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Practical Neuroplasticity after Adversity: How Rick Hanson Promotes Healing


Note: A link to all of the Rick Hanson podcasts appear in the Parenting with ACEs Group as resources under Toolkits/Guides and Webinars. If you know of some great resources that might benefits members of this group, please share them with me. Thanks! 

Oh how I love Rick Hanson.

I love how he helps my healing and my parenting. He's taught me so much about the ABC's of being human, being compassionate with fear and healing with mindfulness.

He has a series of free podcast talks, Being Well, on Soundcloud which are excellent.

He combines science, spirituality and the power of simple storytelling.

In this recent episode, titled "H-E-A-L Yourself," he teaches people like me how to "use the power of the mind to change the brain" and "let positive experiences come into ourselves in such a way that they gradually change brain structure."

And he does so without requiring me to get a PhD to know what the frig he's talking about.

He makes brain plasticity a graspable concept. He dumbs it down and I'm glad.

From him, I've learned why the negativity bias in the brain is so strong (seeking out danger in order to prevent it from happening again).

From him, I've learned to see my anxious self as more of a workaholic brain on overdrive rather than a jumpy, broken or oversensitive personality.

He teaches how almost all needs are related to either safety, security and connectedness.

That's true for all humans.

He explains why we can't satisfy one need by meeting another (a need for food can't be met with a hug and a need for affection can't be filled with a sub).

"If you're feeling threatened, gratitude is nice but it's not going to solve your anxiety. If you're feeling threatened, your boss praising you is nice, but it's not going to make you feel less anxious."

“We need resource experiences that are targeted to our issues."

This is so helpful. It might be common sense for some but it's not common practice. These basic things about being human always come to me as a bit of surprise.

How often do I try to repress or deny a core need? I still fail to respond to my own needs or banish their existence. 

It's not only because I'm a slow learner...

It's because trauma sucks.trauma sucks

But I understand, at least, why.

I learned too much from trauma. And it helped me survive. It wasn't wasted learning it's just time to get new lessons too!

There are many who lived without core needs being met. Maybe for years or maybe even decades. For some, it might feel easier to ignore needs. We might not even be able to recognize or name them never mind respond to them.

Tips on how to be with positive emotions, experiences and sensations are welcome. For some it's brand new learning. For others, it's a great reminder! Both good!

Information about how necessary, brain-buildingly beneficial and healing "taking in the good" can be are great.

Sometimes I can't believe how much I don't know.

I used to feel like my skin was made of wax and good experiences rolled down my spine like water. They couldn't get in. I thought something was wrong with me and my numbness was like a freeze that couldn't be thawed.

Even when circumstances are positive and good I can’t always feel them. It’s not always that I can’t trust the good. Sometimes they good feelings just don't register. They re so muted and mellow and subtle and simple.

It takes effort to experience them as sublime or nutritious.

In the past, I sort of thought if I paid too much attention to good things that would guarantee they’d be taken away. I didn't want to jinx good fortune by calling attention to it - as though the gods were waiting to punish the boastful ones gloating in good luck.

It seemed safer not to pay too much attention when things were easy or o.k.

It’s new to think of and believe something such as gratitude and savoring moments is something other than self-absorbed.

It's not at all intuitive and yet - I hope it will be for my daughter.

I want her to luxuriate in her blessings and bliss.

How will she learn to take good experiences all the way into her deepest self if if I blow them off, treat them as frivolous luxuries that only distract us from noticing the potential danger in the world?

Hanson says, "the brain is inefficient at tapping into positive experiences because it has a negativity bias."

There's no shame in that.

It's something that's understandable and may have made lots of sense when living with threat, adversity and trauma.

I didn't know how or why to be other than I was.

Or that there were other and better ways.

Over the years, I've literally changed the way I inhabit myself and my own negativity bias has not gone away. But it's not the only channel I can tune into either.

The process has been slow.

But beneficial.

I'm still stalked by fear a good amount of the time whenever stress or danger reappear in my life. But I also know how to obsess over the good, dwell on delight and juice the joy.

It's a skill I can practice and also teach my kid.

And I can also feel compassion for the child I was who was consumed by dread, worry and fear most of the time. Even though some positive things happened in childhood as well (good teachers, pets I loved, friends) it was hard to feel them while often and routinely unsafe. I wasn’t just a glass half empty person I was young and trying to survive.

I wasn’t inherently negative or flawed. Those of us growing up with lots of adversity don't know our experiences are extreme or that others live with less or none. That happens only when we are older.

It can be hard to change habits as an adult. But not impossible.

I wonder if this blog should be called - what's obvious to others might still come as news to me.

Do others feel this?

So often, in my parenting what I"m learning is the most basic things about human nature.

Humans have needs. All humans. Not just the “needy” ones.

Humans are meant to have needs met. Humans our meant to meet needs - our own and that of others.

This is normal and ideal and possible.

And, if it didn’t happen while we were children it can happen as adults.

It starts by noticing and listening to our needs and responding to them. And when we are unsafe again, returning to safety (if that's possible) because until we do it's going to be hard to focus on anything but survival.

This isn't always easy for those of us with ACEs. Especially if we are still in relationships with people who are unsafe, toxic or actually dangerous. It’s not like we stop being related to the "ACE providers" we had in childhood just because we turn 18. Things can change when we are no longer dependent on them though.

We have to get to safety, find ways to stay there.

And once we do, to learn to know, name and inhabit the safe moments.

"When we take in the good, in the moment of taking it in, in terms of our core needs for safety, satisfaction and connection... in that moment, we have an opportunity to experience that our core needs have been met," Hanson said.

For those of us who didn't have this experience much or ever in childhood, it's helpful to be guided.

He says, "...Through repeatedly  internalizing wholesome positive experiences, repeatedly registering the sense of no deficit, and no disturbance, gradually we can weave into the fabric of our being an unconditional sense of needs met.

...To gradually cultivate to such a profound sense of alrightness and fullness and love and lovingness..."

That's what I want for my daughter and for myself as well - as many moments of loving "alrightness" as possible.


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