Bouncing back


The notion of bouncing contains the movement of rising after falling. One of the most frustrating experiences I recall from childhood is never taking the risk to do a back flip, even though gymnastics was a talent which I cherished as a child and I otherwise trusted the ability of my body to perform risky movements. I think it was precisely the process of bouncing backwards that I did not trust. I feared that if I took a blind flip towards the space behind me, I would not manage to bounce back, but more likely, I would crash down and break my neck or head. This was in contrast to many forward flips I could perform with ease where the movement felt more like smooth rolling rather than a jump in the void.

Can we ever bounce back from any form of break down to a state of function and health, especially if there is a significant breakdown in our mental or physical health? Unfortunately, in adults this is less often the case, whereas it is in fact one of the most inspiring and exhilarating traits that children have. A robust child can often bounce back from intense illness or upset to a state of enjoyment and pleasure. I wonder what might be the differentiating factor in children’s resilience. Well, robust children often receive consistent care from their parents, and so it is often the sense of a secure base that will help them bounce back quickly. Adults, on the other hand, are often in the place of having to contain their feelings ant those of others.

Perhaps, the question here is if we can ever bounce back from trauma and what kind of mental process is required for such a task. It seems to me that if we see my fear of a back flip as a metaphor, the main quality required for managing it was faith in oneself. Faith is a notion I find difficult, as it is often implicated in religious or spiritual practices neither of which resonate with me. Of course, such practices are mostly about faith in some form of superior being or energy which can protect and guide us. Faith in oneself though does never come in a vacuum. It is usually a process of what is called in psychoanalysis ‘internalising good objects’, the belief in us that key figures in our lives such as our parents had. So in a non -religious way, faith in oneself is not that different than spiritual faith, it is about trusting the care and protection that comes for above.

For those of us that had significant disappointments or betrayals in early life, such faith can feel very much like a backward flip without any previous ability to perform gymnastics. Yet, bouncing back is often playful and smooth. It is rarely purposeful or overly controlled. Of course, we all know, to use another physical metaphor here that the bouncing back of a ball requires mastery and skill, but when it is done well, it does not feel forceful. I think there is a parallel here with the process of bouncing back from trauma. It takes a while to acquire the skill of bouncing a ball in childhood and while one is in the process of learning how to do it, they may need to persevere and be patient. They may also need to accept occasional failures and a degree of frustration. After a while though, the skill will feel natural and the bouncing action will bring joy and soothing. I think this may be a more optimistic metaphor for how one can possibly bounce back from physical or psychological break down. Perseverance and tolerating frustration will be part of the process and a degree of faith in oneself will be required to manage this. Yet, after a while playfulness and a zest for life may slowly become possible again.

You can subscribe to my newsletter in the footer below and you’ll receive my blogs in your inbox monthly.