By Mary Reitano

Bouncing Back or Bouncing Forward?

Most of us have heard the phrase “bouncing back from adversity.” Froma Walsh, clinical psychologist and authority on family resilience, put a new twist on the phrase. She suggests that bouncing forward from setbacks is a better term. Bouncing back infers one can resume life as it was. But, after a debilitating illness, death of a loved one, or traumatic event, many things are different. It is normal to struggle with adjusting to dramatic change, and natural to grieve such losses. It is difficult not to look back with longing or focus on what has been lost. But, eventually, to move forward, accepting the “new normal” is healthy. Bouncing forward goes a step further. In Strengthening Family Resilience, Walsh writes that “the qualities of resilience enable people to heal from painful wounds, take charge of their lives, and go on to love fully and to live well…. Resilience is forged through adversity, not in spite of it. Life crises and challenges can bring out the best in us as we rise to meet the challenges.” 1

We Shall Overcome

Walsh writes that one key factor in resilience relates to family belief systems. In a family, “resilience is fostered by shared…beliefs that increase options for problem resolution, healing and growth. They help members make meaning of crisis situations; facilitate a hopeful, positive outlook; and offer transcendental or spiritual moorings.” 2 Resilient families “approach adversity as a shared challenge and hold a relational view of strength in contrast to the American cultural ethos of the rugged individual.” 3 One example is the 1960’s civil rights theme that “we shall overcome” adversity by joining together. 4 Inspiring music echoes this sentiment. Recall “I can get by with a little help from my friends,” by the Beatles. And Bill Withers sang “Lean on me, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.”

Building Resilience in Your Life

You can take steps to intentionally increase resilience in your life. Practical applications include:

  1. Maintain a strong network of positive, mutual social support. This includes family, friends, neighbors, church, synagogue, or community organizations. Everyone’s circle looks different and changes with different seasons of life. Guard against isolation from others. You may not need support now, but you will some day. In the mean time, help others. Good relationships are mutually supportive—emotionally and practically.
  2. Accept that change is the norm and practice flexibility. In addition to unexpected crises, families go through normal development phases requiring major adaptation–the birth of a child, adolescence, child leaving for college, marriage, retirement, health issues or death of a family member.
  3. Develop a belief system or spiritual practice that “anchors” you. Building internal resources is important to do before a crisis occurs–whether by meditation, attending religious services, creative arts / music, or other means. If not, it is hard to “learn how to swim” during a shipwreck.

Mary Reitano is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate focusing on positive psychology and a holistic approach that addresses emotional, relational, mental, physical and spiritual health.



2, 3, 4 “Family Resilience: A Framework for Clinical Practice” in Family Process magazine, 2003, by Froma Walsh, MSW, PhD.

1 Strengthening Family Resilience, 2006, Froma Walsh, pp. 5, 7.

Additional Reading (short article):

Be resilient: s-t-r-e-t-c-h, bounce back and roll forward!” Family Living Programs website. Patti Herman, Pam Peterson and Jane Schaaf, Family Living Educators, University of Wisconsin-Extension, 2009.