Resilience In Positive Psychology (Facts, Easily Explained)

Your resilience can help you live up to 10 years more, says science.

Though the word resilience is used in psychology, ecology, and engineering, the meaning remains the same — resistance and recovery from distress.

What Is Resilience In Psychology

Resilience in psychology is the human ability to bounce back better from misery or adversity. Resilient people not only recover stronger from a crisis, but often also find meaning in life from the experience. Ledesma (2014) defines psychological resilience as “the ability to bounce back from adversity, frustration, and misfortune.”

Resilience has many names: hardiness, toughness, spunk, tenacity, fortitude, mettle, grit, and strength. Psychologists use the term to mean the human ability to recover from hardships and misfortunes.

Resilient people fight stressful events, pull through those experiences, and grow from them.

The good thing is that resilience is not a quality only some of us are born with. We all have resilience, albeit some more and others less.

Moreover, experts assure us it is a skill that we can make stronger with practice, like any other skill.

Our natural capacity for growth after a stressful event is quite remarkable. Called post-traumatic growth (PTG), it means becoming a more capable person after a traumatic experience (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004).

According to Ann Masten, a professor at the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development:

Resilience is the “capacity of a dynamic system to adapt successfully to disturbances that threaten system function, viability, or future development of the system.”


Humans are not just capable of handling the fall, but also rising and coming back stronger after the fall.

Meaning of Resilience In Positive Psychology

In positive psychology, resilience means the ability to —

  • put up a brave face in times of adversity and hard times,
  • use the available strengths and resources to resist and cope,
  • recover and flourish from the event and experience.

Resilient people frequently find a purpose in their adverse experiences and grow more capable out of them. The German philosopher Nietzsche knew about it, and said:

What does not kill me makes me stronger.

All of us can learn to be more resilient. But when a person gives in to the view they cannot build resilience, they become more prone to accept vulnerability and defeat easily.

What Resilience Does Not Mean

Resilience does not mean we reject our negative and unpleasant emotions.

When we deny our negative emotions, we unconsciously yield to them. This downgrades our resilience. However, when we accept them and allow them to flow over us, we take back control and begin the process of recovering from the situation causing them.

Feeling and expressing our negative emotions is a sign of our mental strength. And that grows our resilience against them.

Why It Is Important To Have Resilience

Why is it important for us to bounce back?

Resilience is important as it gives us the strength to process and overcome hardships.

Those who lack strong resilience can buckle under pressure, and turn to unhealthy ways to cope with stress. Resilient people are better able to handle adversity and rebuild their lives after any catastrophe.

Resilience is important because:

  • it enables us to develop strategies for shielding ourselves against catastrophic experiences,
  • it helps us to hold on steadfast in our lives during traumatic and stressful times,
  • it serves us to guard ourselves against some serious mental health issues like depression and suicide.

Resilience is also one of the most essential traits of happy people. And we humans are good at ultimately finding our way to happiness.

Without resilience, the human species couldn’t have survived 200,000 years of disasters and adversities, and grown into the most intelligent beings on this earth.

Resilience is a natural part of the human survival experience after any major stressful event, such as the Coronavirus pandemic.

How One Maverick Psychologist, Bonanno, Changed Our Views On Resilience

A psychology professor at Columbia University, and pioneering researcher in the field of bereavement and trauma, George A. Bonanno revolutionized the field of resilience.

Bonanno found the way most of us respond to losses and traumas was not at all like what other experts thought.

Until Bonanno arrived at the scene, psychologists widely held that people rarely develop resilience soon after a traumatic experience.

They thought that people who did not show a marked reaction to the loss before growing back to their normal selves were either lying to themselves or repressing their emotions. Bonanno changed it all.

Bonanno bust the myth that humans must mope before they could cope.

The maverick Bonanno led a team that surveyed 2,752 New Yorkers after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. They found that 65% of participants had either none or only one symptom of PTSD for six months.

Further, more than half of those who helped with the 9/11 rescue effort, or were at the disaster site during the attack, also reported few or no symptoms of PTSD.

Bonanno drew three path-breaking conclusions from the study:

  1. Resilience is different from recovery.
  2. Resilience is a common, not rare, trait.
  3. There are multiple pathways to resilience.

“Resilience is the core experience of human grief and trauma reactions,” says Bonanno. What he meant was people are resilient even while they are facing extreme stress or loss. They do not wait until the event is over to start their coping process.

Bonanno also shook the earth by claiming that grief therapy does not offer any overall positive benefit. He pointed out that it does more harm than good, as about one-third of the people become worse on grief therapy.

When the worst possible news breaks, you will almost certainly get through it unscathed. Almost everyone does.

