The Psych Central Report

Resilience: The Definition

April 2005

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Every so often, we hear stories about people (adults or children) who have been through a horrible trauma or a tremendous hardship, and are 'scarred for life'. At the other end of the spectrum, we also hear stories of people who have experienced a similar ordeal, and yet, managed to survive with what seems like very little psychological effects. They are able to live life without showing much signs of having been through a trauma.

So, here we are -- two very different outcomes when people have endured a crisis. How do you explain this, especially the second group of people? What is it about them that enable them to 'bounce back' -- to be so resilient? Before answering these questions, we need to understand what the term 'resilience' really means.

What is Resilience?

Resilience is a set of assumptions or attitude individuals have about themselves that influence their behaviours and the skills they develop. These behaviours and skills, in turn, influence this set of assumptions so that a "dynamic process" is operating continuously -- they feed on each other.

This set of assumptions, or attitude, is referred to as a 'mindset.' A resilient mindset encompasses the following features:

  • Feeling in control of one's life, or being confident.
  • Knowing how to strengthen 'stress hardiness.'
  • Being empathic.
  • Managing strong feelings and impulses.
  • Displaying effective communication and other interpersonal capabilities.
  • Applying problem-solving and decision-making skills.
  • Establishing realistic goals and expectations.
  • Learning from both successes and failures.
  • Being a compassionate and contributing member of society.
  • Living a 'responsible' life based on thoughtful values and ethics.
  • Feeling special, but not self-centered, while helping others to feel the same.
  • Being more optimistic rather than pessimistic.
  • Being flexible and adaptable to change and obstacles.

Having a resilient mindset does not mean that one is free from stress, conflict, or pressure. It just means that one is better able to solve or cope with problems as they arise.

One of the most important features of mindset is that, as with attitude, it can be changed. Resilience is not a trait that people either have or not have. We all have a resilient mindset. The thing is, some people have a more optimistic mindset than others do. Resilience involves behaviours, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone. It is not easy, but with work, patience, time, and practice, we can train our mindset to be more resilient.

Returning to the question of how people are able to 'bounce back' after experiencing trauma and setbacks, it seems that these people have a resilient mindset, and in Part 2 of "Resilience", I will go into further detail of how to develop a better, more resilient mindset or attitude.


"The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence, and Personal Strength in Your Life"; Robert Brooks, Ph.D. and Sam Goldstein, Ph.D; The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2003.

'The Road to Resilience" Brochure by American Psychological Association and Discovery Health Channel.

Last updated: 31 Mar 2005
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 31 Mar 2005
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