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.

Resilience means having the ability to overcome adversity, stress, setbacks, and challenges. It is a multifaceted concept that involves psychological, emotional, and physical strength. Individuals who demonstrate resilience can stay focused on their goals, maintain a positive outlook, and persevere through adversity. They can quickly recover from difficult situations, adapt and thrive even in the face of change. Furthermore, various factors such as genetics, individual experiences, and social support influence resilience.

Resilience is not about being tough; it's about responding to life's challenges with strength and grace and finding ways to grow, learn, and thrive in the face of adversity.

Arianna Huffington

Definition of resilience

Resilience, as a term, is used in various sciences, including physics, sociology, and medicine. In materials science, resilience refers to substances that return to their original state even after extreme stress. Resistance is another word for resilience.

In human terms, resilience describes the ability of individuals or communities to survive difficult life situations such as crises or disasters without permanent impairment. For example, in the case of climate change, resilience means that people learn to cope with the risks and consequences of global warming by adapting their behavior accordingly and preventing future crises.

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. People and societies that are not resilient are considered vulnerable.

Building resilience is crucial for achieving success and overall well-being in life, as it enables individuals to navigate challenges and overcome obstacles healthily and constructively.

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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 or 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.

study by the American Psychological Association, resilience can be developed and strengthened over time through various techniques and practices. These techniques include cognitive restructuring, emotional regulation, and building positive relationships with others. The study discovered that individuals who underwent resilience training experienced a significant increase in their ability to cope with stress and adversity.

study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, as postulated, found that individuals exposed to mild to moderate stress levels over time could cope with more significant stressors in the future. The researchers suggested that this "stress inoculation" effect is similar to building up resistance to a virus by exposing the body to a small dose over time. Similarly, experiencing and overcoming mild to moderate stressors over time can help individuals build resilience and better cope with more significant stressors in the future.

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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FAQ: Was ist Resilienz?

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.