Mark speaks with Jennifer Fraser, best-selling author, award-winning educator with a PhD in Comparative Literature. Through personal experience and extensive research, Jennifer uncovered how bullying affects the brain and how the brain can heal, which she details in her new book, The Bullied Brain: Heal Your Scars and Restore Your Health.
Today, Commander Divine speaks with Jennifer Fraser, best-selling author, award-winning educator with a PhD in Comparative Literature. In the episode, Jennifer shares how bullying affects the brain and how the brain can heal—detailed in her newest book, The Bullied Brain: Heal Your Scars and Restore Your Health.
“I want my reader to start thinking a lot more about their brain, seeing their brain shining a spotlight on their brain understanding how their brain works, because what’s actually happened is, that young person who was abused is got all kinds of damage, anatomical damage to their brain, you know, potentially neurological scars” Jennifer Fraser
“So oftentimes, an educator who’s abusing or even a doctor, like if you look at Dr. Larry Nassar, he would co-op the parent, he would normalize his abuse by doing it in front of a parent in the room, so that the kid would think, “Oh, my parent is not reacting to this, this authority, this medical expert knows what he’s doing. I must just trust that this, even though it feels like a violation, isn’t.” So you can see how the brain is starting to get it started to normalize incredibly abnormal, unhealthy behaviors.” Jennifer Fraser
“That’s what you’re telling your brain, when you do deep breathing, you’re telling your brain there isn’t a predator around, it can calm down.” Jennifer Fraser
“But you know, our society doesn’t talk enough about the brain. So this is why in my book, bully brain, I’m trying to be like, a powerful bullying tool is to ignore something. We’re all ignoring our own brains.” Jennifer Fraser
“People need to understand that right until the last moment you’re on the planet, you can strengthen or weaken your brain. It’s your choice, right? We have neuroplasticity or brain plasticity until our last moment on the planet. We have it very intensively when we’re in our teens to 24. That’s an incredible time just like zero to five, incredible time and neuroplasticity. But we have it right til the end. So it’s always a choice. You can always choose what you want to do for your physical health and your brain health.” Jennifer Fraser
“So you got to get the body brain healthy to exercise, nutrition, hydration, sleep. You got to get the mind healthy through self awareness that bullying is bad, bullying equals bad, and it’s gonna really hurt you at some point, and it’s holding you back. So that’s looks a lot like therapy and coaching, life coaching or, you know, just self awareness and healing, you know, from the codependency and the other psychological dysfunctions that accrue from that, you know, because those are pretty significant. They keep you trapped. And then we step it up, and we say, Okay, now we train our brain, we train our brain through these tools.” Mark Divine
Mark Divine 0:05
Coming up on the Mark Divine show.
Jennifer Fraser 0:07
People need to understand that, right until the last moment you’re on the planet, you can strengthen or weaken your brain. It’s your choice, right? We have neuroplasticity or brain plasticity until our last moment on the planet. We have it very intensively when we’re in our teens to 24. That’s an incredible time just, like zero to five, incredible time in neuroplasticity, but we have it right til the end. So it’s always a choice. You can always choose what you want to do for your physical health and your brain.
Mark Divine 0:39
Hi, I’m Mark Divine and this is the Mark Divine Show. On the show, I explore what it means to be fearless through the lens of the world’s most inspirational, compassionate and resilient leaders. My guests, including credible people from all walks of life, martial arts grandmasters, military special ops leaders, high powered CEOs and PhDs doing incredible work in neuroscience. Today, we’re going to be talking about how bullying affects the brain, the scientific way. Specifically, my guest says it’s time to abolish the idea that being tough on young people improves performance. Jennifer Frazier shares not only how to survive bullying, but how to push back against entrenched roles, the entrenched role it plays in society. Jennifer is a best-selling author, award winning educator with a PhD in comparative literature. Her online courses and workshops provide dynamic lessons on the impact neuroscience has on personal development and cultural change. Her book Teaching Bullies: Zero Tolerance in the Court or in the Classroom explores what happens when the bully is a teacher or a coach. And her latest book, The Bullied Brain, which we’ll talk about today, Heal Your Scars and Restore Your Health, delves into how bullying affects the brain, and how you can heal the brain from that bullying. Welcome to the show, Jennifer.
Super nice to meet you, Jennifer. I really appreciate your work. And I’m curious like why? Were you a victim of bullying, or why did you get interested in this?
Jennifer Fraser 1:57
Well, it’s a very good question. So what happened was, I was working at a University Prep School. I got a call from parents saying that her son is texting her. And he said he can’t take it anymore. It’s too much. They’re calling us effing pathetic and effing embarrassments and effing pussies, etc. We’d heard earlier in the year, this same situation, but the expression was effing retards. So I am the daughter of a lawyer. I am the granddaughter of a judge, my uncle’s a lawyer. My mom is in, you know, behind the scenes politics, I do everything by the book. I used to be called goody two shoes as a kid, because I was that obnoxious. So I do everything by the book. And I go to the secretary of the board of the school, I go to the headmaster, I meet with the headmaster. Yes, we’re going to do all of these proper protocols. Well, of course, they don’t. And the reason they don’t is because it’s not students bullying students, it’s teachers.
