Resilience is an increasingly common term used in concept in various branches of psychology, in particular developmental psychology, severe mental illness (SMI), trauma studies, disaster response, social psychology, and “positive” psychology. Across all of these areas of psychological investigation, resilience refers to the human ability to have withstood, or to be able to withstand, challenge, crisis, stress, or trauma of differing types.
In their 1998 work, researchers Ann Masten and J. Douglas Coatsworth conceptualize resilience as “manifested competence in the context of significant challenges to adaptation or development” (p. 206). Thus they believe, as Nancy Davis noted in 1999, that there needs to have been a considerable menace to a person or an actual traumatic experience and, in spite of this, the individual’s quality of adjustment or development is nevertheless good.
According to Masten and Coatsworth in 1998, in the area of clinical psychology and psychopathology, Norman Garmezy is considered to be a “peerless pioneer in the study of competence and resilience.” This accolade is the result of his groundbreaking work examining adults with schizophrenia and their functioning that is adaptive as well as dysfunctional and the children of parents with schizophrenia. In investigating the risk factors for these children, vis-à-vis their developing schizophrenia, Garmezy and his colleagues found that while having a parent with schizophrenia does indeed increase an offspring’s likelihood for subsequently developing schizophrenia, they were amazed that their investigation indicated that ninety percent of those they surveyed did not develop the illness. He noted that their subjects upset predictions and, in fact, displayed many qualities that arise from good peer relations, including academic achievement and purposeful goals. Garmezy stated in 1971, “Were we to study the forces that move such children to survival and to adaptation, the long range benefits to our society might be far more significant than our many efforts to construct models of primary prevention designed to curtail the incidence of vulnerability” (p.114). He went on to explore what it was that seemed to protect these offspring and, as a parallel result, the scientific investigation of resilience began.
Subsequently, developmental researchers have conducted studies that are not just within psychopathological areas, but other stressful environments such as neglectful or abusive parents, war zones and environments of high poverty, or children who have physical illness. One of the leading authorities in the field, Michael Rutter, noted concerns with early conceptualizations of resilience, with individuals being referred to as “invulnerable” or “invincible.” Davis reports in 1999 that Rutter’s point is that vulnerability to stress is a continuum, not all-or-none, and some people may display better resilience in response to some stressors, but this may not be uniform across all stressful situations or at all times. Thus, someone is not very likely to be invincible in the face of all adversities. Rutter notes in 1991 that the features that contribute to resiliency will vary in response to risk mechanisms and that resiliency may be contingent as much on social context as on the individual. As a result, rather than being a static characteristic, resiliency is affected by developmental changes (pp. 1–2).
What may seem a rather straightforward concept or construct may indeed not be. In fact, Suniya Luthar notes in 1993 that “overt social competence among high risk individuals is not necessarily paralleled by superior adjustment on covert mental health indices” (p. 441). This may seem surprising or even counter-intuitive. For example, in her study of adolescents who appeared socially competent and who were in stressful situations, Luthar found that they actually self-reported experiencing high levels of mood problems such as anxiety and depression.
Marian Radke-Yarrow and Elisa Brown conducted a 10-year longitudinal study of children with parents who were diagnosed with mood disorders, which they reported in 1993. When they compared resilient offspring to control offspring, they discovered that 56 percent suffered from somatic complaints, versus only 21 percent of the cohorts. This raises the question asked by George Vaillant: “Does resilience merely mean survival in the face of vulnerability and multiple risk factors, or should we think of resilience only when it also permits happiness? Is it enough that the vulnerable patient survives the operation and that the orphan survives the concentration camp, or, in addition, should they be able to run and laugh and feel joy as well?” (1993, p. 285).
Resiliency is much less focused on an individual’s deficits or psychopathology in the face of trauma or adverse conditions. For example, Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith consider resiliency to be a “self-righting capacity” involving not only the individual but including the support that comes from loved ones, schools, or even communities that all conspire to aid in one’s healthy responses or healing. Thus, when adversity strikes, the individual is able to compensate or “self-right.” They believe that all people have some innate self-righting capacity (Werner and Smith 1992, p. 202).
