July 14, 2024
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It’s a Slow Roll, Not a Bounce Back

I’m not sure who invented the expression “bounce back,” but I’ve been finding myself very frustrated with the concept recently. This idea that we’re meant to just be boomerangs after experiencing a hardship in life, swinging back into action as if all is fine, is—to put it simply—angering.

When are we expected to “bounce back?” Well, the short answer is “always.” The world we live in tends to leave very little space for actually experiencing our emotions and taking time to do so. Think of every time someone has said to/about someone, “…Still? But it’s been X days /weeks/months!” The implication is that because some time has passed, it’s unacceptable to continue to feel deeply—or even just to feel—in a particular way.

This often comes up around loss; whether mourning a death, experiencing the end of a relationship or even grieving what could have been, people are expected to go through a certain period of time, get over it and not show the emotions any more, as this may make others uncomfortable and does not mask the resilience that we’re all supposed to have.

I do believe in our individual resilience. I also believe in our collective resilience as a community and nation. And I believe in how much pain we push aside or bury because of the discomfort it can bring. When we don’t boomerang into our “former” or cheerful selves, we may fear rejection. A snapshot example occurs every time we ask how someone is; we want the answer to be “good” (or so I would think) and there’s a desire to figure out how to correct the situation if this is not the case. We aim for happiness and contentment, which is a beautiful goal, but also overlooks the realities of pain and hardship. Stewing or sinking into that pain can also be dangerous, but ignoring it completely or pretending typically does not yield positive experiences.

I have seen this in particular recently with regard to the impact the pandemic has had and continues to have on our way of life. As I wrote recently, the world experienced a collective trauma, and now, in working with clients and also speaking to individuals in my personal life, it seems that there is an obvious expectation that people have “of course” by now resumed their pre-March 2020 way of life. (I am writing not about COVID protocols but about emotional adjustment.) For instance, students who had to attend school virtually and then the next year also had “Zoom” days should be grateful and have eased into the idea of being back in person fully. This should be seamless and easy and if someone comments on the ongoing difficulty the response is that, “Still?” question noted above.

For some, moving forward is the only way; by marching onward, people are actively coping. For others, it takes more time. Those who have dichotomous or all-or-nothing thought patterns, adjusting even to return to what once was, is not simple. And we must have more patience.

We tend to judge, to compare ourselves to others whether it be by believing “I got through this and so should other people” or believing that someone is having trouble moving forward because they don’t want to. Change is hard. For many of us, it is not about a bounce back, but about a slow roll forward.

To that person experiencing a break-up, still having trouble being at work in-person again, continuing to pat that empty space where the loved one once sat: you are seen. You are going at your own pace. Notice when you might resist change and see how you can process this shifting your expectation from “I should” to “I feel.”

And to those who may reflect on judging others’ paces: we all cope differently. You can support someone and also challenge him or her.

Let’s wipe the idea of bouncing back from our vocabulary and stop asking the judgmental “Still?” question. Instead, let us recognize the challenges, accept our differences and know that the slow roll is exactly where many people need to be.


Temimah Zucker, LCSW, works with individuals ages 18 and older in New York and New Jersey who are struggling with mental health concerns, and specializes in working with those looking to heal their relationships between their bodies and souls. Temimah is an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, an advocate and public speaker concerning eating disorder awareness and a Metro-New York supervisor at Monte Nido. To learn more or to reach her, please visit www.temimah.com 

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