It was teachers saying all of that.
Mark Divine 2:54
They put covers down on the on these bad players, just like we’ve seen some of the sex scandals and etc.
Jennifer Fraser 3:01
It’s amazing to watch this sport crisis unfold, because we’re a society that seems to hold children to higher and higher and more stringent standards when it comes to conduct. And all we ever do with adults who display far worse behaviors, much more destructive behaviors, they’re in positions of trust, authority and power. And what do we do? We cover up what they’ve done, and we enable them to keep doing it. So we have this kind of psychotic society unfolding. And I think everyone’s feeling it. I understand that speaking up about this would end up being hard on the school, hard on my colleagues, etc. But everybody has their line. And my line that got crossed was my son was one of their victims. I’m a researcher by trade. I’m an author, I’m an academic. So when they started to tell me things like, “Oh, it’s just old school coaching.” And then when the government agencies empowered to protect children started saying things like, well, the students shouldn’t have listened to the teachers’ obscenities. I was like, yeah. And the other thing that the commissioner for teacher regulation said was, the students are too sensitive. I was like… it’s all their fault? It was like being in Orwell’s 1984.
I was like, okay, so the way I sort things out for myself and try and get a grip on reality, is research. So I was like, okay, that’s what you guys are all saying, You’re the powerful people. What does the research say? And it couldn’t be more diametrically opposed. So they’re trying to cover up and enable and victimize the students who reported by the time there was at least 13, 14 students reporting that they wanted the abuse to stop. Was basically a classic textbook scenario of fear, humiliation and favoritism. And so, you know, it’s… that’s how bullies operate. It’s well documented. That’s what they were doing. And the kids were like, No, we just want to play our sport. We actually want to compete. We want to win.
Mark Divine 4:54
Sorry Jennifer… was this all just in athletic arenas? Or was it also happening in the classroom and in other places?
Jennifer Fraser 5:00
Well, originally at the school, I repeatedly reported along with other colleagues and parents and students that there was a theater teacher, the head of the theater department was incredibly abusive. And they just totally covered that up and enabled it until the sports situation happened. And when I wrote my letter to them and said, you know, if you don’t address this, I’m resigning. The chairman of the board phoned me right up and said, you know, oh, sorry, I should have just… backtracked. I said, I’ve watched what you’re doing with theater. And so I don’t think you’re going to actually address this, I think you’re just going to do what you do with the theater abuse. And so, you know, I picked up the phone and as the chair of the board, and he said, theater is being taken care of. That teacher retired early, like really early. And that’s how they do it in these independent schools, and
Mark Divine 5:47
No acknowledgement, no, no repercussions.
Jennifer Fraser 5:50
No, which is, from a brain point of view, that’s really unhealthy. Because basically, you’re telling the students that they’re not being heard, that they weren’t heard, that they can now walk away with all the neurological scars that got in their brains from this abusive individual. And the school is bending over backwards to ensure that the abusive individual is protected. It’s very dangerous, what we’re doing with young people’s brains right now. And you know, the statistic that best conveys this, and it’s a tough one, but it’s just come out from 2000 to 2018, youth suicide, that’s 10 year olds to 24 year olds has increased 57%.
Mark Divine 6:31
Yeah, I’ve heard that, it’s insane. And it’s going up since the pandemic for, obviously, other reasons. But it’s a crisis. When most people think you were abused, now the abuse is gone, so everything’s okay, now? Not so, right. What’s the effect of this abuse? And how long does it take for, you know, the effects to really kind of root themselves in traumatic brain symptoms?
Jennifer Fraser 6:51
What I learned in the research is, we have a tendency in society, just as you said, Mark. We think that the body is now protected, the young person no longer is exposed to the abuser, therefore, the young person is fine.
Yeah, do a couple therapy sessions, and they’ll be okay.
Yeah, we look at their bodies, and we look at them and they’re successful, they’re doing well in their grades, maybe, maybe they’re struggling a bit. But basically, they look fine, they look healthy. Well, the research on these healthy, young looking people shows that their brains are in serious trouble. And this is where as a society, I’m excited and hopeful that we’re kind of at a tipping point where we’re going to make a shift. And this is really what I wanted to achieve with my book, I want my reader to start thinking a lot more about their brain, seeing their brain shining a spotlight on their brain understanding how their brain works, because what’s actually happened is, that young person who was abused is got all kinds of damage, anatomical damage to their brain, you know, potentially neurological scars, they might have all different distortions, brains are very unique. So they, they absorb, and they suffer the abuse differently. But the bottom line is, it’s invisible to us. So we ignore it, or even our doctors ignore it, even some of our mental health professionals, they’re not looking at the brain, and the brain will tell you very quickly on a non-invasive brain scan, where some of the key problems lie.
