What is resilience


How do we define resilience? It’s a term that we use a lot in everyday language. Perhaps it’s something that bends, but it doesn’t break. Perhaps it’s the ability to manage and to adapt to stress. It’s thriving through adversity. It’s a positive thing. It’s an adaptive thing. It’s a period of equilibrium and then a moment of disequilibrium and back to equilibrium again. It’s exposure to highly adverse events and an ability to bounce back. These are terms that people often use.

Clinical psychologist Meg Jay says that resilience is less about bouncing back and more of a battle. If you’ve been through some heavy adverse experience, and then someone says, “Hey, well done! You bounced back”. Well, it doesn’t really capture what you’ve just been through. Perhaps it’s better to conceptualise resilience as a process of moving forward and not returning back. A researcher in the field, Dr Rachel Yehuda, describes it as a conscious effort to move forward in an insightful, integrated, positive manner, as a result of lessons learned from adverse experience. It’s a conscious effort to move forward.

Dr Yehuda argues that that’s a critical aspect of resilience.


“Resilience involves active decision, a decision to keep moving forward despite the adverse experiences you’ve been involved in.


Other researchers in the field might say that resilience is a process. It’s a process of harnessing resources in order to sustain your wellbeing. Others would say that resilience can be viewed from various perspectives. Resilience might be a trait. It’s also a process. It’s also an outcome. Steven Southwick argues that it’s foolish to consider resilience as binary. We are not simply resilient or not. It might be that we are resilient in certain environments and not in others.


“Perhaps I’m really resilient in my family environment or from a past that was difficult but I’ve bounced back from that. But when I get into a work environment, perhaps receiving negative feedback, maybe I crumble under that pressure to live.”


And it’s also important to consider that resilience changes over time. Children need to go out and learn what resilience is for them. And how to gain the tools that they need in order to thrive through challenging experiences themselves.

One point I think is important is that resilience is really common. People are resilient by nature.


“Sometimes we’re undermining people’s natural ability to be resilient. We are resilient.


A number of researchers argue that resilience is not a trait. It’s not something you’re simply born with, but it’s much more about the assets and the resources both within the individual, within their life and within the environment around them that facilitate an ability to move forward in the face of adversity. Resilience is a highly interactive process. It’s the result of both an individual’s personal characteristics, like their temperament and their genetics, and a product of the environment where they develop.

If you’re interested in learning more about resilience with Dr Desiree Dickerson, take a look at our online course on Mind-Body Medicine.

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