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What is resilience?

Dr Ruchika Gajwani talks about the concept of resilience. She highlights that it is a complex concept that is not yet fully understood.

Dr Ruchika Gajwani Dr Ruchika Gajwani has a Psychology PhD and ClinPsyD (Clinical Psychology Doctorate). Her current role is as a Clinical Psychology Research Fellow in the University of Glasgow’s Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She has a special interest in cognitive analytic therapy (CAT) and is currently training to be a CAT therapist.

What is resilience?

Resilience is a complex concept that is not yet fully understood and discusses that resilience is influenced by many factors-including factors relating to the individual, their culture and their community.

Resilience can broadly be defined as the capacity to successfully adapt following adversity. The American Psychological Association has identified the following personality traits which are present in resilient individuals:

  • The capacity to make realistic plans, and to complete these plans
  • Having a positive view of yourself, and being confident in your strengths and abilities
  • Possessing strong communication and problem-solving capabilities
  • Show a capacity to manage strong emotions and feelings

However, resilience represents much more than a collection of personality traits. A contextual, multidimensional view of resilience is offered in this section.

Wooden tiles with letters spelling the word 'resiliencyWooden tiles with letters spelling the word ‘resiliency. Source:

Ungar, Ghazinour, and Richter (2013) provide the following definition of resilience:

“In the context of exposure to significant adversity, resilience is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided and experienced in culturally meaningful ways.”

There is no consensus about the definition of resilience in the field. Southwick and colleagues (2014) provide some further characteristics of resilience that may not be immediately apparent in Ungar and colleagues’ definition:

Framing Resilience Resilience can, and has been, described as being a personality trait, a process, and an outcome. It is, therefore, important to pay close attention to how researchers are using the term when engaging with literature on this topic.
Resilience as a Continuum Resilience is often approached in a binary manner, whereby it is either considered to be present or absent in an individual. However, research suggests that resilience exists on a continuum, and also that individuals may show signs of resilience in a certain context, but not show any signs in a different context.
Dynamic Resilience Studies have shown that resilience can be affected by a range of factors and that an individual’s resilience can evolve over time.
Resilience Does Not Imply Health While it is common for psychopathological outcomes such as PTSD to be seen as representing the opposite end of the spectrum from resilience, resilience has been found to be present in individuals who suffer from negative outcomes following adversity. It is thought that resilience may help these individuals recover from the negative outcomes they experience.


American Psychological Association. (2012). Building Your Resilience. Retrieved from

Southwick, S. M., Bonanno, G. A., Masten, A. S., Panter-Brick, C., & Yehuda, R. (2014). Resilience definitions, theory, and challenges: Interdisciplinary perspectives. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 5(1), 25338-14.

Ungar, M., Ghazinour, M., & Richter, J. (2013). Annual research review: What is resilience within the social ecology of human development? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54(4), 348-366. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12025

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