— George A. Bonanno (The Other Side of Sadness)

Bonanno found while most can figure out effective ways to handle life’s challenges, some do so in messy ways. He coined the phrase “coping ugly” for such processes.

In “coping ugly,” resilient people often develop characteristics that are not altogether their natural selves. It happens while they are trying to control their situation and do something about it.

For example, people recovering from a calamity may suddenly start to behave as narcissists.

2 Limitations of Resilience

Positive psychologists have unearthed two limiting features of resilience:

  1. All are not equal: Even when we all have resilience, we do not have it in equal amounts. Some people are more resilient than all others.
  2. Less harsh is better: We are more likely to bounce back better when stressful events are less harsh and less often. And when we have people around to support us.

3 P’s That Block Resilience

Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, notes that pessimists tend to believe bad events will last long, will undermine everything they do, and are the ones at fault.

These are the 3 P’s that hinder our growth after adversity:

  1. Permanence — that this tough time will last forever
  2. Pervasiveness — that this will affect all areas of our life
  3. Personalization — that it has affected us the most, like no one else

We can and must learn to push back these 3 P’s that hampers our recovery and resilience.

4 Types of Resilience

Jane McGonigal, a gamer scientist, in her TEDx talk tells us that there are four types of resilience. She said people who boost these four behaviors regularly live up to 10 years longer than those who don’t.

Here are the four types:

  1. Physical resilience — you are physically resilient if you don’t sit still longer than an hour at a time. You keep moving, especially when you don’t feel like it. I don’t know about you, but as I age, the temptation to sit on the couch or to nurse a pain by not moving is high. A physically resilient person works out the kinks and makes physical activity a priority.
  2. Mental resilience — you are mentally resilient if you test your brain. Do puzzles. Play board games. Try new hobbies. Read new books. Stay engaged in work. Grow a garden. In short, mentally resilient folks stay challenged.
  3. Emotional resilience — you are emotionally resilient if you engage in regular reflection on things beautiful, fanciful, and visionary. Emotional resilience exercises our capability to imagine, dream, plan and create. It fortifies the soul. Emotional resilience allows us to find positive things even when circumstances stay grim.
  4. Social resilience — when you stay in touch with others socially, you are being socially resilient. Hugs and handshakes stimulate the brain. Having a friend who you look forward to visiting and taking the initiative to stay engaged is social resilience.

5 Skills of Resilience

According to Glyn Blackett of Stress Resilient Mind, the five key resilience skills are:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Attention – flexibility & stability of focus
  3. Letting go (1) – physical
  4. Letting go (2) – mental
  5. Accessing & sustaining positive emotion

According to Leonie Hurrell, however, there are seven key skills of resilience:

  1. Resilient people are autonomous
  2. Resilient people have a realistic awareness of self
  3. Resilient people are adaptable
  4. Resilient people are optimistic
  5. Resilient people are pragmatic
  6. Resilient people are socially connected
  7. Resilient people demonstrate self-compassion

6 Competencies of Resilience

Master Resilience Training (MRT) is a 10-day resilience-training program that is offered by the United States Army. It is a joint effort between the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and the United States Army.

The goal of this training is to build resilience in non-commissioned army officers. Learn more about it here.

The resilience training curriculum is designed to build the following six core competencies of resilience:

  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Self-Regulation
  3. Optimism
  4. Mental Agility
  5. Strengths of Character
  6. Connection

7 C’s of Resilience

Pediatrician Kenneth Ginsburg specializes in building resilience in kids. He developed the 7 C’s model to offer a practical approach for parents and communities to prepare children to thrive.

If you are a parent, then find time to read his award-winning book Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings to help build resilience in kids from the age of 18 months to 18 years.

Here’s a brief introduction to Ginsburg’s 7 C’s (competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control):

  1. Competence — Competence is the ability to handle situations effectively. Parents can encourage children to focus and build on their strengths. They can let children make some safe mistakes so they could correct themselves.
  2. Confidence — Confidence is the solid belief in one’s own abilities. Parents can encourage cultivating personal qualities like fairness, integrity, persistence, and kindness. They can Praise children honestly and specifically.
  3. Connection — Connection is giving your child your unconditional love, and empathizing with their positive and negative emotions. Parents can allow their children to have and express all kinds of emotions. They should not encourage them to suppress their unpleasant feelings.
  4. Character — Character is the fundamental sense of right and wrong so that the child is prepared to contribute to the world positively. Parents can encourage children to consider right versus wrong when making their choices. They should always be a role model to the child, as actions speak louder than words.
  5. Contribution — Children get a sense of purpose when they see how important are their contributions to the world, and this motivates them to take similar positive actions in the future. Parents can teach their children the value of serving others who lack the good things in life. They can find opportunities for children to volunteer.
  6. Coping — Children who learn to cope with stress effectively become better at overcoming life’s challenges. They can learn to avoid unnecessary anxiety. Parents can avoid reacting emotionally when they feel overwhelmed. They can teach the children the importance of exercise, nutrition, sleep, and relaxation.
  7. Control — Children who get some control over the decisions that affect their lives, become more resilient as they know they have internal control. Parents can encourage their children to recognize and celebrate their successes, small or big. They can reward a carrying out of responsibility with increased freedom.