Mark Divine 8:11
That’s fascinating. And so let’s keep the school example, let’s say I had a coach who was abusive, and I was with that coach for four or six years or whatever, different coaches, what’s happening in my brain? And is it the same for all kids? Are there different manifestations of trauma?
Jennifer Fraser 8:27
There’s different manifestations. Absolutely. Because there’s many different complex factors, you know, as a mental health professional will quickly identify and understand, I mean, how you react to an educator who’s abusing you is going to depend on your relationship to your parents, it’ll hinge on your relationship to other teachers. It’ll depend on your genetic makeup and the resilience of your own neural networks.
Mark Divine 8:49
Unless you’ve got trauma in other areas of your life, it’s just going to compound.
Jennifer Fraser 8:53
It’s going to compound for sure. So I mean, if you imagine a child in that situation, one of the things that’s really worrisome in the long term, is they end up normalizing the abuse. So oftentimes, an educator who’s abusing or even a doctor, like if you look at Dr. Larry Nassar, he would co-op the parent, he would normalize his abuse by doing it in front of a parent in the room, so that the kid would think, “Oh, my parent is not reacting to this, this authority, this medical expert knows what he’s doing. I must just trust that this, even though it feels like a violation, isn’t.” So you can see how the brain is starting to get it started to normalize incredibly abnormal, unhealthy behaviors.
Also, if you’re let’s say you’re one of the in the classic bullying dynamic, there will be targets. And then there will be the favored ones, the favored ones are all designed to make the targets make it seem like it’s their fault. Not everyone’s being slammed with this kind of behavior. Therefore, the ones that are must deserve it, the fault lies with them. They need to be treated this way. And then the favored ones are the ones also who will jump to the defense of the abusive individual. We see again, and again.
So imagine what’s happening to the student that’s the favored student, they’re losing empathy. With every single time that the abusive individual does their abuse, they’re shutting down the empathy neural networks that should be saying, this is awful. This students being publicly shamed, the students being grabbed and yelled at in the face, the student’s being put down and humiliated. And instead of the normal reaction, their brain is stifling that natural empathy network, very, very destructive. If you look at jobs, and especially leadership, jobs and professional jobs, they’re always asking for someone with empathy, with social emotional skills with empathy, because it is what’s successful in the workplace. So, you know, those unfortunate young people are having their neural networks really damaged.
Now, what’s fascinating to me is when they look at very extreme examples of people that have suffered, so for example, there’s a UK study on prisoners who are murderers. And when they looked at their brains on brain scans, they found that their amygdala, so that’s the part of the brain that’s sort of the alarm center or the threat detection center, it does many, many things, the brain always is working together. But for the sake of this study, and for us talking, let’s isolate that part of the brain. And they found that the amygdala of a murderer is very enlarged. Well, it makes a lot of sense. You don’t become a murderer, by growing up in a healthy, happy, safe, home and neighborhood…
Mark Divine 11:25
Because it’s hyper… become hypersensitive, or over trained to detect threats and to be on guard is that right?
Jennifer Fraser 11:31
Exactly. And so imagine if you are someone who has an enlarged amygdala, you become hyper vigilant. So if you’re a kid that goes to a coaching session, or into a classroom, and every day or every second day, six days a week, you don’t know where the threats going to next come from, instead of pouring all your resources, your incredible brain resources into creativity and innovation and problem solving and learning, you are pouring all your energy into the part of the brain that’s going to keep you safe. Because the brain’s number one job is to keep you alive. So hypervigilant people, they’re always on the lookout, they’re like a watchtower…
Mark Divine 12:07
You just described all my field teammates, by the way. (laughing) Many of whom had traumatic childhoods, which made us very good at what we did, by the way.
Jennifer Fraser 12:16
And then that is exactly the case. And you know, what’s exciting to me is you take those teammates, and you take the fact that they have these incredibly difficult childhoods, really harmful childhoods they channeled into this is something powerful and amazing and needed. But now they come out of it, and they’re left with the hurt brain. And what I found in the research is you can take a brain like that, and you can absolutely repair it, you can take that person and they don’t need to suffer anymore. Once you know that they’re in civilian life. Now they want to do more, they want to have healthy, great relationships and not be on perpetual high alert. Well, that can absolutely be done.
Mark Divine 12:54
How do we know if we’ve been bullied? Or I guess someone just kind of knows, right? If you’ve been bullied, you kind of like your clients know, they’ve been bullied or to some of them and still in deep denial about and be like, Oh, no, I overcame that. It wasn’t, it’s not a big deal. I’m smart. I overcame it You know, we’d like to think that we can think our way through anything ,right?
