Resilience Is Not About Bouncing Back. It’s About Moving Forward.

When we speak about resilience, we often think of “bouncing back.” This implies rebounding to how things were prior to experiencing adversity. This definition may be fine for minor challenges, but it’s unproductive for more serious ones.

First off, it sets a pretty high expectation. If you don’t meet it, you’re likely to be disappointed. Sometimes you physically can’t bounce back, like in the case of chronic illness or the death of a loved one. If you lose a limb — literally or metaphorically — you won’t ever be the same as before. Trying will only leave you down and dejected.

It’s highly distressing to carry with you fear, pain, and uncertainty. But it’s even more distressing trying to repress or forget those feelings.

Second off, bouncing back is limiting. It says that there is a “back” to which we should bounce; some ideal, perhaps more comfortable, place. But this fails to acknowledge the significance of the adversity itself. It’s as if you are trying to delete it from your life. In my own experience, this doesn’t work. Yes, it’s highly distressing to carry with you fear, pain, and uncertainty. But it’s even more distressing trying to repress or forget those feelings when they’ve been seared into you by situations that are unforgettable.

Following true adversity — I’m talking about the gut-wrenching, hole in your heart, sleepless nights kind — there is no bouncing back. There’s only moving forward.

And, though it sucks at times, you’ve got no choice but to carry your experience with you. This won’t make you an immediately happier person, but it will make you a fuller and more compassionate one.

And yet…and yet…

Holding fear, pain, and uncertainty is hard. So it’s important to dispel yet another falsehood about resilience. Resilience is about inner strength, but it’s not about keeping a stoic profile and going at it alone. Inner strength and seeking support are not exclusive; if anything, they go hand-in-hand.

Following true adversity — I’m talking about the gut-wrenching, hole in your heart, sleepless nights kind — there is no bouncing back. There’s only moving forward.

Being vulnerable and reaching out for help when you need it demands inner-strength, and inner strength grows when it’s supported by help. “It is a myth that resilient people don’t need help,” writes Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia. “Seeking support is what resilient people do.”

In the aftermath of adversity don’t try to bounce back. Do your best to move forward. And let others help you along the way.

Want more on health, inspiration, and peak performance? Follow me on Twitter @Bstulberg, where I share ideas like this daily.