Resilience Part 2- Change the Narrative – what are some ways we can do that? What about being neurodiverse would make that different from other people?

Here are the other blogs in this series:
Resilience – Science-Backed Strategies from a Dyslexic / ADHD Perspective
Resilience Part 3- Face Your Fears – Ways to do that and being neurodiverse
Resilience Part 4- Practice Self-Compassion – How do you do that while being neurodiverse?
Resilience Part 5- Meditate – Ways to do that and being neurodiverse
Resilience Part 6- Cultivate Forgiveness –being neurodiverse can make it hard to forgive

Brene Brown in her work will often say, “The story I tell myself.” Or “The story I made up.” When you study her research, she has proven that the brain likes stories so much and it needs them to function. What researchers have proven is that if it doesn’t have one, it will make one up. The problem is, often that “made-up story” is just a whole pile of B.S. and you are living and making decisions off that junk pile. That’s why it is important when you are working on resilience to fact-check the narrative and deal with the emotions you have woven in.

Newman starts off with the idea of changing the narrative. Newman suggests practicing expressive writing to start healing and move past the “rumination phase”– a cycle of reliving the negative event on a loop.

Expressive writing “involves free writing continuously for 20 minutes about an issue, exploring your deepest thoughts around it.” Free writing is helpful for many neurodiverse individuals, while others may benefit from a different approach. Many dyslexics are very visual and non-linear thinkers so they may prefer to structure freewriting differently like with mind maps. Which are similar in structure to meta cogs, but can be used to map out narratives and feelings. Artwork is another option to explore feelings around an issue and can be a great approach. Another possibility for those who favor co-collaborative processing and may need to dig into an issue could do so by telling the story of their experience to trusted loved ones, a coach, or a therapist.

Any way you approach the processing and reshaping of a narrative, taking steps to get past the stage of reliving a difficult experience is necessary.

Newman referenced a study conducted in 1988, in which participants did expressive writing for four days and were evaluated six weeks after. “In writing, the researchers suggest, we’re forced to confront ideas one by one and give them structure, which may lead to new perspectives. We’re actually crafting our own life narrative and gaining a sense of control.” While I know that writing has a particular advantage for many (including myself), I want to take these findings and validate alternative ways to map out experiences. Creating narrative visual art, for example, can be the best way for some nonlinear thinkers to take control of an experience and explore their feelings about it.

After exploring the heaviness of an issue through expressive writing, Newman highlights the practice of finding silver linings, and naming three ways a negative experience has also positively impacted you. This step of shaping the narrative can be transformative, allowing you to let go of some anger and even feelings of helplessness. I personally am not a big fan of the term “silver lining” and want to convert that into PQ terms defined by Shirzad Chamine. When I look at my expressive writing I look for the Sage perspectives, for me, it is a stronger set of questions and it might be for you too.

The Sage perspective three gifts:
What am I learning from this?
What personal muscle am I building stronger?
What part of this is inspiring you outside your comfort zone or what have you done that you never that you could do because of this situation?

The whole goal is that once you identify the wisdom and strength you have built, you can accept difficult experiences for what they are and how they will inform you moving forward. Studies have shown that by maintaining a daily practice of finding silver linings, “participants become more engaged with life afterward, and it decreased their pessimistic beliefs over time.”

The Inflow article, ‘The gift of resilience: why ADHD makes us stronger,’ highlights the unique way that the experience of having ADHD can build resilience. The author shares about having seen their ADHD as a flaw for a long time, but now they “want to encourage ADHDers to take a different approach by viewing their ADHD diagnosis in a positive light – because you may not realize it yet, but some of the best gifts can come from our greatest challenges.” This strategy of changing the narrative is a process that neurodiverse individuals need to use to push back against what the neurotypical world teaches about neurodiversity. Many people with ADHD struggle with being hyper-critical of themselves and can benefit from changing those narratives and taking pride in their ADHD resilience in a world that is built for neurotypicals. This article emphasizes reframing as an essential part of resilience, along with practicing strength-based self-talk. Many of the steps suggested to build resilience are similar in Newman’s article and ADHD-specific articles, and we can see that the experience of ADHD itself can be a challenge that demands and therefore builds resilience.

While those with ADHD or dyslexia have no choice but to build resilience from a young age, it is also a particularly important skill for coping with the emotional dysregulation that can come with ADHD. Clinical psychologist Joel Nigg writes about emotional resilience for ADHDers and explains how emotional dysregulation is tied to ADHD. Nigg explains that “deficits in executive function skills like inhibition and working memory make regulating emotions all the more difficult.” Another theory of how ADHD affects emotional dysregulation is through “confused internal signals,” meaning that it can be difficult to pinpoint emotions and match appropriate emotional responses to a situation. ADHD emotional dysregulation comes up with “hidden expectancies or biases,” meaning that hearing a startling sound like a door slamming can be hard to calm down from because of underlying fears and even expectations that bad things will happen.

After laying out the importance of resilience skills for ADHDers, Nigg dives into how to start building those skills. I want to share some of those steps that stood out to me. It starts simple, though not necessarily easy, with food, exercise, and sleep. Eating enough and eating food that makes you feel good, getting exercise, and enough sleep creates a stable foundation to build resilience skills. Social support is another essential building block. Adults, teens, and children all rely on emotional support from friends and family, especially for those with co-collaborative brains the ability to talk issues through is so necessary. Stress management is a big part of resilience. Nigg suggests ADHDers “become aware of chronic stressors and triggers, and to figure out which stressors can be eliminated, and which can be managed.” It is important to set realistic goals and accommodate how your brain works.

Nigg lays out 5 types of coping strategies.

  • Anticipatory coping is about creating a plan before a potential stressor occurs.
  • Self-talking appraisals” are statements used to reframe stressors and help to not assume the worst of others who are causing stress.
  • Shifting attention away from a stressor is especially helpful for children who haven’t built up as many coping skills.
  • Humor can help get perspective on a situation, especially through joking with others.
  • Rationalizing can be a positive step when a fear response is triggered beyond what the current situation requires.

Resilience is hard-won. It takes work and like with many things, intentionally building resilience will look different for all of us. I hope sharing these strategies and perspectives on resilience will be a reminder that there are many different strategies out there, and finding out what doesn’t and does work for you is part of the process.

If you are a person with a neuro-difference I recommend that you test out some of these options and see if any of them can assist you in reaching your goals.



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