What is Resilience?

What is Resilience?

Humans are naturally resilient.  We regularly face adversity and challenge, and most of the time we work through it, cope and learn.  Think for a moment about challenges and adversity that you have faced, and dealt with – see if you can recall what you learned from those situations.

That’s not to say that resilience is a fixed trait, in which we all get the same dose.  One of the brilliant things about we humans is our diversity, we all have strengths and weaknesses.  And we also have lots of things in common, including the ability to learn… and that capacity isn’t limited to external skills like working with spreadsheets, running a home or managing projects, we learn habits and behaviours of mind too.

Perhaps we’re good at being resilient in our job, but not quite so adept in relationships; perhaps we were the rock through someone else’s challenging times, but find ourselves scrambling for a foothold in a challenge we are facing.  Though, it’s worth pointing out that being resilient doesn’t mean we avoid feeling uncomfortable, unwell, or out of our depth – one way of defining resilience is in relation to how we respond and work with those feelings.

Resilience is often summarised as the ability to bounce back from adversity – which I think is a helpful way to look at it.  Though, I also think there’s much more to it.  What is ‘adversity’ for example?  At one level, it might be receiving unexpected negative feedback at work.  And, at another level, adversity could be the extreme trauma faced in war or violence.

Trying to define resilience beyond ‘bouncing back,’ turns out to be tricky, with many opinions and points of evidence.  That’s not to say that many haven’t tried.  For example, this definition comes from a group of seven scientists:

“The capacity and dynamic process of adaptively overcoming stress and adversity while maintaining normal psychological and physical functioning.” (see Wu, et. al, 2013)

Notice ‘dynamic process’ and ‘adaptively…’ – both relating to flexibility and choice, as opposed to rigidity or ‘rockness’ in approach.

An alternative way of looking at resilience is through three commonly discussed dimensions, the three R’s (Lepore, Revenson, 2006):

  • Recovery – our ability to return to normal functioning following adversity
  • Resistance – our ability to be unaffected by some adversity
  • Reconfiguration – our ability to grow or develop in some way through adversity

Irrespective of our ability to define it in a concise way on which we all agree, resilience is an amazing capacity.  And, in an attempt to summarise this short ‘what is resilience’ post, I’m going with:

  1. Stress and adversity are a normal part of life
  2. Humans are used to dealing with adversity, and often deal with it successfully, demonstrating our resilience
  3. We can also grow our resilience, enhancing our speed of recovery, resistance and our capacity for growth through adversity

While accepting the first point, and celebrating the second point, on our signature course here at Wellbeing Berkshire, we teach the third point.

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