What is Resilience?

Resilience is the ability to recover quickly and cope with emotional stress from crisis and adversity.
Chan, CKY (2021)

Resilience: Innate Capacity for Lifelong Strength and Growth

Resilience is the ability to positively adapt to significant life disruptions and gain strengths and insights from these adaptations. Resilience is not an inherent trait in selected individuals (Rutter, 1987). Instead, everyone is born with an innate strength of resilience that can be actualized through a developmental process. By handling life disruptions, individuals continue to strengthen their resilient qualities, such as self-efficacy, sense of purpose, and wisdom. Alternatively, events will continue to be disruptive if one cannot treat disruptions as growth potential (Richardson, 2002). Resilience can be developed externally through family and community support and internally through an enhanced self-understanding from disruption recoveries.

Characterizing Resilience: A Dynamic Developmental Process

Resilience is the ability to adapt positively to significant life disruptions and gain strengths and insights from these adaptations (Richardson, 2002). Life disruptions refers to experiences of risk, adversity, or stressors that take learners out of their comfort zone and are likely to cause maladjustment. Examples of life disruption include academic setback, social isolation, poverty, parental divorce and mental illness, low parent income and education level, disorganized neighborhoods, and community violence (Fleming & Ledogar, 2008).  

An individual's competence to positively adapt depends on the context and domain of disruption presented to the individual given his or her age. Context is shaped by social-environmental conditions, such as socioeconomic status, geography, and culture. The same condition or factor can be protective or vulnerable depending on the context. For instance, strict parental monitoring might seem excessive and overcontrolling and result in defiance among adolescents in one culture, but the same parenting style can be perceived as loving and supportive by adolescents in another context. In terms of domain, resilience is not an "across-the-board phenomenon" (Luthar, 2015); individuals show varying levels of adaptations across different domains, displaying strengths in one domain does not imply strength in another. For instance, a learner who is academically resilient might secretly suffer from social isolation and emotional distress.

Early resilience research saw resilience as an inherent trait of selected individuals and focused on the identifications of resilient qualities in these individuals (Anthony, 1974). In the latter part of the 1980s, research turned its focus on resilience promotion that originates outside of the individual and sees resilience as a process rather than a trait (Rutter, 1987). Resilient qualities, or protective factors (such as self-efficacy, parental warmth, and a supportive community in Table 1) can ease an individual's response to the adverse experience of life disruptions. An individual's vulnerability factor (such as being an orphan and living in a dangerous neighborhood) can intensify the negative effects imposed by life disruptions.

Resilience can be developed via a lifelong coping and learning process from disruptions that result in the identification, fortification, and enrichment of resilient qualities. While exposure to low and high levels of disruption are associated with negative outcomes, moderate levels of disruptions are related to less negative and more possible outcomes. Exposing individuals to moderate levels of disruption might encourage individuals to learn to overcome it (Masten, 2001). In Richardson's Theory of Resilience (2002), resilient reintegration refers to the positive outcome of an individual overcoming life disruptions (resulting in resilient quality attainment), while other outcomes include reintegration back to comfort zone and reintegration of loss (where life disruptions continue to cause stress and growth has not occurred). By constantly coping and recovering, resilient learners experience growth, knowledge, self-understanding, and strengthened resilient qualities.

As life circumstances constantly prompt individuals with emerging vulnerabilities and resilient qualities, an individual's ability to adapt to life disruption is never permanent. Characterized by hurt, loss, guilt, and fear, the immediate outcomes of life disruptions bring an awareness and opportunity in individuals to access and connect with their resilience capacity. The continuous process of reintegration is a lifelong and life-enriching opportunity that requires an enduring motivation–which can originate from external conditions of support or internal strength for resilience. Termed innate resilience, Richardson (2002) believes that there is an innate capacity for resilience in every individual. With increased practice of resilient reintegration, people can rely less on outside support and gain more control over their lives.


Do You Possess Resilience?

A resilient learner should have the following characteristics:

Resilient Learner_F.png
  • Be adaptable to unpredictable situations.

  • Be mindful of self during crisis.

  • Be able to cope with emotional stress from crisis and adversity.

  • Be able to recover quickly from hardship.

Do You Possess Resilience?


Why is Resilience Important?

Resilience is important because it enables learners to:

  • Adapt to unpredictable situations

  • Be mindful of self during crisis

  • Cope with emotional stress from crisis and adversity

  • Recover from hardship


How is Resilience Developed?

Developing Resilient Qualities from External Support to Internal Strength

What began as a quest to understand the extraordinary has revealed the power of the ordinary. Resilience does not come from rare and special qualities, but from the everyday magic of ordinary, normative human resources in the minds, brains, and bodies of children, in their families and relationships, and their communities. Even the most basic of human adaptational systems are not invulnerable and require nurturance.