• Resource for understanding resilience:

How To Measure Resilience

There are about 20 validated resilience scales. We can only mention a few here. To find out more about how the scales hold up against each other, check out this paper.

RSA: Resilience Scale for Adults is a self-reported scale developed by Friborg, Hjemdal, Rosenvinge, & Martinussen, in 2003 to measure individuals’ protective resilience elements. Many scholars have used it successfully and applauded its validity and reliability.

CD-RISC: The Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC) was developed by Kathryn Connor and Jonathan Davidson in 2003 to measure resilience. It consists of 25 items:

  1. Able to adapt to change.
  2. Close and secure relationships.
  3. Sometimes fate or God can help.
  4. Can deal with whatever comes.
  5. Past success gives confidence for a new challenge.
  6. See the humorous side of things.
  7. Coping with stress strengthens.
  8. Tend to bounce back after illness or hardship.
  9. Things happen for a reason.
  10. Best effort no matter what.
  11. When things look hopeless, you don’t give up.
  12. Know where to turn for help.
  13. Under pressure, focus, and think clearly.
  14. Prefer to take the lead in problem-solving.
  15. Not easily discouraged by failure.
  16. Think of yourself as a strong person.
  17. Make unpopular or difficult decisions.
  18. Can handle unpleasant feelings.
  19. Have to act on a hunch.
  20. Strong sense of purpose.
  21. In control of your life.
  22. You like challenges.
  23. You work to attain your goals.
  24. Pride in your achievements.
  25. You can achieve your goals.

BRS: There’s also The Brief Resilience Scale. The BRS is a reliable means of assessing resilience as the ability to bounce back or recover from stress and provides information about people coping with health-related stress.

The BRS is negatively related to anxiety, depression, negative affect, and physical symptoms when other resilience measures and optimism, social support, and Type D personality (high negative affect and high social inhibition) were controlled.

Resilience In The Shadow of A Pandemic

The Covid pandemic had tested us to our extreme limits.

It had blurred and warped our imaginations because the future didn’t seem anything like our known past.

In quarantine, it had broken us from the inside, brick by brick. To start with, it had melted our weekends and weekdays into a crazy haze. Our constant keepers during these times of uncertainty were fear and gloom.

We were in fear because we honestly couldn’t fathom what any of our tomorrows held. And as human beings, we didn’t like uncertainty.

We were a planet of lonely humans living uncertain lives.

Humans would rather be in pain than be kept in the dark about the future.

We didn’t know how or when it was going to end. We didn’t know how much more we had to endure.

We were in gloom because we had lost most of our sense of ordinary life and human touch.

We seemed to have figured out how to find solace in non-physical proximity while maintaining social distance.

We suddenly realized what it meant to feel a stranger pass by without looking up from our phones. We understood how good it felt to be in a city with humans so close that we could touch them.

It began as if someone had unlocked Pandora’s box and let all of the world’s grief loose. Then we realized what we were left with was exactly what Pandora had as the last thing in her box — hope.

Our new hope, as ever, was the time-honored promise: this, too, shall pass.

What we did until that day came, when it was all over, we did with our finest resilience. It was the strength we would show as one humanity.

It was humanity as a whole fighting a shape-shifting virus.

Final Words

(Resilience is) The ability to see yourself in the dark abyss of failure, humiliation or depression and bounce back not only to where you were before but to even greater height of success, happiness, and inner strength.

— Everly Jr, Strouse, McCormack, 2015

In tough times, when the future isn’t something we can look forward to with absolute hope, we turn to our past for strength.

We find many moments of resilience in our past. Looking back, we realize that our difficult emotions were necessary. We didn’t choose those situations but we overcame them and emerged stronger as a result.

In the future too, we will be resilient enough to adapt to new norms and emerge stronger and more capable.

Resilience will be our envoy to a brave new world we shall step into now.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher, who writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).

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When it comes to mental well-being, you don't have to do it alone. Going to therapy to feel better is a positive choice. Therapists can help you work through your trauma triggers and emotional patterns.