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Resilience Defined

What is resilience?

The term resilience most commonly refers to an individual’s ability to overcome adversity and continue his or her normal development. That definition, however, isn’t actually well-supported by the research. In fact, resilience is very seldom an individual quality at all. Resilience is instead a process.


Qualities of an individual (such as one’s personality, talents, and motivation to change) interact with the opportunities that are available and accessible to express one’s personal strengths. In this sense, resilience is our ability to navigate to the positive experiences that sustain our wellbeing. Of course, to navigate means that we have a place to make our way towards. Put simply, we are much more resilient when we are provided by our families, schools, employers and communities with opportunities to experience wellbeing and experience ourselves as competent and in control of our lives.


Good Resources rather than personal strength

This understanding of resilience shifts the definition of positive development under adversity from a focus on individual strengths to the need for good resources that make people, young and old, resilient. Human services as diverse as mental health care institutions and schools, safe communities, good government, a loving family (in whatever form that takes), and opportunities that encourage hope for the future, are among the dozens of potential sources of resilience.

This more relational understanding of wellbeing embedded in a social-ecological framework reminds us resilience requires that individuals need more than personal strengths, no matter how plentiful those are.

When people are under atypical amounts of stress, those who show resilience are those who are able to interact with an environment with the capacity to make resources that bolster well-being available and accessible. Individual qualities are important to resilience, but so too are the resources provided by families, schools, communities and governments. When these resources are provided in ways that individuals value, they are even more likely to help people cope well with adversity.

In summary, resilience is the result of both successful navigation to resources and negotiation for resources to be provided in meaningful ways. Of course, the better the environment responds, the more likely individuals are to experience resilience.

To find out more about resilience, please visit the Resilience Research Centre website www.resilienceresearch.org.

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