15 Best Definitions of Resilience (By Experts In Psychology)

The road to glory is paved with suffering. What carries you till the end of that is resilience.

Living with resilience means going through hardships with mental toughness. When we call someone resilient, we mean they have overcome adversities, endured pains, and cried their share of tears.

First, let’s go over a few common dictionary definitions of human resilience.

  • The Cambridge Dictionary defines resilience as the ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened.
  • The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines resilience as an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.
  • While, the Oxford Dictionary of English defines resilience as being able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.

The word resilience originates from the Latin verb resilire, or “to leap back” or “to recoil.” The base of resilire is salire, a verb meaning “to leap” that also shows up in another jumpy word — somersault.

Hero’s Journey, a popular form of story structure (seen in films like The Lion King, Star Wars, Avatar, and The Matrix) derived from Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, is actually a story of resilience.

What is Resilience In Psychology

Resilience means the ability of people to bounce back from adversity. In psychology, resilience refers to the set of mental processes that a person must go through to overcome a traumatic event. The eight stages of resilience are defensiveness, finding life balance while facing stress, commitment, comeback, evaluation, meaning, and building of self-positivity.

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Resilience = Recovering + Sustaining + Growing

  • Resilient people not only come out of adversities stronger, but also often find meaning in the experience and grow from it.
  • Resilience is not only about recovering, but also about sustaining and growing.

[Find out our definitive post What Is Positive Psychology?]

Resilience Definitions
Resilience: Definitions

15 Best Definitions of Resilience From Psychology (Each In A Sentence)

Psychological literature proposes many definitions of human resilience. We rummaged through loads of research papers and picked out the following 15 brilliant definitions of Psychological Resilience, each in one sentence, for you:

  • 1. Resilience: The process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats and even significant sources of stress. — American Psychological Association. Building Your Resilience
  • 2. Resilience: The ability of adults in otherwise normal circumstances who are exposed to an isolated and potentially highly disruptive event such as the death of a close relation or a violent or life-threatening situation to maintain relatively stable, healthy levels of psychological and physical functioning, as well as the capacity for generative experiences and positive emotions. — George A. Bonanno. Loss, Trauma, and Human Resilience
  • 4. Resilience: Positive adaptation in the context of significant challenges, variously referring to the capacity for, processes of, or outcomes of successful life-course development during or following exposure to potentially life-altering experiences. — Masten, Cutuli, Herbers, Reed. Resilience in Development
  • 6. Resilient people… possess three characteristics: a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise. — Diane L. Coutu. How Resilience Works
  • 7. In the context of exposure to significant adversity, whether psychological, environmental, or both, resilience is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to health-sustaining resources, including opportunities to experience feelings of well-being, and a condition of the individual’s family, community and culture to provide these health resources and experiences in culturally meaningful ways. — Michael Ungar. Resilience Across Cultures
  • 8. Resilience comprises a set of flexible cognitive, behavioral and emotional responses to acute or chronic adversities which can be unusual or commonplace. — Michael Neenan, Developing Resillience
  • 9. Resilience is the capacity and dynamic process of adaptively overcoming stress and adversity while maintaining normal psychological and physical functioning. — Gang, Adriana, Hagit, Joanna, Solara, Dennis, Aleksander. Understanding Resilience
  • 10. Resilience can be viewed as a defense mechanism, which enables people to thrive in the face of adversity, and improving resilience may be an important target for treatment and prophylaxis. — Davydovac, Stewart, Ritchie, Chaudieu. Resilience and Mental Health
  • 11. The key messages to emerge from the literature are that: most definitions are based around the two core concepts of adversity and positive adaptation, resilience is required in response to different adversities ranging from ongoing daily hassles to major life events, and positive adaptation must be conceptually appropriate to the adversity examined in terms of the domain assessed and the stringency of criteria used. — Fletcher and Sarkar. Psychological Resilience
  • 12. The scope of different definitions vary from quite narrow conceptualizations that focus exclusively on recovery from trauma, through to wider definitions that see resilience as an ongoing protective capability that enables not only reactive recovery but also proactive learning and growth through conquering challenges. — Robertson and Cooper. Resilience
  • 13. Resilience is the integrated adaptation of physical, mental and spiritual aspects in a set of “good or bad” circumstances, a coherent sense of self that is able to maintain normative developmental tasks that occur at various stages of life. — Glenn E Richardson. The Metatheory of Resilience and Resiliency
  • 14. Resilience is the product of a number of developmental processes over time, that has allowed children experience small exposures to adversity or some sort of age-appropriate challenges to develop mastery and continue to develop competently. — Yates, Egeland, Sroufe. Rethinking Resilience
  • 15. The characteristics of resilient individuals: …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. — Eva Klohnen. Conceptual Analysis and Measurement of The Construct of Ego-Resiliency

Resilience As Defined By Positive Psychologists

In The Handbook of Positive Psychology, Shane Lopez and Charles “Rick” Snyder wrote they found in their research on children over four decades that resilience is “positive adaptation during or following significant adversity or risk.”

Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology, says:

How human beings react to extreme adversity is normally distributed. On one end are the people who fall apart into PTSD, depression, and even suicide.

In the middle are most people, who at first react with symptoms of depression and anxiety but within a month or so are, by physical and psychological measures, back where they were before the trauma. That is resilience.

On the other end are people who show post-traumatic growth. They, too, first experience depression and anxiety, often exhibiting full-blown PTSD, but within a year they are better off than they were before the trauma.

What Is A Good Definition of Resilience

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress.” These sources of stress can be family and relationship issues, major health problems, or career and financial difficulties.

APA further says, “As much as resilience involves “bouncing back” from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth.”

And then adds, “While these adverse events … are certainly painful and difficult, they don’t have to determine the outcome of your life. There are many aspects of your life you can control, modify, and grow with. That’s the role of resilience.”

Resilience vs Recovery

There’s a difference between recovery and resilience, though both are responses to a loss or trauma.

Recovery is marked by a temporary period of emotional instability (such as depression or PTSD) for a few months to years, followed by a gradual return to healthy functioning.

Resilience, whereas, is marked by maintaining relatively stable, normal levels of psychological and physical functioning throughout a negative life situation.

Recovery vs Resilience
Recovery vs Resilience

• Resource for understanding resilience: https://online.wellnessinstitute.org/resilience/

Final Words

Resilience means making a comeback after a setback.

It is not that resilient people are unaffected by adversity. In fact, a traumatic event may have a grave impact on them, causing depression, distress, hypervigilance, and repetitive memories. Despite this, they go about their regular lives, and that is resilience.

Exercise can increase your resilience as well as your happiness. Find out more about the brain science behind exercise and happiness.

Exercise and Happiness

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Read more on resilience:

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, mindfulness, and Stoicism.

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