercise. This is achieved by allowing your eyes to roam until you find the specific position where the sense of connection is enhanced or anchored.

4. As your adult self, start breathing in through your feet from deep in the earth, through all of the layers of the earth into your heart while simultaneously breathing in through the crown of your head from the sky/heavens into your heart.

5. Hold that breath in your heart, filling every nook and cranny of your heart with breath.

6. Exhale out the front and back of your heart at the same time, intentionally sending the exhale breath to the part of self that you have been connecting to through eye position and attunement.

7. Continue this “heart breathing” to the wounded, distressed self as long as possible.

8. It is also very helpful to alternate heart breaths so that the exhale is sent to the wounded self for a few breaths then to the adult self for a few breaths, allowing this pattern to continue for several minutes.

9. Allow yourself to return to the original distressing issue and notice your experience of it now.

10. Notice what happens in the body, in the eyes of the wounded self and allow for a “New Truth” to come to the surface (New Truth can be a word, a sentence, a sound, or a body sensation).

11. Say or sound the New Truth six times out loud, finding the corresponding body sensation to that New Truth, and find the eye position that enhances it.

12. Notice what geometric shape and color is associated with this and imagine every cell in your body enclosed in this colored shape.

13. Make the sound or tone that goes with the New Truth, breathe in the colored mist that goes with this New Truth, and heart breathe again multiple times to both the adult and wounded self.

This process allows for somatic and cognitive embodiment of the shift that occurs through internal nurturing of the wounded self.

The article also addresses the issue of “compassion fatigue” when therapists are helping clients re-process and rewire previously traumatizing material.

I will be teaching clinicians similar body-based tools to rewire trauma and to address compassion fatigue at several workshops this spring. Please check out the links for details.

Psychotherapy Networker Symposium, Washington, D.C.

The Art and Science of Brain Care, March 26, 2015

Catalyzing Brain Change, March 28, 2015

Momentus Institute, Dallas, TX

Bouncing Back: The Neuroscience of Resilience and Well-Being, April 10, 2015

Troubled Youth Conference, near Salt Lake City, UT

Bouncing Back: The Neuroscience of Resilience and Well-Being, May 7, 2015

Leading Edge Seminars, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Bouncing Back: Rewiring the Brain for Resilience and Well-Being, May 19-20, 2015