Jennifer Fraser 13:11
It’s kind of a powerhouse question. And it’s something that I only came to terms with, through starting to research and write and have lived experience in this world. So what happened was, here’s my son, he’s this elite athlete, and he’s being totally destroyed by these two teachers. I watched the mental health collapse firsthand. And you know, when you watch it, and it’s someone that you love more than life itself, your kid, you become really aware just how traumatizing it is. And he was smart enough. I mean, it was a terrible sacrifice. It was like a deal with the devil. He gave up playing basketball, which was his absolute joy and passion. And he was so talented. He walked away, because the broken system put the two teachers back… six boys didn’t play that year, that was my son’s final year… he knew well enough, he’s like, I cannot afford to be exposed to this toxicity. And also the headmaster of the school with the assistance of the chaplain and the board. They were all covering up and they were re victimizing the kids, he broke confidentiality, you know, it was just a horrendous situation.
So I’m watching this. And you know, my son was physically and emotionally abused. And it was all about humiliation. And it started to have this sort of effect on me, it started to trigger me I was like, What’s wrong with me? And so I resigned in protest from that school. As soon as, the second my son graduated, I resigned. And I got a job at another private school. And I can only teach at private schools because I have a PhD, not a teaching license through the public system. So I went to another private school that hired me, and I started teaching and by that point, I mean, I was exhausted. And then within two years of being at that school, the whole story was blown out in national news. It was on an investigative journalist TV program, local news, and I just was done like I was really just emotionally drained as a person and my focus was on getting our son better.
So, in my second year at that school, there was an issue with a teacher who was sort of like a really cult following type teacher, just, you know, beloved and slated to be the next leader of the school and started the Soccer Academy. Well, out of the blue, we’re all told as faculty that he’s being called home from the girls soccer tour in Germany, and he’s never allowed on campus again. It’s like… So that was all covered up and brushed under the carpet and swept away and I just put my head down, I honestly just couldn’t deal with it. I didn’t care. But it started to trigger me more. I was like, What’s wrong with me?
So then in my third year at the school, 17 year old girl that I taught year before came up to me, and she said, can I talk to you? And you know, with kids, when you’re a teacher, you can just like a mom, I was like, okay, this does not sound good. This is October 1st, 2017. We go outside the library, and she says to me, I’m being sexually harassed by a teacher. I’m like, oh my God. And I wanted to say, Well, I’m not the right person. Don’t tell me, I can’t handle this anymore. I just I know that the system is completely broken. I’m not gonna send you anywhere near a Commissioner for teacher regulation. I know they’re corrupt. I’ve handed a lot of material to [indecipherable] office. I mean, these are the things I want to say. But of course, I say, well, I’m going to help you. And we need to do the right thing. I have legal duty to report. We need to deal with this.
Now she was an international student from China. And she was living with her father in her final year. But prior to that, she’d been a homestay student living with the principal of the school and his wife. And the principal of the school was my champion, hired me as a whistleblower. I laid it all out on the table that, you know, it was gonna go to national news, and he knew that was happening. And, you know, these schools are very circled the wagons very connected, protect one another. And I’m a pretty, you know, the last thing you want is a vocal teacher, one who’s not going to look away when bad stuff’s happening. So he’s in his 60s and adult children and just a lovely guy. And so she had stayed with him and his wife for several years. So I said to her look, how about you and me go and talk to Mr. Calderwood and we will sort this out and deal with this and get it straightened out. And she looks at me and she says, it is Mr. Calderwood. And you know what I’m telling you here, right now, in British Columbia, Canada, where I live, the schools that are up and running, is all completely covered up.
Mark Divine 17:34
Okay, we’re gonna take a short break here from the Mark Divine show, to hear a short message from one of our partners. And now back to the show.
The fact that we’re talking about this means this is happening all over the place.
Jennifer Fraser 17:53
Yeah, and in the research, I can assure you it is. In childhood, abuses was recognized as being absolutely rampant in the 1980s. That was Rolland Summit’s work and Alice Miller in the 1990s, late 1990s, two American doctors, they identified and made direct correlation, it’s considered one of the most important medical breakthroughs, direct correlation between child abuse of all forms emotional, physical, and sexual emotional neglect, and physical neglect. And then they also look at divorce, alcoholism, substance abuse, a parent with mental illness and domestic abuse. Those were the 10 things. Five of them are are child abuse, and they make a direct correlation between child abuse and midlife chronic illness.
Going back to your question, once the abuser’s removed, like this individual was suspended instantly from the school and the police investigation began. Once they’re removed, therefore, the child must be safe. That’s our thinking. And that thinking is outdated. It’s not grounded in science. It’s ignorant. So what happens with this girl is I do everything, just border off. She goes to university a year later, she’s a brilliant kid, she scored the highest on the International Baccalaureate Exams, she wants to be a doctor. She started synchronized swimming at UBC. She’s off the island like I just figure… safe, safe, safe, and it feels deeply familiar to me. I’m like, she’s away from high school. It’s over now, who cares that everything is, you know, the broken system here. It’s over. She’s at university, she’s gonna flourish. So she keeps sending me emails and they’re not good. They’re about mental health, about how she’s so full of self loathing, and she’s ruined his life. She feels that she wants to hurt herself. She’s really looking for drugs. She, you know, she’s very, very suicidal. And I’m deeply concerned, I call the police who was involved with special victims. I’m like, should I even be writing her? I’m just a teacher. I don’t know how to handle this kind of trauma. And she says you’re answering perfectly. Just keep supporting her. That means everything. So 2017 a student writes me who’s close friends with her and just says our Elisa has taken her life.
