Resilience Definition And How To Increase It

By Julia Thomas

Updated October 17, 2019

Reviewer Dawn Brown

Resilience Is The Ability To Survive Traumatic Situations And Keep Going
Learn How To Deal With Trauma By Talking To A Therapist Today


Resilience: we know the word but understanding the complete resilience definition can be a challenge. It isn't a particularly unusual word, and it's used in many ways. To understand what resilience is as a psychological concept, you need to look deeper to discover the answer to "What does resilience mean in my life?"

What Is Resilience?

When we think of resilience in the world around us, we may think of something that springs back into position or shape after a blow or other impact. For instance, a rubber ball is resilient, because if you crush it in your hand and then release it, it quickly returns to its usual shape.

A person can be resilient, too. You're physiologically resilient if you recover from the flu quickly. You can also be emotionally and psychologically resilient.

In fact, one of the commonest uses of the word is in the phrase, "Children are resilient," meaning that they can withstand or recover quickly when something bad happens to them. That statement may be more wishful thinking than fact, as we try to minimize the damage adversity makes on children. Still, this common perception is accurate for many or most children.

Define: Resilience

How can we boil down these examples to a concise, accurate definition of resilience?

Resilience is the ability to endure or bounce back quickly from adverse conditions.

When you define resilience in this way, you can see that the definition works no matter who or what is receiving the damage or difficulty.

Resiliency Vs. Resilience

The difference between resiliency vs. resilience is very subtle. They're both nouns with the same meaning. They're slightly different forms of the word. Resilience is the preferred noun for most English speakers. Resiliency is used more often in North America than it is in other countries, but even in the U.S., resilience is still used more often.

Synonyms For Resilience

Resilience synonyms don't quite capture the true meaning of resilience, but they can give you a more well-rounded idea of the concept. One synonym for resilience is bounciness. Other resilience synonyms that are visual include elasticity, flexibility, pliability, springiness, suppleness, pliancy, recoil, and snap.

In the same resilience thesaurus entries, words like buoyancy, hardiness, resistance, spirit, strength, and toughness represent psychological resilience more clearly. These words all focus on the ability to withstand stresses.


Resilience Around The World

In different languages, it's sometimes easy to see how the names relate to the English word or definition. Resilience in Spanish is "Resistencia," and in French, it's "Resistance." In German, it's "Elastizitat," and in Italian, "elasticity." In other languages, the word for "Resilience" isn't as easy for people who only speak English to recognize. In Hawaiian, resilience is "ke kupa'a." In Norwegian, it's "Motstandsdyktighet."

Resilience Definition Psychology

The American Psychological Association gives this definition of resilience:

"The ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, and even significant sources of stress."

What Is Exotic Damage Resilience?

Video games have become increasingly complex with myriads of special features, actions and character traits possible. For instance, in Tom Clancy's The Division, each character can have several attributes that help in the game. Exotic Damage Resilience is an attribute that mitigates damage from various hazards, like burning, fire, shock, bleed, electric, and explosion damage. The damage that would otherwise amount to 100% can be mitigated to 50%, 10% or even 0% with the resilience attribute.

Similarly, psychological resilience mitigates the damage you sustain after coming through a difficult situation. You survive it with your spirit intact and bounce back from it very quickly.

Resilience Theory

Resilience theory is a set of concepts related to how strengths lead to greater adaptability to life situations. This theory has been used extensively in social work, but research has only recently been done to understand what resilience is and how it helps people survive and thrive.

Much of the research has focused on answering questions about the exact resilience meaning, such as: which of the following is true of resilience?

  • Resilience is a process
  • Resilience is an event
  • Resilience remains stable through the lifespan.
  • Resilience changes over time.
  • Being resilient in one mode of life means you'll also be resilient in all modes of life?

Resilience: Process Or Event?

After the resiliency research that has been done so far, the consensus of scientists studying it is that it is a process and not an event. When you're confronted with a traumatic event or damaging situation, you're typically affected by the event, if only for a short time. After going through the immediate reaction, you go through a process of accessing your inner and outer resources before you recover your usual equilibrium.

Does Resilience Changes Over Time?

Although certain factors are set early in your life or even before you're born, resilience does change over time. The reason is that there are so many determinants that affect how resilient you are, some of which are bound to change as you move through life. Your genetic code won't change, but you can develop a stronger social support system at a certain point in your life that you didn't have before, for example.

Does Resilience Vary In Different Modes Of Life?