The Ego-Resiliency (ER) construct views individuals as being able to demonstrate “resourceful adaptation to changing circumstances and environmental contingencies, (ability to) analy(ize) the ‘goodness of fit’ between situational demands and behavioral possibility, and (have an) … available repertoire of problem-solving strategies,” as reported by Jeanne H. Block and Jack Block in 1980 (p. 48). In 1996 Eva Klohnen summarized characteristics of resilient individuals as including the ability to be happy and contented, with a sense of direction and purpose; the capacity for productive work and a sense of competence and environmental mastery; emotional security; self-acceptance; self-knowledge; a realistic and undistorted perception of oneself, others, and one’s surroundings; interpersonal adequacy and the capacity for warm and caring relating to others and for intimacy and respect; confident optimism; autonomous and productive activity; interpersonal insight and warmth; and skilled expressiveness.
Resilience, as conceptualized as Ego-Resiliency, has been measured using the California Adult Q-Set (CAQ), as Jack Block noted in 1978. The Q-set is a number of atheoretical, descriptive personality items used in the CAQ. This instrument used a Q-sort methodology and is thus fairly time consuming. A Q-sort is a sorting task made up of descriptive personality characteristics on cards that require a subject to sort or rank order the cards from high to low relevance to the subject’s self-perceived personality characteristics (Stephenson, 1936). In 1996 Klohnen developed an empirically derived, 29-item self-report scale that has good internal consistency, good reliability, substantial convergent validity with the CAQ-based observer measure, and solid external criterion validity with another index of psychological adjustment.
Risk factors in resilience research are defined by Jon Rolf and Jeannette Johnson in 1990 as “those variables that have proven or presumed effects that can directly increase the likelihood of a maladaptive outcome” (p. 387). Various studies issued by Peter Fonagy, Miriam Steele, Howard Steele, Anna Higgitt, and Mary Target in 1994, by Masten and Coatsworth in 1998, Lois Barclay Murphy and Alice Moriarty in 1976, and Werner in 1996 have discovered an almost limitless number of risk and stress factors. These factors include but are not limited to genetic abnormalities, developmental delays or irregularities, lack of education, poverty, parents with chronic or mental illness, death of a close family member, familial violence, and war, as well as constitutional vulnerabilities such as sensory-motor deficits and insufficient impulse control.
Masten and Coatsworth noted in 1998 that resilience studies are “remarkably consistent in pointing to qualities of child and environment that are associated with competence or better psychosocial functioning during or following adverse experiences” (p. 212). For the individual these include good intellectual functioning; an easygoing disposition; self-efficacy; self-confidence; high self-esteem; talents; and faith. Familial qualities include a child having a close relationship with a caring parent figure; authoritative parenting that provides warmth, structure, and high expectations; socioeconomic advantages; and connections to extended supportive family networks. Outside the family, bonds to pro-social adults, connections to social organizations, and attendance at effective schools also contribute to an individual’s resiliency.
Naimah Weinberg, Elizabeth Rahdert, James Colliver, and Meyer Glantz’s 1998 meta-analysis suggests that “while there is no single ‘resilience’ trait,” such qualities as those noted above seem to hold some protective ability. Edith Grotberg, through her works in 1995 and 1998, offers a different conceptualization from her international work, suggesting that to overcome adversities, people draw upon as many as fifteen sources of resilience. They include such factors as having people around that are trusted and loving, being a person that people like and love, and being able to find someone to help when needed, for example.
A review of the literature compiled by Davis in 1999 resulted in a list of predictors structured within areas of competency. These issues should be interpreted with the caveat that “all of these characteristics are only known to correlate with resilience; they are not necessarily causes. In fact, Davis says they could just as well be consequences of success rather than causes of it” (1999). Having more is better, but absence is not catastrophic.
- Physical Competence: Good health, easy temperament, and good prenatal care.
- Social and Relational Competence: Secure parental attachment and basic trust, ability to reflect upon the mental states of oneself and others, ability and opportunity to recruit actively people who can help, strong ability to make and keep a few good friends, positive peer relationships, interpersonal awareness or role-taking abilities, and empathy.
- Cognitive Competence: Average to above average intelligence quotient and emotional (intelligence) quotient, good language acquisition and reading ability, capacity to plan/have foresight, good problem-solving abilities, positive future expectations, internal locus of control, assertiveness, and optimism.
- Emotional Competence: Emotional regulation, ability to delay gratification, realistically high self-esteem, sense of autonomy, ability to think and work creativity, and a sense of humor.
- Moral Competence: The ability and opportunity to contribute.
- Spiritual Competence: Having faith that one’s own life matters, and conviction that there is a meaning to what one does.