Adapted from "Ordinary Magic: Resilience Processes in Development"

(Masten, 2001)

Resilience development is an interaction between resilient qualities, vulnerability factor, and life disruptions from the individual to the social. Literature across disciplines and contexts had identified lists of resilient qualities; for instance, self-efficacy, self-mastery, relationship with an adult were identified in inner-city London Youth (Rutter, 1979), personal characteristics and caregiving inside and outside of the family were identified in a Hawaiian multiracial community (Werner & Smith, 1992) and humor, self-esteem and positive outlook were identified in competent children of schizophrenic parents (Germezy et al., 1984).

The identification of resilient qualities revealed a dichotomy of internal strength and external support for resilience development and prompted a social-ecological perspective in research. Masten and Germezy (1985) suggested three broad areas of resilient qualities: individual young people, their families, and the surrounding societies. A more modern effort classified resilient qualities (that were verified in one or more published studies) on the levels of individual, family, and community (Fleming and Ledogar, 2008; Olsson et al., 2003), as in the following table.


Classification of Protective Resources and Resilient Quality

Strengthening Qualities through Resilience Reintegration

With over fifty years of development, the understanding of resilient qualities has changed from traits inherent to resilience developed (Rutter, 1987). The greatest surprise of this line of research seems to be the ordinariness of resilience (Masten, 2001); individuals are born with more resilient potential than they are conscious of (Richardson, 2002) and resilience can be learned through practice. Although there exist pure adverse life disruptions, (such as sudden accidents and parental deaths), most life disruptions pose potentials for both negative outcomes (such as guilt, fear, and depression) and positive outcomes (such as strengthened resilient qualities and growth). Richardson's theory on resilient reintegration (2002) offered insights on the mechanisms that underly individuals achieving resilient outcomes through growth and adaptation to disruptions. In his model, at-risk individuals are depicted as passing through the stages of biopsychospiritual homeostasis (or in a simpler term, comfort zone), interactions with life prompts, disruption, readiness for reintegration, and the choice to reintegrate a) resiliently, b) back to comfort zone, or c) with loss.

Comfort zone refers to the state at which individuals has adapted to a set of circumstances physically, mentally, and spiritually. Individuals are constantly bombarded by non-disruptive and disruptive life prompts; disruptive life prompts can be described as reactive (such as losing a job, arguing, major accident) or planned (such as getting married, going to school, changing jobs). In the presence of disruptions, individuals can use resilient qualities developed from previous disruptions to counter life prompts, that is, resilient reintegration. Examples of resilient reintegration include learning to drive, making a living, and taking care of personal needs without significant disruptions. Resilient reintegration is the most positive outcome, where individuals reflect and garner insight or growth through disruptions. By identifying, accessing, and nurturing resilient qualities from the new life disruption, resilient qualities are either identified or strengthened. Alternatively, life prompts can continue to be disruptive if individuals have not grown out of or have not developed resilient qualities for the type of disruption, that is, unsuccessful reintegration with loss. This may entail loss of motivation, hope, or drive; in many cases, individuals recovering from loss may resort to substances or other types of destructive behaviors. Resilience reintegration back to comfort zone turns down opportunities for growth to avoid disruption, although it might not be an option in the cases of permanent physical loss and death.   


Theory of Resilient Integration

Disruptions offer individuals a choice of personal growth to actualize the innate strength of resilience that is born within every individual (Richardson, 2002). Rutter (1987) offered four processes that initiate resilient integration in individual: a) reducing adverse impact through alternating the meaning of the disruption or alternating the interaction with the disruption, b) reducing negative cycle of adverse impact, c) opening to new opportunities, d) establishing and maintaining self-esteem and self-efficacy through personal relationships and accomplishments. By committing oneself to negotiate with life disruptions, individuals are open to an increased understanding of self, sense of purpose, values, and moral purpose (Rutter, 1987). Such negotiation can be seen as an inborn resistance to adversity that is activated by strength of resilience.

Richardson's theory (2002) has its counterparts in the educational field. Mills and Shuford's Health Realization Model (2003) believed that the same capacity for resilience and innate mental health is in everyone; at-risk students could regain this capacity once they change their perception and get rid of unhealthy thinking. To this end, they clarified the nature of perception to their students – that previous adverse experience could cloud our current perception and thinking. By built trusting and respectful relationships with the students, Mills and Shuford were able to change students' old habits of thinking and regain a sense of control over life. Likewise, the Holistic Competency Development Framework by Chan and Yeung (2019) also saw students' perception and interpretation of learning activities integral to holistic competency outcomes. By changing the way students perceive and reason, educators could activate students' innate resilience for strength and growth, and empower students with a sense of hope.