And so that for me was the final like breakdown. Now, these kinds of strange feelings, memories, flashbacks, traumas, like triggers that I’m having in my own life, like, I’m starting to cry for no reason. I took three days stressfully from the school, I was like, what is wrong with me? It becomes full blown panic attacks. And I have to bite the bullet and unpack the fact that and I knew it, it’s not like it was unconscious, it’s just that I kept it in a box over here. And I never looked at it. I never opened the box, and I knew it was there. But I was sexually physically and emotionally abused in a outdoor education program with three teachers from 13, when the grooming began, until I left at 17. So for four years.
And there were many victims, and they took these guys to court in 2000. I knew that was happening. I was called by national news, someone must have given them my name. And I said, like, honestly, garbage. All I said was like vague things like, oh, I don’t even know what I said. All I remember is being on the telephone and feeling like I was in a haze, I wasn’t really there. And that’s what happens when you’re an abuse victim, you become almost like a ghost in your own life. And you don’t know why.
Mark Divine 21:15
You just disassociated from that whole, part of your personality.
Jennifer Fraser 21:19
You absolutely dissociate. So what’s been fabulous for me, and what’s been super powerful about this book, is it’s a book I wrote to look at, okay, so this happened to me, it’s happening to lots of kids, what can we do to get better? And really, what I found in the neuroscience is there are so many things. And there, as you say, they’re exactly what you’re doing. There’s so much research to back up that once you identify, yeah, my brain has been hurt. Now I need to repair it so that you commit to it. So I spent time in the book really showing that like what has happened to your brain? It’s not in your head, it really is there. It’s brain architecture issues. Once you see that, then my whole goal is to do the exercise and the meditation. And all of that type of work. Being in nature is a huge one is you know, but also getting people to use mindfulness as a tool like an athlete would visualize, to visualize their brain, and to start talking to and working with their brain telling their brain to stand down, basically, like, your mind is saying to your brain, you’re the power, but I’m in the driver’s seat, and I can tell you, we’re safe. You can calm down. That’s what you’re telling your brain, when you do deep breathing, you’re telling your brain there isn’t a predator around, it can calm down.
Mark Divine 22:31
So in your work, especially with, well, it’s not just younger, because I mean, you’re right about my age. So your healing started, when you finally had that kind of wake up call to the realization that this isn’t just about these victims, this is about me. So you’re never too late to do healing, whether you’re 20 or 55. But in your work, is there a best to start here place because like, let me just give you a reference point. In our work, what we find is, if people come to us, and they’re like, really out of shape, physically, it’s very hard to work with their mind. It’s hard to go in and do kind of the emotional, what we call the emotional mountain work if they’re physically out of balance. So we say, okay, let’s just start with some fundamentals here, you know, get your body back into balance, you know, so we’re going to sleep better, we’re going to eat better, we’re going to, you know, start moving the body. And our view is similar to yours, like move in nature, do some somatic movement, breath and move.
And then exercise is something different, you know, what train our body to be functionally strong, then those things and then that basically starts to bring a little homeostasis back. And then we can start to work with things like mindfulness and visualization. And, and then, of course, what I love, as you’re saying also, the objective interventions of like, take a look at your brain with an EEG, cue EEG, or, you know, some other map, like Dr. Amen has his little thing, spectrogram or something, and see what’s going on. And then and then we can be a little bit more precise, like a sniper with our interventions. At any rate, what’s your, is it do everything all at once? Or do you have kind of like a prescription of a progressive path to healing?
Jennifer Fraser 24:00
Well, in the book, what I do is I’d make people understand and look at the really tough research, the painful research on what abuse does to the brain. And then every single chapter has a, okay, that’s the bad news. Let’s talk about activation. So just like in your program, I do the same thing where I say you have to start with basic principles of brain health, organic brain health, and it’s the same thing as with the body, you know, you can’t go to the doctor and say, I need you to get me in shape. You go to the doctor when you need really like important intervention, very specific.
Mark Divine 24:33
Something’s gone off the rails already.
Jennifer Fraser 24:37
Same thing with a mental health professional. But if you bring to your mental health professional, an organic brain health basis, you’re going to do so much better. So one of the things I try to get people to understand is you learn these principles of brain health, and they are just like the body of course, because people I mean, in our society, we don’t think about the brain as part of the body. I mean, if you even look at the law, like if you punched me in the face, the law would you know, that will be a criminal charge. If you humiliated me, the law would be like, well, that’s not our department, the body looks fine to me, she must be okay. She’ll get over it. It’s got hurt feelings. But in actual fact, you’ve just damaged my brain. And if you repeat that humiliation over and over, you’re doing more and more harm to my brain, you’re ramping up my toxic stress levels, which is pumping up cortisol, cortisol is a corrosive stress hormone. It’s meant to be healthy, and it is unhealthy situations like you need to run away from a predator or an assailant.
