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Resiliency is the ability to rebound from real, experienced adversity. It refers to an individual’s use of inner strengths and outer resources to overcome seriously adverse, even traumatic, circumstances and still continue to pursue and succeed in one’s endeavors. Resiliency varies according to personal hardiness and social supports, as well as the nature and degree of the imposed hardship or impediment. Refer to Chapter 28 for a discussion on adversity.

There is cause for optimism, however. Research studies over the last three decades have shown that, even without therapeutic interventions, most at-risk children do remarkably well over the course of their lives. Contrary to absolutist opinions, a proportion of children who suffer early oppressive circumstances grow up to be productive, law-abiding, fulfilled, and generative adults. In a large population of children followed over 4 decades, it has been discovered that one-third of the most at-risk children, defined by having at least 4 early risk factors, such as poverty, family conflict, perinatal stress, and abuse, developed well personally, socially, and educationally. In another longitudinal study of 300 mother–infant dyads in which the mother was exposed to partner violence, it was found that the intergenerational impact of violence on the child’s functioning was lessened by maternal self-efficacy and social support. Additional studies support the findings that children can overcome the lasting effects of adversity.

This chapter reviews the factors that impact the individual’s makeup and determines his or her inherent resilience in relation to external and societal influences.


Prospective studies indicate that there are consistent enhancing personal characteristics that contribute to resiliency. These include individual, familial, and community attributes and factors such as secure early attachments, physical health, interpersonal skills, self-awareness, supportive relationships, and access to services, as detailed in Table 29-1. These are cumulative in nature and positively enhance each other; the result is a strengthening of the individual’s inner resolve. They are also bidirectional, in that a severe trauma or deficit can cause a decrease in the positive attributes. Although these positive attributes are correlated with personal resilience, none of the attributes by itself is uniquely sufficient to determine success.


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