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
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 ...