Resilience Training in Education

In the educational domain, academic resilience refers to the likelihood of success in school setting despite adversity (Wang and gordan 2012). Research has shown association between students’ academic resilience and the orientation of their study motivation (Jowkar et al., 2014) and multiple forms of resilience training are under development (Brewer et al., 2019). In this line of research, students’ motivation is either intrinsically acquired (intrinsically motivated) or extrinsically acquired (extrinsically motivated). Resilient qualities acquired extrinsically include social supports and resource available in the home, school, community, and the peer groups, such as caring relations, high expectations, and encouragement for participation in meaning activities; resilient qualities acquired intrinsically can be developed from or independent of extrinsic factors, such as cooperation and communication, empathy, effective problem-solving skills, well-defined goals, high self-efficacy, and self-awareness.

Intrinsic and extrinsic resilient qualities have both shown to be effective in supporting academic resilience. Students who are intrinsically motivated overcome failure as they see failure as an opportunity for learning from mistakes, while students who are solely extrinsically motivated withdraw effort to avoid challenge and are more prone to adjustments issues (Jowkar et al., 2014). Evidently, resilience is one of the most important factors for students’ well-being, satisfaction, and transition into higher education (Archana and Singh, 2014).

Resilience training in high education settings has been investigated in research, although further validation on almost all the training methods is needed. In a review that examines 18 resilience training intervention in high education across cultures (Brewer et al., 2019), the most common approach was mindfulness-based stress reduction interventions, which focused on identifying and changing maladaptive thinking that increase personal knowledge about the cause and contributor of stress. Other resilience training include meditation, yoga, engaging in recreational activities, help-seeking behaviors, developing conflict management and teamwork skills, increasing social support, positive role-modeling and social connection facilitation from the faculty, and positive professional relationships. Pedagogical strategies include ensuring students to feel valued and supported, increasing collaborative learning, developing learning communities, providing mentorship and peer support programs. Suggestion to educational assessment include utilizing pass/fail criteria to reduce stress of competition.


How Should I Assess Resilience?

Assessment tools for resilience consists of self-reported instruments (Windle et al., 2011); it can be measured in terms of trait, process, or both. Resilient traits are assessed in terms of observable external adaptation criteria, such as school achievement or the absence of delinquency; resilient processes are assessed in terms of internal adaptation criteria, such as psychological well-being or low levels of distress (Masten, 2001). Hence, most resilience measures will reflect cultural norms in a well-defined population, such as psychiatric patients, ethnic-cultural minority, and college students. An innovative attempt has been made to address resilience in youths across culture. Ungar and Liebenberg, 2011 acknowledged that resilience research has largely been done on minority communities. By comparing youth resilience across eleven countries, they created The Child and Youth Resilience Measure that could be used in youths across cultures. Now, they expanded the scale to include adult measurement and the scale is available in 20 languages (Resilience Research Centre, 2018).


Examples of Assessment Approaches for Resilience

In a review of nineteen resilient measures, the Connor-Davidson Resilient Scale (Connor and Davidson, 2003), the Resilient Scale for Adults (Friborg et al., 2003), and the Brief Resilience Scale (Smith et al., 2008) received the best psychometric ratings, although the review revealed that all measures require further validation work (Windle et al., 2011). Most recently, the Resilience At University Scale is a validated resilience measurement for college students.

The Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (2003)

The Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale consists of 25 items, each rated on a five-point scale, with higher scores reflecting greater resilience. The scale was used on different populations, including community sample and psychiatric outpatients. The assessment tool views resilience as a measure of stress coping ability. This study demonstrated that resilience is modifiable and can improve with treatment. Items include 1) able to adapt to change, 2) close and secure relationships, 3)sometimes fate or God can help, 4) can deal with whatever comes, 5)past success give confidence for new challenge, 6) see the humorous side of things, 7) coping with stress strengthens, 8)tend to bounce back after illness or hardship, 9)things happen for a reason, 10) best effort no matter what, 11) you can achieve your goals, 12) when things look hopeless, I don't give up, 13) know where to turn for help, 14) under pressure, focus and think clearly, 15) prefer to take the lead in problem solving, 16) not easily discouraged by failure, 17) think of self as strong person, 18) make unpopular or difficult decisions, 19)can handle unpleasant feelings, 20) have to act on a hunch, 21) strong sense of purpose, 22) in control of your life, 23) I like challenges, 24) you work to attain your goals, 25) pride in your achievements.

The Resilience At University scale (RAU; Turner, 2017;2020)

The Resilience at University Scale consists of demographic questions and 20 RAU items, each rated on a 7-point Likert scale to indicate agreement with the item; higher scores reflect greater agreement. Items include eight dimensions: living authentically, finding your calling, maintaining perspective, management stress, interacting cooperatively, staying healthy and building networks. See questionnaire listed below.  





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