What is resilience?

Resilience has been defined as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy or even significant sources of stress” (American Psychological Association, 2014). It can be thought of as the ability to bounce back from adversity and is essential to promoting the functioning and wellbeing of children who have experienced trauma. It also helps people bounce forward and take on new challenges in life. In other words, resilience relates to be able to cope with challenging circumstances, achieving positive outcomes despite traumatic events and avoiding negative paths linked with exposure to environmental risks (Brooks, 2006; Masten, 2014).

An essential requirement of resilience is the presence of protective factors which help to promote positive outcomes or reduce negative outcomes (Fergus & Zimmerman, 2005). Resilience theory is focused on strengths as opposed to deficits; it focuses on understanding healthy development and good outcomes, in spite of exposure to adversity (Masten, 2001).

Resilience is complex and is determined by a range of individual factors (both biological and psychological), as well as social and cultural factors that interact with one another and influence responses to adverse life events (Masten, 2014). Resilience, therefore, can involve both personal traits, such as a person’s personality or genetic influences which help them to be more stress-resistant. However, behavioural and social processes are also very important to becoming resilient, particularly our ability to access resources and interact well with other people in our surrounding environment. Resilience, particularly in childhood, is deeply rooted in positive relationships with other people which can confer a sense of emotional security and provide a space for skill development and healthy growth (Southwick et al., 2014). Services and supports for people experiencing adversity are also important – high-quality resources (e.g. mental health, social welfare and educational service provisions) can provide opportunities for recovery and skill development, even in the face of ongoing trauma (Ungar, 2013).