A number of social support and stress inoculation programs were developed in the 1990s. These programs used methods of outdoor education, classroom simulations, and other methods in community intervention efforts. Davis noted in 1999 that these programs include family skills training, strengthening families program, Focus On Families, Families and Schools Together, Family Effectiveness Training, behavioral family therapy, structural family therapy, functional family therapy, Parenting Adolescents Wisely, Kempe Prevention Research Center for Family and Child Health, Dare to Be You, Be A Star, Learn and Service America, Say It Straight, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America, Adventure Education, and Outward Bound.
In 2002 the American Psychological Association developed a program that is publicly available titled The Road to Resilience. It involves a combination of media (television such as the Discovery Health Channel, Web sites, printed materials) through which psychologists could gain training and provide lectures in communities.
SEE ALSO Child Development; Family Functioning; Parenting Styles; Personality; Psychotherapy; Schooling; Self-Concept; Self-Efficacy; Self-Esteem; Temperament
American Psychological Association. 2002. The Road to Resilience. http://helping.apa.org/featuredtopics/feature.php?id=6.
Block, Jack. 1978. The Q-sort Method in Personality Assessment and Psychiatric Research. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press. (Orig. pub. 1961).
Block, Jeanne H., and Jack Block. 1980. The Role of Ego-control and Ego-resiliency in the Organization of Behavior. In Minnesota Symposium on Child Psychology, vol. 12, ed. W. A. Collins, 39–101. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Davis, Nancy J. 1999. Resilience Working Paper: Status of the Research and Research-based Programs. http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/schoolviolence/5-28Resilience.asp.
Fonagy, Peter, Miriam Steele, Howard Steele, Anna Higgitt, and Mary Target. 1994. The Emanuel Miller Memorial Lecture 1992: The Theory and Practice of Resilience. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 34 (2): 231–257.
Garmezy, Norman. 1971. Vulnerability Research and the Issue of Primary Prevention. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 41: 101–116.
Grotberg, Edith H. 1995. A Guide to Promoting Resilience in Children: Strengthening the Human Spirit. The Hague, Netherlands: Bernard Van Leer Foundation. http://resilnet.uiuc.edu/library/grotb95b.html.
Grotberg, Edith H. 1998. I Am, I Have, I Can: What Families Worldwide Taught Us about Resilience. Reaching Today’s Youth (Spring): 36–39.
Klohnen, Eva C. 1996. Conceptual Analysis and Measurement of the Construct of Ego-resiliency. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 70 (5): 1067–1079.
Luthar, Suniya S. 1993. Annotation: Methodological and Conceptual Issues in Research on Childhood Resilience. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 34: 441–454.
Masten, Ann S., and J. Douglas Coatsworth. 1998. The Development of Competence in Favorable and Unfavorable Environments: Lessons from Research on Successful Children. American Psychologist 53 (2): 205–220.
Murphy, Lois Barclay, and Alice Moriarty. 1976. Vulnerability, Coping and Growth: From Infancy to Adolescence. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Radke-Yarrow, Marian, and Elisa Brown. 1993. Resilience and Vulnerability in Children of Multiple-risk Families. Development and Psychopathology 5: 581–592.
Rolf, Jon, and Jeannette Johnson. 1990. Protected or Vulnerable: The Challenges of AIDS to Developmental Psychopathology. In Risk and Protective Factors in the Development of Psychopathology, eds. Jon Rolf, Ann S. Masten, Dante Nicchetti, Keith H. Nuechterlein, and Sheldon Weintraub, 384–404. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Rutter, Michael. 1991. Resilience: Some Conceptual Considerations. Institute of Mental Health Initiatives Conference on Fostering Resilience. Washington, DC, December 5–6.
Stephenson, W. 1936. Introduction to Inverted Factor Analysis, with Some Applications to Studies in Orexis. Journal of Educational Psychology 27: 353–367.
Vaillant, George E. 1993. The Wisdom of the Ego. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Weinberg, Naimah Z., Elizabeth Rahdert, James Colliver, and Meyer Glantz. 1998. Adolescent Substance Abuse: A Review of the Past 10 Years. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 37 (3): 252–261.
Werner, Emmy E. 1996. Fostering Resiliency in Kids: Overcoming Adversity. Transcript of proceedings of a congressional breakfast seminar, March 29, 1996, sponsored by the Consortium of Social Science Associations, Washington, DC.
