15 Definitions of Resilience From Psychology

Before we go into the psychological definitions of resilience, 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.

Resilience Definitions
Resilience: Definitions

Resilience In Psychology

Resilience means the ability in people to bounce back from adversity.

In the book The Handbook of Positive Psychology, Shane Lopez and Charles “Rick” Snyder write what 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.

By the way, if you’re new to it, here’s a definitive collection of expert speak to understand What Is Positive Psychology?

The 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.

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Resilience = Recovering + Sustaining + Growing

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

  • Recovery is marked by a temporary period of emotional instability (as depression or PTSD) for a few months to years, followed by gradual return to healthy functioning.
  • Resilience, whereas, is marked by maintaining relatively stable, normal levels of psychological and physical functioning throughout the negative life situation.
Recovery vs Resilience
Recovery vs Resilience

Fifteen Definitions of Resilience In Psychology: Each In A Sentence

In relation to humans, psychologic literature proposes many definitions of 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 — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stresses. — 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

3. Psychological resilience can be defined as individual’s ability to withstand and adapt to adverse and traumatic events. — Walker, Pfingst, Carnevali, Sgoifo, Nalivaiko. In The Search for Integrative Biomarker of 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

5. Resilience: The capacity of a dynamic system to adapt successfully to disturbances that threaten system function, viability, or development of that system. — Ann S. Masten. Resilience in Development – Early Childhood As A Window of Opportunity

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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, behavioural 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 defence 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

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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 on-going 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

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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

Final Words

Resilience means making a comeback after falling on difficult times.

It’s not that the resilient people are not untouched by difficult times — in fact, they may be deeply affected by the traumatic event, and may experience depression, distress, hypervigilance, and repetitive memories — but they carry on with their daily lives despite of it.

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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Author Bio: Sandip Roy is a psychology writer, happiness researcher, and medical doctor. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related topics.

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