And in small quantities.
In small quantities in a big rush. But our kids and us as adults, we’re living in a world where our brains are constantly being bathed in this corrosive stress hormone, it’s really, really awful and our bodies too. It affects your blood vessels. This is why, you know, seeing chronic health issues is hardly a surprise. It’s just that for us, it’s all sort of invisible. So in my program, I want people to understand that the brain is just like a muscle, you need to start by getting the muscle healthy, just like the heart. You need to start working slowly with the heart, you can’t go from sitting on the couch watching TV to running five miles, that would be really unhealthy. You have to take small, incremental steps. And just as you would get your muscles slowly but surely stronger and stronger, and motivate you to do that, you’re doing the exact same activation energy with your brain, you’re getting the neural networks that you desire, the ones for empathy, the ones for critical thinking, the ones for caring for other people, all these things, you know, problem solving, intelligence, understanding, all of that is getting stronger and stronger and stronger. And you have to do it in steps. And I’m just the same as you as, you need a baseline, you’ve got to choose health basically. And you know, we feed our brains really bad food, you know, anyone who’s eating fast food is feeding their brain… and our kids, no kid should ever be eating fast food is the worst thing for your brain. But you know, our society doesn’t talk enough about the brain. So this is why in my book, bully brain, I’m trying to be like, a powerful bullying tool is to ignore something. We’re all ignoring our own brains
Mark Divine 27:05
We’re bullying in our own brains. It’s true, that’s interesting.
Jennifer Fraser 27:09
People need to understand that right until the last moment you’re on the planet, you can strengthen or weaken your brain. It’s your choice, right? We have neuroplasticity or brain plasticity until our last moment on the planet. We have it very intensively when we’re in our teens to 24. That’s an incredible time just like zero to five, incredible time and neuroplasticity. But we have it right til the end. So it’s always a choice. You can always choose what you want to do for your physical health and your brain health. And as you say they’re entwined.
Dr. Michael Merzenich, who is my just absolutely took this project under his wing, even though he’s one of the most sought after, most important, most awarded neuroscientists alive today. And he’s an American, amazing guy, in San Francisco. He was telling me that, you know, there they are in the lab, and they’re doing all this work on brain research. And they’ve developed this incredible program. And it’s really important for brain training. And it could help elderly people not get sort of a flaccid, you know, falling apart brain. We keep our bodies alive until many many, you know, 80s and 90s. But we let our brains go. We don’t keep exercising them in the correct neuroscientific-trained way to keep them healthy. So there they are working on Alzheimer’s and all this research and the brain training, and they get a telephone call. And it’s Alex Guerrero, who is Tom Brady, the quarterback’s trainer. And he’s just like, Hey, just wanted to let you guys know you guys do know that Tom uses your brain training every day. And they were like, uh no. So they all got on a plane, the neuroscientist and they went over to watch him and see him do his training and find out what this was all about. So Tom Brady is the first professional athlete that’s gone public and shared his big competitive edge, which is that he trains his brain as much as he trains his body.
Mark Divine 28:50
By the way, it’s a good idea for a context sport athlete to be training their brain and doing lots of healing of their brain, whether it’s football, soccer, or the Navy SEAL, exactly. Because of the micro trauma, and also
Jennifer Fraser 29:01
actual, you know, traumatic brain injury from all kinds of things, not just the PTSD, or PTS, and the brain training program, the extensive research on it by all kinds of independent like Johns Hopkins and UCLA and those types of people. They show that even traumatic brain injury can undergo incredible repair.
Mark Divine 29:20
Is that training program, similar to like a Lumosity type thing where you’re doing like agility drills with your brain and visualization and solving problems and speed drills or what?
Jennifer Fraser 29:30
Yeah, it’s online gamified, the only difference would be that brain HQ, which is Michael Merzenich’s program, it’s got the research behind it. So for example, you think of a kid playing a video game, they get really, really good at the video game, but it doesn’t translate into real life. Same thing with brain training programs that are out there. The difference with Brain HQ is it translates into real life. So Tom Brady playing football is having the benefits of the type of training designed by the neuroscientist that he does with brain HQ.
Mark Divine 30:04
Okay, we’re gonna take a short break here from the Mark Divine show to hear a short message from one of our partners.
And now back to the show.
So you got to get the body brain healthy to exercise, nutrition, hydration, sleep. You got to get the mind healthy through self awareness that bullying is bad, bullying equals bad, and it’s gonna really hurt you at some point, and it’s holding you back. So that’s looks a lot like therapy and coaching, life coaching or, you know, just self awareness and healing, you know, from the codependency and the other psychological dysfunctions that accrue from that, you know, because those are pretty significant. They keep you trapped. And then we step it up, and we say, Okay, now we train our brain, we train our brain through these tools, such as you’re talking about with brain HQ, and visualization. And what else can we do to train our brain?