Researchers have been very interested in whether there's a carryover of resilience in one aspect of life into other aspects. For example, is someone who has shown resilience in close relationships also show resilience when they're faced with a difficult work situation? The answer so far seems to be that, while there may be a certain amount of carryover, you may have better resilience for one more than for another.

Resilience Is The Ability To Survive Traumatic Situations And Keep Going
Learn How To Deal With Trauma By Talking To A Therapist Today


What Determines Resiliency?

Scientists call the factors that determine how resilient you are "resilience determinants." Resilience determinants typically work together to increase your ability to adapt to difficult circumstances. The more factors in your favor, the easier it will be for you to regain equilibrium. The source of the adaptability can categorize resilience determinants.

Biological Factors

Some researchers have pointed out that certain genes and biological conditions may contribute to your ability to adapt. However, since resilience is a process, it stands to reason that these biological conditions are also in a state of change.

One study assessed people with PTSD before and after treatment to determine whether genetic changes happen during the process. While the study concluded that the way the genes are expressed could change and be passed on to future generations, there is still debate about whether that conclusion is accurate. It was a small study and only covered two generations rather than the four generations that would have been needed to prove the gene was passed on. Still, it's a subject that deserves more study.

Biological determinants can include age, gender, HIV status, heart disease, obesity, and others.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors are usually referred to as "physical determinants." Physical determinants can include:

  • Your natural environment, including plants and weather.
  • Your built environment, including buildings and transportation.
  • Your housing and neighborhood.
  • Whether you're exposed to toxic substances.
  • Physical barriers that keep you from accessing your resources, such as accessibility issues for people with disabilities.
  • Aesthetic features like adequate lighting and pleasant places to rest.

Inner Factors

Everyone has their inner resources. High self-esteem and high self-confidence are positive factors adding to resilience. Perseverance and the determination to keep fighting to overcome the difficulties of the situation can have a profound effect on your ability to adapt to it. Being more concerned about the future than the past can get you through difficult times because it emphasizes the potential hope in the situation.

Close Relationship Factors

One of the most influential factors in determining resilience is the caregiver bond you had as a child. Your parents can provide a foundation of positivity and flexibility that can add to your resilience throughout your life. This one factor doesn't rule your ability to adapt, but it can increase your resilience just as other factors can.

Other close relationships can also help determine how well you adapt. These relationships can include your parents, your spouse, your children, and friends if you are very close to them. People you feel close to can lend their support and encourage you to keep going. They can offer suggestions for things you can do that is most appropriate for you and help you reframe the situation more positively.

Cultural Factors

Cultural factors can also have a bearing on your resiliency. Some of these factors include:

  • Being able to meet your daily needs with resources like living wages.
  • Social attitudes like discrimination.
  • Exposure to crime.
  • Community support.
  • Mass media input.
  • Helpful uses of technology.
  • Good schools.
  • Segregation.

What Does Resilience Mean For People With Mental Conditions?

People who are more resilient can minimize the effects of mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. If a person with a mental illness can become more resilience, their conditions may improve. If you have a mental illness that was brought on by severe adversity, developing resilience may be a challenge, but it can reap many benefits. What's more, being more resilient may help prevent mental illness from happening.

How To Improve Resilience

The real question you need to answer for yourself is: Can I learn to be more resilient? Research and clinical experience suggest at this point that resilience can indeed be learned. Psychologists have used several different methods to build resilience, and you may be able to do something about it for yourself, too.


Positive Emotions

Positive emotions play a role in resilience. You might ask, "How can I have positive emotions if I don't have good things happening to me?" One thing you can do is look for pleasant moments among the difficult ones.

Another thing you might need to do is simply let yourself feel the positive emotions when they come. Too often, we deny hope and beauty because we don't want to be disappointed. When you recognize what's happening, you can take the chance, enjoy the moment, and take from it the value that you can.

A therapist can help you have more positive feelings, too. Cognitive behavioral therapy is very helpful for this. You identify the thoughts that are behind your bad feelings. Then, you examine those thoughts to find a different way to think about what is around you and what happens to you.

A Sense Of Meaning

It's much easier to spring back and quickly recover from adversity if you have a purpose in life. No one can tell you what your purpose should be. However, in existential therapy, you can resolve the problem of meaninglessness. The therapist can provide support and guidance as you tackle the difficult existential givens of like meaning, freedom and the responsibility that goes with it, death, human limitation, and isolation.

If you'd like to develop greater resilience or get help with other mental or emotional problems, you can talk to a licensed counselor at for online therapy. We have counselors who practice a wide range of treatment methods. You can take a short quiz to be matched up with a counselor who can help you meet your needs. Building resilience can not only help you now, but it can improve your life for years to come!

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