Resiliency and the Brain

Resiliency and the Brain

It is generally made up of three parts. The hindbrain regulates our automatic responses and reflexes. It heightens our senses in a way that prepares us for action during moments of perceived threat. The midbrain processes. This can include the processing of experiences, emotions, memories, and other information. Lastly, the forebrain governs and regulates. It is responsible for higher-order thinking, communication skills, and overall stability within the body. We operate at peak performance level when these parts work synchronously together.

As if this streamlined system was not wondrous enough, add neuroplasticity to the list of the brain’s remarkable achievements.

Neuroplasticity is essentially the brain’s ability to respond and reorganize itself based on repetitive experiences and environmental influences. This could be considered detrimental in circumstances such as complex childhood trauma, as the reorganization of the brain based on adverse experiences could negatively impact a child’s cognitive, social, emotional, and physical well-being (Kirouac & McBride, 2009).

While the still-developing brain of a child is susceptible to harmful influences due to neuroplasticity, it is actually the combination of neuroplasticity and a child’s developing brain that also provides the greatest opportunity for overcoming adverse experiences (Volkow, Gordon, & Freund, 2021).

Neuroplasticity allows the brain to regenerate, repair, modify, and heal. Because of this, the effects of trauma can be remarkably decreased or, in some cases, reversed (Thompson, 2014). In fact, research conducted by Leitch (2017) supported the idea that brain plasticity can aid in strengthening overall wellness and prosocial behaviors.

To heal from childhood trauma, a young person needs to be surrounded by the proper supports within an appropriate environment. These supports provide consistent practice of resiliency skills and prosocial behaviors, which can then lead to affirming and reinforcing thought patterns. In time, positive patterns and practice lead to a rewiring of the brain. Negative byproducts of trauma on the brain are reconfigured, and much of the impact of childhood adversity is, in essence, pushed out to make way for new and more favorable neural pathways.

There are a number of approaches that could be used to capitalize on the power of neuroplasticity to promote healing. Providing opportunities for growth is one potential approach. This includes opportunities to learn new skills, to explore hobbies, and to engage in activities that allow one to recognize one's own strengths. Setting aside time for gratitude is another potential approach, as this trains the brain to seek the positives and to remain hopeful. Providing the chance to connect and contribute, such as allowing opportunities to form and maintain healthy relationships, to contribute through volunteer work or other acts of service, and to openly discuss morals and values, creates more prosocial behaviors and enhances one’s sense of self and purpose. Other approaches to rewiring the trauma-impacted brain include providing (a) consistent safety and support, (b) tools and structures to maintain health and wellness (physical, mental, emotional, and hygienic), (c) space for meaning-making and self-acceptance, and (d) a sense of choice and control.

When trauma affects the young brain, neuroplasticity can act as the grounding force that sets the stage for healing. With proper supports, environment, and consistent care, the negative effects of complex childhood trauma can be decreased, and young people can go on to live healthy and satisfying lives.

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