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What is resilience?

In this article, Associate Professor Marcus O'Donnell asks what is resilience and why is it so important to 21st century professionals?

Resilience is commonly defined as the capacity to ‘bounce back’ after an adverse event.

This idea comes from early psychological studies of resilience.

When psychologists first began to study resilience in the 1950s, they looked at groups of people who had experienced troubled childhoods and tracked those who managed to thrive into adulthood.

Pioneers of this early research, such as Dr Emmy Werner, went looking for what they called ‘protective factors’ in these children’s lives.

In her studies, Werner found that about a third of children who had grown up in troubled families thrived into adulthood while many others developed problems of their own. Werner called the group who thrived ‘vulnerable but invincible’.

What enabled these individuals to overcome the difficulties of their childhoods and go on to lead healthy, productive lives in adulthood?

Some protective factors were put down to temperament: the children who later thrived were described as affectionate and good natured from an early age. They tended to be intelligent and didn’t experience any significant developmental difficulties.

But there were also strong links to external factors. For example, children who survived and thrived tended to find a key member of their family, often a grandmother, who they bonded with. They also sought out and connected with role models in their community (such as a favourite teacher).

A key insight we can draw from this research is that resilience is not just something you’re born with; it happens in connection with others.

Your task

What do you think of the phrase ‘vulnerable but invincible’ used by Werner to describe children from troubled backgrounds who thrived into adulthood?

Do you think being resilient and being invincible are the same things? Why or why not?

Share your thoughts in the comments and discuss with other learners by replying to their comments.

This article is from the free online

Professional Resilience: Building Skills to Thrive at Work

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