Jennifer Fraser 30:58
Well, you know, what I found through my own journey, which I think is one of the most important discoveries is, we know people who know that getting physically fit is going to make them healthier, and happier, and they don’t do it. So my biggest struggle in the book was, I learned all this academic material, which is what I do, I did a deep dive into the neuroscience and the medicine and the research. So I knew everything. But after my student committed suicide, I could not bring myself to do anything. I sat on the couch, and I honestly was immobilized.
It’s called depression. And it was pretty terrible. And what I found was, I couldn’t stop my legs from shaking, which is what happened to me when I was kid, when I was being abused by those teachers, I had such extreme anxiety that my body was quivering. Now, that should remind you of an animal. That’s what animals do when they’re terrified. If a dog is terrified, they will start to shake. And so of course, me being the absolute nerd that I am, I went to try and find the research on it. And I found it. And what I found was, it’s called panic. And when you’re in a state of panic, basically your brain, it thinks it’s the end. And this is the most important piece, I think of the whole book. Because what I realized is, when you’re that much full of fear, you align with the abuser, you identify with the aggressiveness,…
Mark Divine 32:24
Like a Stockholm syndrome.
Jennifer Fraser 32:27
Stockholm Syndrome. And that’s exactly what I’ve done with the teachers. I didn’t open the box because as soon as you open the box, you have a personal responsibility to yourself to say I have been damaged. And you have a personal responsibility to say I must report this to protect others. If you don’t open the box, you can align with the aggressor, because that’s so much safer for the brain.
Mark Divine 32:46
Yeah, it almost feels easier and you get into this codependent, well, it’s not my responsibility to ruin their lives by outing them, you know, someone else can do that. Because that might ruin my life, because then they’re gonna deny it. And then I’ve got to, you know, I can see how that psychologically could be really challenging.
Jennifer Fraser 33:03
And the truth of it is you’re afraid of them. I had to recognize and I’m a pretty, like, don’t mess with me. I stand tall, I stand strong. But the truth of it was, I was just on the inside in my brain, an absolutely terrorized individual. And I was afraid for my son, and I was afraid for myself. And so what I had to do was I had to face how afraid I was. The way I did it. And this is a Dan Siegel thing. I’m sure you’ve read his mindfulness books and work, you have to name it to tame it. I took that one step further, and I started speaking the names of my abusers. I went and read all the news clippings. I read all the court documents, I read all of the Ministry of Education, and how hard they tried to cover it up just like they do today, 40 years later, it’s like, ugh. You know, I just faced it. And I say their names my three abusers or three teachers, as often as I feel I put them in my book. I just say their name.
What are their names?
Their names are Dean Hull, Stan Calgary, and Tom Ellison. Tom Ellison was charged and convicted. Dean Hull admitted in court to sleeping or having sex repeatedly with a teenage girl who is my contemporary and wasn’t charged even. And Stan Calgary was not charged, they’d also be in jail. Basically, they’re dangerous individuals. If you don’t ever get held accountable as an abusive individual, you can never heal, you never can get better. It’s actually a curse. And if you want to talk about damaged brains, we should be so worried about any child that’s bullying. That kid does not need punishment or discipline or some sort of talking to their bad child. You need intervention and healing that is the behavior of a very traumatized child. And all they’re doing is reinforcing the trauma by they’re just obviously in fight mode. So they’re fighting to survive. They think they’re under threat and obviously they are under threat in their lives or they would not be doing that.
Mark Divine 34:59
So True. If a bully doesn’t get healed, he’ll always be a bully. I have someone in mind when I say that, that I happen to know very well.
Jennifer Fraser 35:07
You can give him my book and see if it shakes him out of it.
Mark Divine 35:09
Yeah, if you don’t, if you don’t heal from that it shows up in different ways throughout your life as the bully, right? Not necessarily as a victim, I mean, as the bully, and the victim disease, or the imbalance will show up as disease or as psychological trauma, or, you know, to unfortunate victim of suicide, like you said.
Jennifer Fraser 35:26
You know, it’s intergenerational, you just pass it on, it goes back to a question that you asked at the beginning. And it’s this idea. And this is what really worries me about society right now. Because the brain will normalize everything, it creates its own reality. So you know, we tend to think that the brain is reacting to things. So if you hurt my feelings, I react by my eyes filled with tears. But that’s actually not true. What’s happening in the brain is you’re about to hurt my feelings, or you hurt my feelings. My brain looks at that. And it goes, hmm, have we seen this before? And it really looks fast, like lightning speed at my experience. And it goes through the filing cabinets like, oh, when someone says a mean thing, it hurts you, I think the proper emotion concept for this moment, let’s pull out the file folder for her. Yeah, fill your eyes with tears. Perfect, did it. So it’s creating its reality. Now, as soon as you know that you can take a mindfulness stance to this and create a little bit of space between stimulus and response. Be amused, you can’t take love away from me, I’ll never stop loving you. I chose the path of love. That’s what I’m like, people in my world. And so I chose the emotion concept for, you make me laugh.
