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Squeezing into a new, wiser you

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re·sil·ience noun ri-‘zil-y?n(t)s 1 : the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress. – Merriam Webster

Like the scientific definition of resilience, personal resilience is often seen as your ability to bounce back from life’s “compressive stress” or, to put it another way, being squ-e-e-e-e-zed.

And, for the most part, that perception is right. You do tend to want to get back to the place you were before disaster struck. It’s where you’re most comfortable and it seems to be the right thing to strive for.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to get back to where you were. But sometimes you just can’t get back to that place. Why?

Adapting to a new shape

Because you may not be the same person you were before you got squeezed.

I frequently see this with people who are grieving. They are in such pain that they just want to get back to normal again. But what they don’t realize is that it is going to be a new normal for them.

The pain will subside and they will start to feel better. Life will resume its familiar pace but it won’t be the same. It can’t be without their loved one in the world.

And that’s okay. It’s just different. It’s not recovering your size and shape after being squeezed; it’s adapting to a new shape.

Coming to terms with change

I’ve been doing some research on resiliency among the elderly and I continue to find references to this very idea. Our elders are faced with so many losses on a personal, physical level along with the loss of many good friends. In order to be resilient, they have to practice constant adaptation.

One study said it this way: “The developmental goal is to survive loss, come to terms with change, and integrate oneself into a new social context and identity.”*

This idea of becoming comfortable with change and a new identity is an important one for all of us as we face the squeezes in life of loss and adversity.

I think this is actually a helpful and hopeful idea. Sometimes, it is just too hard to go back to being the same person you were before calamity struck. Allow the squeezes of life to shape you into a new person. Not without scars, perhaps, but wiser for the pressure you’ve endured.

Takeaway points: Resilience is about bouncing back, but sometimes you’re a different person after you’ve recovered from a difficult time. It’s good to be aware of this and welcome the the different you that has survived one of life’s tough squeezes.

Have you ever come out different on the other side of a life-squeeze?

*SqueBar-Tur, L. & Levy-Shiff, R. (2000). Coping wiht losses and past trauma in old age: The Separation-Individuation perspective. Journal of Personal and Interpersonal Loss, 5, 263-281.


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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.