What is resilience?



The term resilience seems to be all over the place. Journals and magazines talk about resilience, questionnaires get used to determine individual levels of resilience, and coaching sessions help to strengthen resilience. But what is resilience?

What is resilience?

When a symposium posed the query of what resilience encompasses, all present concurred that it is complex. As an idea, its interpretation can vary between people, firms, cultures, and civilizations. It was also unanimously accepted that one may be more resilient at some stage in life while being less so during another. Also, someone could demonstrate higher resilience in one domain compared to others.

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We can simplify the many definitions of resilience in the following statement: resilience refers to psychological resistance.More precisely, it means coping effectively (without suffering any psychological impairment) with adversities and overcoming stressful events such as losses, breakups, layoffs, and conflicts at work.

Is resilience a skill or quality?

For a long time, resilience was considered an innate trait or ability that someone either has or has not. Had this been the case, training, and coaching promising to strengthen resilience would not make sense. However, studies in the last decades revealed that genetics do not determine how resilient individuals are. Instead, being resilient is a gradual process and learnable.

Theoretical frameworks of resilience

Literature has treated the concept of resilience from various perspectives. In learning about different theoretical frameworks of resilience, we can better understand all dimensions of this concept. In this section, we summarize the dominant theories on resilience.

Resilience Theory

Theoretical frameworks on resilience collectively fall under resilience theory. Resilience theory (when mentioned without any other specifications) usually deals with psychological studies on individual or limited interpersonal and intrapersonal levels.

Resilience theory draws a great deal from positive psychology. Both resilience theory and positive psychology offer practical applications that can benefit humanity. These fields highlight the importance of social relationships in improving interpersonal connections and overall well-being.

Family Resilience Theory

First postulated in the 1980s, family resilience theory applies the concept of individual psychological or emotional resilience to a broader level, in this case, the family. Such a theory deals with how families respond immediately and over longer terms when faced with challenges. This theory also applies to levels beyond family, such as community and social-cultural environments.

Community Resilience Theory

The community resilience theory takes off from the family resilience theory and focuses on the community resilience concept. Community resilience refers to the ability of community members to utilize their resources in response to a world characterized by constant change, uncertainty, and surprise. Community resilience is about recognizing and nurturing the strengths of both individuals and communities and establishing effective processes that encourage these factors.

Shame Resilience Theory

In 2006, Brené Brown became the first to propose the shame resilience theory. The theory tries to study how we respond to and defeat shame, an emotion we all experience. The solution lies in identifying the negative emotion of shame once we feel it and overcoming it constructively (in a way that retains individual authenticity, integrity, and growth mentality).

Organizational Resilience Theory

Organizations can bounce back and adjust after encountering obstacles, much like individuals can enhance their resilience. Organizational resilience may be viewed as a "resilience culture," which manifests as psychological resistance against gradual or significant changes. Businesses must cultivate this mindset to thrive amidst difficulties.

Resilience Theory of Norman Garmezy

Norman Garmezy pioneered the Project Competence Longitudinal Study (PCLS) in 1974 to investigate means of halting mental illness and bolstering protective aspects like motivation, cognitive skills, social change, and personal “voice”. Through PCLS, he provided operational definitions, frameworks, and measures for studying competence and resilience. He also generated frameworks used today by researchers. One crucial discovery of PCLS was that resilience is not static but dynamic. Garmezy also introduced the concept of developmental cascades to describe how functioning at one level can affect other adaptive functions.

Seligman's 3Ps of resilience

The most renowned framework in positive psychology for resilience is Seligman's 3Ps model. This approach focuses on three emotional reactions that arise when we face adversity: personalization (holding ourselves more accountable than necessary), pervasiveness (assuming that one problem spreads into other areas of our life), and permanence (believing that bad experiences last forever). By tackling these often automatic responses head-on, we can cultivate our adaptability and learn to cope more effectively with challenges - ultimately building greater resilience.


Resilience is a “muscle” we can all actively foster within ourselves and those around us. For individuals, organizations, and societies, the ability to be resilient is a crucial skill to thrive. Across cultures and civilizations, resilience can serve as a tool to adapt to challenges, build stronger relationships, and help bring about positive change. Resilience is a skill anyone can learn and develop if they are open, willing to internalize knowledge, coachable, and seeking growth.

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FAQs: What is resilience?

Can professionals include resilience as a skill in their resume?

Due to the increasingly complex business environment, showing resilience on your resume will set you apart from others. However, simply mentioning the term resilience is not enough. You need to demonstrate cases of resilient actions such as taking extra responsibilities, taking additional training to adjust to a challenging workload, working overtime to support a small team, and going through coaching or mentoring designed to strengthen resilience.

Is resilience a soft skill?

Resilience is a crucial soft skill deeply linked to performance, growth, and career achievements.

What is the opposite of being resilient?

The opposite of being resilient is acting in ways that increase stress, reduce potential and overall capability, and promote a sense of defeatism - a state also referred to as shrinking, impotence, helplessness, dependence, weakness, avoidance, and so on.