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A close-up of a newly opened delphinium flower (Summer 2013).

Friday, November 5, 2010

What Is Resiliency?

Picture a time in your past when you felt the world will end. When you felt you cannot face another morning. Perhaps a co-worker bullied you, criticized you,  and spread malicious gossip about you--to the point that it was difficult for you even to breath. You lay in bed feeling so alone and rejected, you thought you could disappear and nobody will notice.

Now come back to the present. You are still here. The world did not end. You have welcomed so many glorious mornings. You have a fabulous group of supportive friends. And you find you are not alone. You thrived despite your adversity.

So how did you overcome those dreadful moments in your life? And how are you going to deal with distressing events in the future?

Believe it or not but you have a natural, inner strength that functions like an immune system. This inner strength enables you to bounce back from crisis and adversity. Psychologists call this ability as resiliency.

Defining Resiliency

This term is derived from the Latin word “resilire” meaning “to jump” (or bounce) back into shape (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1974). Furthermore, it can be understood as:
  • “the power or ability to return to the original form or position after being bent, compressed, or stretched” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1974);
  • an adaptive, stress-resistant personal quality that allows the individual to “bounce” back and to thrive despite unfortunate life experiences (Markstrom, Marshall & Tryon, 2000; Place, Reynolds, Cousins & O’Neill, 2002);
  • the process of, capacity for, or outcome of successful adaptation despite challenging or threatening circumstances (Masten, Best & Garmezy, 1990);
  • an interactive product of beliefs, attitudes, approaches, behaviors and physiology that help people fare better during adversity and recover more quickly following it (Fostering Resilience in Response to Terrorism, n.d.).
However, resiliency is not a monolithic construct, that once achieved, will always be present. It is not a fixed attribute of the individual because circumstances in life may vary. When the situation changes, so may one’s resiliency (Masten, 2001).

Types of Resiliency

Three types of resilience can be gleaned from this multi-dimensional phenomenon according to Howard, Dryden and Johnson (1999):
  1. the coping type of resilience wherein the individual does not succumb to adversity in the face of sustained and acute negative circumstances (e.g., continuous family conflict);
  2. the “overcoming odds” type of resilience wherein the individual succeeds in recovering from crisis or trauma (e.g., death of a sibling or parent);
  3. the thriving type of resilience wherein the individual is able to prosper from extreme trauma and becomes better despite of it (e.g., despite losing his leg, a war prisoner cared for the wounded and dying soldiers non-stop).
Hence, the capacity to be resilient acts as “protective shield” that helps people cope with the vicissitudes of a stressful world. It is obtained by a combination of personal characteristics (e.g., temperament) and psychological characteristics (locus of control). The people around you, the opportunities open to you, the conditions you are in--all these factors influence your capacity to be resilient.

Note to my readers: If you have any personal story of resiliency that you would like to share, send it to me at If it is good and well-written, I will include it in one of my books. It will be copyrighted in your name. Expect working with me in the editing process. Deadline for submission is December 31, 2010.


Fostering resilience in response to terrorism (n.d.). Retrieved from

Howard, S., Dryden, J., & Johnson, B. (1999). Childhood resilience: review and critique of literature. Oxford Review of Education, 25(3), 307-323.

Markstrom, C. A., Marshall, S. K., & Tryon, R. J. (2000). Resiliency, social support, and coping in rural low-income Appalachian adolescents from two racial groups. Journal of Adolescence, 23, 693-703.

Masten, A. S. (2001). Ordinary magic: Resilience processes in development. American Psychologist, 56(3), 227-238.

Masten, A. S., Best, K., & Garmezy, N. (1990). Resilience and development: Contributions from the study of children who overcome adversity. Development and Psychology, 2, 425-444.

Place, M., Reynolds, J., Cousins, A., & O’Neill, S. (2002). Developing a resilience package for vulnerable children. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 7(4), 162-167.

Webster’s New World Dictionary. (1974). 2nd College ed. Nelson, Foster & Scott Ltd: Toronto, Canada.

1 comment:

  1. Dr. Chaves...Thanks for a great post on resiliency. I loved your opening image. I could relate to it. And when you lead me to the present moment, I actually felt proud of myself for making it through. Sometimes, we aren't even aware of our own strengths.

    Thanks for the reminder...