Mark Divine 36:37
And by the way, you’re touching upon the most powerful training tool of all. And that’s forgiveness. And humor. Humor is up there too. But forgiveness first.
Jennifer Fraser 36:46
I have a hard time with forgiveness. I don’t know why I can’t do it.
Mark Divine 36:50
Forgiveness is hard. But for me, I didn’t play the victim. But for a long time, I was just like, kind of pissed. And I went to this program called the Hoffman Process. It’s a week of just intense therapy and visualization. It’s a process, right? These are long, intense visualization that last for hours. And I saw things that I’ve never seen before that I have no business knowing. But I saw things I saw how they were, how they were raised. And man, it just was an immediate release. I was like, oh.
Jennifer Fraser 37:19
No, the way you say it makes me You know, I just want to start visualizing my abusive teachers. (laughing)
Mark Divine 37:26
(laughing) That’ll be in your next book, when you’ve completed that step, you’ll write the next
Jennifer Fraser 37:30
You know, I actually have written the next book. And it’s going to be one that I hope really interests you in particular, because I compared to things, what I call it it Cloud of False Echos. And then the subtitle is, Trust The Truth, Resist Madness. And I feel like it’s a timely book because we are suffering right now in an era where there’s a war on truth. I want to write in defense of the truth on how it’s so important. So I compare and contrast, I juxtapose the emails of my students, which is, is it document, or it’s evidence of a brain that is slowly but surely being turned mad, it’s she’s becoming completely mentally ill. And it’s documented in these emails, because of the system and what they do to her and her brain. So I have that. And then I juxtapose it with I was asked as a researcher to look at these, these writings by a WW2 fighter pilot kids, actually Canadian fighter pilot who bombed the Bridge on the River Kwai. I look at his clarity of mind. He’s in this massively traumatizing situation, going out from India and traveling to Japan repeatedly in these planes and dropping bombs and what it means to be dropping bombs on people and all these sorts of things. And his life is at risk every single time they get on that plane. And yet his clarity of mind is the most brilliant contrast to my students madness. And he comes home, and she does it. I feel like it’s a really powerful way to understand that we might have our opinions, we might have our political beliefs, we might have any of these differences and ideas about how to go forward and what’s important and best, but we have to respect the truth.
Mark Divine 39:10
That’s right. And the truth is your truth. And so to get to the ultimate truth inside of you, you’ve got to overcome the traumas that obscure the truth from you, both physiologically and yeah, the cloud of false echoes. I love that. I can’t wait to see that book and read and have conversation about it.
You’ve been just such a delightful guest. Jennifer, thank you so much. I really appreciate your work and conversation and open-hearted way and humble way that you’re able to talk about even your experiences, your son and your own and tragic incident with this Chinese lady. Thank you for having me. Your book, Bullied Brain, the recent publication, so it’s out in the Southland.
Jennifer Fraser 39:49
It just came out in April in the US. So it’s still in a hardcover edition. You can get it audio, obviously, in Kindle. But yeah, that’s why it’s sort of hardcover, and just hopeful that it brings home Julian and, you know, I’m thinking something that you said that’s so important to about freedom and about forgiveness is when you take that path, you can also forgive yourself when you let yourself down, when you’re less than perfect when you’re hurtful to others, even people you love so much, we all make those mistakes, we all do things wrong. And if you forgive others, then you can hold some of that self compassion for yourself.
Mark Divine 40:23
I agree with you. It’s very important work in an age that’s slightly mad. So we’ll continue to do that. This is awesome and so important. We’ll just continue what we’re doing and helping to educate people on the importance of healthy body, mind, brain and being the change we want to see in the world. And we can do that at scale.
Jennifer Fraser 40:42
Absolutely. Thank you so much for giving me this incredible opportunity to connect with you and learn.
Mark Divine 40:48
Yeah, it’s been my pleasure. Where can people connect with you?
Jennifer Fraser 40:51
Yeah, my website is bulliedbrain. Same as the title in the book. There’s lots of free resources, like articles and interviews, and I write for Psychology Today and anything that people want to learn more about these sorts of issues and what the neuroscience is saying. There’s tons of stuff on the website, and it also tells you where you can get the book.
Mark Divine 41:09
All right. Thank you, Jennifer.
That was an incredible episode with Dr. Jennifer Fraser, incredibly humble and open conversation about the impact of bullying on the brain and how to heal from bullying. You can learn more about her at bulliedbrain.com. Or from her book, the Bullied Brain, which we talked about. Show Notes and transcripts are up on our site Mark Divine.com video will be up at YouTube at Mark Divine.com/youtube and you can reach out on Twitter @MarkDivine and on Instagram and Facebook at RealMarkDivine always hit me up on my LinkedIn channel and available to respond to any questions there.
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