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Determinants of Resilience

Determinants of resilience include biological, psychological, social and cultural factors interacting in a complex manner. Southwick and colleagues (2014) provide a comprehensive overview of the determinants of resilience. Some of these determinants include:
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The word ‘resilience’ is surrounded by multiple pathways to resilience, such as positive adaptation, perception, appraisal and coping, individual, familial and community resilience, and multiple pathways and mechanisms.

This activity offers a brief overview of some of the core defining features of resilience. Some common attributes of resilience are a strong belief in the self, determination and positive expectations, at least one rewarding social relationship, adaptability and proactive coping. Importantly, resilience does not stand still but changes contextually, from situation to situation, and over time. A person’s resilient response to one type of stressful event does not necessarily predict the same level of resilience to subsequent stressors.

While personal resources such as optimism, self-belief and perceived control are indeed important for a resilient outcome, those resources should be viewed as the product of the individual’s interaction with the social environment. Connectedness to one’s family, community and physical environment is a core attribute of resilience. In other words, resilience is relational and situational. Socio-cultural factors such as norms and traditions, social cohesion, stability and conflict can exert a strong influence on this process.

Determinants of Resilience

Determinants of resilience include biological, psychological, social and cultural factors interacting in a complex manner. Southwick and colleagues (2014) provide a comprehensive overview of the determinants of resilience. Some of these determinants include:

Individual differences in neurobiology Epigenetics Cultural context
Attachment to caregiver in childhood and adolescence Economic and material resources available to an individual Individual’s support network and wider social context

There exist many more determinants of resilience. Furthermore, while it may be useful to consider these determinants individually, it is important to remember that resilience always occurs in a specific context, within which a range of determinants can interact with each other.

A family together on a beach at sunset.A family together on a beach at sunset. Source:

Family Resilience

Families regularly experience demands and challenges which disrupt their regular functioning. More severe challenges, such as stress, distress, and crisis, have the potential to threaten a family’s integrity, stability and wellbeing in both the short- and long-term. Stressors affecting families can take many forms, such as chronic illness. Not every family experiences stress in the same way, however. Some families are able to adapt and cope with stressors such as chronic illness, whereas others experience more difficulty in this regard. In the same way that individuals can be resilient, families can be too.

A family resilience perspective helps recognise the mechanisms enabling families to maintain their balance when faced with stressful or traumatic events (Saltzman et al., 2013). Examples include making meaning out of stressful events by creating a shared narrative, enhancing the family’s sense of agency and optimism and identifying protective family beliefs. Such beliefs may include assertions about the family’s hardiness-for example, ‘we have been through hard times before and we can get through this together’, and about the family’s core values such as being loving and supportive.

A community gathered in a circle outdoors.A community gathered in a circle outdoors. Source:

Community Resilience

Community resilience is characterised by systems of social support. There are numerous examples of community-level resilience mechanisms from around the world. Landau and Saul (2004) highlighted some of these:

  • enhancing social connectedness
  • communal acceptance and compassion in relation to the trauma event
  • collective storytelling
  • re-establishing the ordinariness of daily life
  • expressing hope and a vision for the future as a collective endeavour

A rose at the 9/11 memorial A rose at the 9/11 memorial. Source:

Make some personal notes on the relationship between resilience and traumatic stress. In your view, is resilience a characteristic of the individual, or is it a feature of the socio-cultural environment? Can you identify examples of community resilience following the September 11 attacks?


Fletcher, D., & Sarkar, M. (2013). Psychological resilience: A review and critique of definitions, concepts, and theory. European Psychologist, 18(1), 12-23. doi:10.1027/1016-9040/a000124

Landau, J., & Saul, J. (2004). Family and community resilience in response to major disaster. In F. Walsh & M. McGoldrick (Eds.), Living beyond loss: Death in the Family (2nd ed., pp. 285–309). New York, NY: Norton.

Saltzman, W. R., Pynoos, R. S., Lester, P., Layne, C. M., & Beardslee, W. R. (2013). Enhancing family resilience through family narrative co-construction. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 16(3), 294-310. doi:10.1007/s10567-013-0142-2

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. doi:10.3402/ejpt.v5.25338

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the Global Context

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