Skip to Main Content

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.

There are conflicting perspectives on the nature of resiliency. Conventional wisdom says that significant early deprivation and childhood trauma inevitably and predictably result in adult suffering and psychopathology. There is evidence that prolonged and adverse early childhood stress can cause significant damage to the developing brain and can culminate in adult physical and emotional disorders.1 On the other hand, an inherent resistance or immunity to misfortune in some individuals has been postulated, going so far as to invoke the unfortunate term invulnerable to describe either a genetic attribute or a vital strength of character. Neither polar opinion is entirely correct.

It is understandable that clinicians working with adult patients with major psychopathological and social disorders often attribute the illness’s derivation to the patients’ early experiences of abuse, brutality, or deprivation. Similarly, those working with children who have been neglected, traumatized, brutalized, and oppressed often conclude that both the causality and the inevitability of emotional and behavioral scars are determined.

However, if one looks—without an a priori psychopathological perspective—at youth who have experienced painful, even destitute, childhoods where the emphasis of study is on individual strengths and longitudinal follow-up, the picture is remarkably transformed. Our assumptions that these individuals will see themselves as victims are not only incongruent, but they are also unfair to the many who do in fact overcome their early calamities.

In this regard, there is cause for optimism. Research studies over the last two decades have shown that, even without therapeutic interventions, most at-risk children do remarkably well over the course of their lives.2-6 Contrary to absolutist opinions, many of the 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 four decades, it has been discovered7-9 that one third of the most at-risk children, defined by having at least four early risk factors (eg, poverty, family conflict, perinatal stress, abuse, etc), developed well personally, socially and educationally. Additional studies support these findings.5,10,11

This chapter reviews the factors that impact upon the individual’s makeup that determines their 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 secure early attachments, a fluid and easy temperament, higher intelligence, good physical health, attractive appearance, good interpersonal skills, self-awareness, optimism and a sense of purpose as detailed in eTable 101.1.17,18 These are cumulative in ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.