Resilience: Psychological Definitions + Inspirational Quotes

Resilience Definitions Quotes
Resilience: Definitions & Quotes

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.

10 Scientific Ways To Build Resilience (APA)

Resilience is not a fixed trait. It is dynamic, and we can develop and build it in ourselves.

The American Psychological Association (APA) suggests 10 ways to build resilience.

  1. to maintain good relationships with close family members, friends and others
  2. to avoid seeing crises or stressful events as unbearable problems
  3. to accept circumstances that cannot be changed
  4. to develop realistic goals and move towards them
  5. to take decisive actions in adverse situations
  6. to look for opportunities of self-discovery after a struggle with loss
  7. to develop self-confidence
  8. to keep a long-term perspective and consider the stressful event in a broader context
  9. to maintain a hopeful outlook, expecting good things and visualizing what is wished
  10. to take care of one’s mind and body, exercising regularly, paying attention to one’s own needs and feelings

Resilience In Positive 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, 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, here’s a definitive collection of expert speak on What Is Positive Psychology?

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.

The resilient people also often find meaning in the experience and grow from it. Resilience is not only about recovering, but also about sustaining and growing.

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

15 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:


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Quotes To Inspire You To Bounce Back Better

10 Incredibly Inspiring Quotes On Resilience


Grief and resilience live together.

Michelle Obama


A good half of the art of living is resilience.

Alain de Botton


Resiliency is the ability to spring back from and successfully adapt to adversity.

Nan Henderson


Resilience is based on compassion for ourselves as well as compassion for others.

Sharon Salzberg


Resilience or hardiness is the ability to adapt to new circumstances when life presents the unpredictable.

Salvatore R. Maddi


Resilience is overcoming adversity, whilst also potentially changing, or even dramatically transforming, (aspects of) that adversity.

Angie Hart


Resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity — and we can build it. It isn’t about having a backbone. It’s about strengthening the muscles around our backbone.

Sheryl Sandberg


Resilience isn’t a single skill. It’s a variety of skills and coping mechanisms. To bounce back from bumps in the road as well as failures, you should focus on emphasizing the positive.

Jean Chatzky


Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.

Elizabeth Edwards


To be rendered powerless does not destroy your humanity. Your resilience is your humanity. The only people who lose their humanity are those who believe they have the right to render another human being powerless. They are the weak. To yield and not break, that is incredible strength.

Hannah Gadsby

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The Serenity Prayer

Final Words

We absolutely can’t close this without the famous quote on resilience by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche:

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

Sheryl Sandberg, the billionaire philanthropist and Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, writes in the book she co-authored with Adam Grant, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, And Finding Joy:

We all encounter hardships. Some we see coming; others take us by surprise. It can be as tragic as the sudden death of a child, as heartbreaking as a relationship that unravels, or as disappointing as a dream that goes unfulfilled. The question is: When these things happen, what do we do next?

Finally, three sentences that wisely summarize the spirit of resilience comes from Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor, and author of the all-time favorite classic Man’s Search for Meaning:

1. But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.

2. When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

3. Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.

• Tip: Exercise can increase your resilience as well as your happiness. Find out more.

Exercise and Happiness

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Author Bio: Sandip Roy is 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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