What Is Resilience? Definition, Types, Building Resiliency, Benefits, and Resources
People face all kinds of adversity in life. There are personal crises, such as illness, loss of a loved one, abuse, bullying, job loss, and financial instability.
There is the shared reality of tragic events in the news, such as terrorist attacks, mass shootings, natural disasters, and of course the COVID-19 pandemic.
People have to learn to cope with and work through very challenging life experiences.
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Resilience theory refers to the ideas surrounding how people are affected by and adapt to things adversity, change, loss, and risk.
Being resilient does not mean that people don’t experience stress, emotional upheaval, and suffering. Some people equate resilience with mental toughness, but demonstrating resilience includes working through emotional pain and suffering.
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Resilience isn’t a fixed trait. Flexibility, adaptability, and perseverance can help people tap into their resilience by changing certain thoughts and behaviors. Research shows that students who believe that both intellectual abilities and social attributes can be developed show a lower stress response to adversity and improved performance. (1)
Dr. Sood, who is a member of the Everyday Health Wellness Advisory Board, believes that resilience can be defined in terms of five principles:
Top Factors of Resilience
Developing resilience is both complex and personal. It involves a combination of inner strengths and outer resources, and there isn’t a universal formula for becoming more resilient. All people are different: While one person might develop symptoms of depression or anxiety following a traumatic event, another person might not report any symptoms at all.
A combination of factors contributes to building resilience, and there isn’t a simple to-do list to work through adversity. In one longitudinal study, protective factors for adolescents at risk for depression, such as family cohesion, positive self-appraisals, and good interpersonal relations, were associated with resilient outcomes in young adulthood. (2)
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While individuals process trauma and adversity in different ways, there are certain protective factors that help build resilience by improving coping skills and adaptability. These factors include:
- Social Support Research published in 2015 in the journal Ecology and Society showed that social systems that provide support in times of crisis or trauma support resilience in the individual. (3) Social support can include immediate or extended family, community, friends, and organizations.
- Realistic Planning The ability to make and carry out realistic plans helps individuals play to their strengths and focus on achievable goals.
- Self-Esteem A positive sense of self and confidence in one’s strengths can stave off feelings of helplessness when confronted with adversity.
- Coping Skills Coping and problem-solving skills help empower a person who has to work through adversity and overcome hardship.
- Communication Skills Being able to communicate clearly and effectively helps people seek support, mobilize resources, and take action.
- Emotional Regulation The capacity to manage potentially overwhelming emotions (or seek assistance to work through them) helps people maintain focus when overcoming a challenge.
Research on resilience theory shows that it is imperative to manage an individual’s immediate environment and promote protective factors while addressing demands and stressors that the individual faces.
(4) In other words, resilience isn’t something people tap into only during overwhelming moments of adversity.
It builds as people encounter all kinds of stressors on a daily basis, and protective factors can be nurtured.
Why Is Resilience Important?
Resilience is what gives people the emotional strength to cope with trauma, adversity, and hardship. Resilient people utilize their resources, strengths, and skills to overcome challenges and work through setbacks.
People who lack resilience are more ly to feel overwhelmed or helpless, and rely on unhealthy coping strategies (such as avoidance, isolation, and self-medication). One study showed that patients who had attempted suicide had significantly lower resilience scale scores than patients who had never attempted suicide. (5)
Resilient people do experience stress, setbacks, and difficult emotions, but they tap into their strengths and seek help from support systems to overcome challenges and work through problems. Resilience empowers them to accept and adapt to a situation and move forward.
Resilience is “the core strength you use to lift the load of life,” says Sood.
What Are the 7 Cs of Resilience?
Pediatrician Ken Ginsburg, MD, who specializes in adolescent medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, developed the 7 Cs model of resilience to help kids and teens build the skills to be happier and more resilient.
The 7 Cs model is centered around two key points:
- Young people live up or down to the expectations that are set for them and need adults who love them unconditionally and hold them to high expectations.
- How we model resilience for young people is far more important than what we say about it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics summarizes the 7 Cs as follows:
- Competence This is the ability to know how to handle situations effectively. To build competence, individuals develop a set of skills to help them trust their judgments and make responsible choices.
- Confidence Dr. Ginsburg says that true self-confidence is rooted in competence. Individuals gain confidence by demonstrating competence in real-life situations.
- Connection Close ties to family, friends, and community provide a sense of security and belonging.
- Character Individuals need a fundamental sense of right and wrong to make responsible choices, contribute to society, and experience self-worth.
- Contribution Ginsburg says that having a sense of purpose is a powerful motivator. Contributing to one’s community reinforces positive reciprocal relationships.
- Coping When people learn to cope with stress effectively, they are better prepared to handle adversity and setbacks.
- Control Developing an understanding of internal control helps individuals act as problem-solvers instead of victims of circumstance. When individuals learn that they can control the outcomes of their decisions, they are more ly to view themselves as capable and confident. (6)
The 7 Cs of resilience illustrate the interplay between personal strengths and outside resources, regardless of age.