Werner, Emmy E., and Ruth S. Smith. 1992. Overcoming the Odds. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Chris E. Stout
"Resiliency." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/resiliency
"Resiliency." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/resiliency
Resilience (re-ZIL-yens) is the ability to overcome difficulty or negative experiences and to rebound or recover quickly from adversity, change, or challenge.
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Abraham Lincoln experienced a number of failures that could have left him feeling sorely defeated. He failed in business as a storekeeper. He failed when he farmed. He lost his sweetheart and his first bid for political office. Running for Congress the first time, he lost. He also lost his bid for the United States Senate. He failed to win the vice presidential nomination in 1856. Despite these striking failures, Lincoln became the sixteenth president of the United States, and many people consider him to be the greatest president in history.
While Lincoln may be one of the most famous examples of a resilient person, millions of people regularly demonstrate resilience within their lives. Resilience reflects an individual’s coping skills, which are the qualities within an individual that allow him or her to recover from difficulty. While research about resiliency is ongoing, scientists have found that strong coping skills most often develop within individuals during their first ten years of life. Positive parenting during a child’s first three years of life contributes to resilience in important ways. However, the need for the ability to bring about change and to find strength for one’s life exists at all times.
Setbacks are temporary
A key element of human resilience is an individual’s ability to see a difficult situation as temporary and passing. The expression “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade” refers to resilience; a resilient person takes something sour and makes it into something positive. Resilient individuals focus on the future and take steps to bring about changes to improve their situations. They have upbeat beliefs and faith in a brighter future. Such positive beliefs include:
- that negative past events do not necessarily predict or determine the future
- that challenges or tragedies are not a constant part of life
- that setbacks are situations that people can overcome
- that setting goals and planning for the future can help in achieving success
- that something good can come from bad
Resilient individuals manage their stress largely by managing themselves and their beliefs. Viewing difficult circumstances as temporary, they hold the view that humans are capable of rising above adversity.
When faced with overwhelming situations, resilient children find a way to stay cool and find a place of safety. Children who are considered resilient seem to bounce back from their difficulties and remain optimistic about the future. However, difficult life events, family stress, illness, and accidents still affect resilient children. No matter how resilient they are, children still need the safety provided by responsible adults.
Frequently, resilient individuals place a high value on education. They view achievement in school as a way to rise out of and above difficulties that might hold others back. One study found that the ability to read at grade level by age ten predicted resilience into adulthood. Often resilient people find something they can do well and then practice doing it so they can enjoy ongoing success.
Another characteristic commonly exhibited by resilient individuals is the ability to enlist support, either from a single individual or from a group. Support prevents a person who is going through tough times from feeling overwhelmingly alone and helps the person understand that difficult circumstances will not last forever. Two important sources of support are religious organizations and therapeutic groups and professionals. Participation in community or religious groups increases resilience by providing connections with others who may have similar beliefs and perspectives for coping with life stresses. A study of 1,500 people in North Carolina over a six-year period found that regular churchgoers had stronger immune systems* than did non-churchgoers. Research also indicates that cognitive-behavioral therapy* and other forms of psychological treatment can help trauma* survivors regain resilience and recover from post-traumatic stress disorder*.
- * immune system
- fights germs and other foreign substances that enter the body.
- * cognitive-behavioral therapy
- is counseling that helps people make changes in thinking and behavior that can bring about emotional healing and improve problem solving.
- * trauma
- (TRAW-muh), in the broadest sense, refers to a wound or injury, whether psychological or physical. It occurs when a person experiences a sudden or violent injury (physical trauma) or encounters a situation that involves intense fear and loss of control (psychological trauma).
- * post-traumatic stress disorder
- is a mental disorder in which people who have survived a terrifying event relive their terror in nightmares, memories, and feelings of fear. It is severe enough to interfere with everyday living and can occur after a natural disaster, military combat, rape, mugging, or other violence.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Desetta, Al, and Sybil Wolin, eds. The Struggle to be Strong: True Stories by Teens About Overcoming Tough Times. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing, 2000. Thirty stories by teens tell how they overcame difficult challenges.
ResilienceNet is a website that provides information for helping children and families overcome adversities. http://resilnet.uiuc.edu
"Resilience." Complete Human Diseases and Conditions. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/resilience
"Resilience." Complete Human Diseases and Conditions. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/resilience
"Resiliency." International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/resiliency
"Resiliency." International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/resiliency
"resilience." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/resilience
"resilience." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/resilience
"resiliency." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/resiliency
"resiliency." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/resiliency