Psychological resilience

A conceptual review of theory and research

Authored by: Swati Mukherjee , Updesh Kumar

The Routledge International Handbook of Psychosocial Resilience

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138954878
eBook ISBN: 9781315666716
Adobe ISBN: 9781317355946


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Originating from the physical sciences, the concept of resilience has gained significance in the psychological and social sciences in recent decades, especially in the wake of the shift in emphasis from a deficiency model of human functioning to a more positive framework delving into efficiency and well-being. Psychological resilience denotes the ability of an individual or a system to recover from a setback, adapt well in the face of trauma, and survive and thrive despite significant adversity and stress. Etymologically the word resilience has its origins in the Latin verb ‘salire’ meaning ‘to jump’ and a term derived from it – ‘re-salire’, which means ‘to jump back’. Being resilient does not merely imply dealing effectively with stress or adversity but denotes a ‘springing back’ into action as a more effective entity adapting to the negative incidence and construing it as a stepping stone towards positive behaviours, adaptation, and growth. Bonanno (2004) emphasises that resilience is not only about bouncing back into action but is also about being able to sustain the adaptive behaviour. The concept of resilience is used across disciplines and in varied contexts; however, the core components of defining resilience are evident in each instance, i.e. exposure to significant adversity and positive adaptation, even growth in response to the stress (Luthar, 2006). Luthar’s definition that posits resilience as a two-part construct has been accepted by other scholars too (Masten, 2001; Yates, Egeland, & Sroufe, 2003). In this perspective, resilience is inferred by the coping behaviour demonstrated by an individual or a system in the face of substantial risk or adversity, and this differentiates resilient coping from normative coping. A related perspective defines resilience as normal development under adverse circumstances (Fonagy, Steele, Steele, Higgit, & Target, 1994; Masten, 2001). Another recent definition is given by Rutter who defines resilience as the relative resistance to psychosocial risk experiences (Rutter, 1999, 2000). Drawing from a variety of definitions, resilience can be conceptualised as good psychological functioning and behavioural outcomes despite facing adverse circumstances that are expected to jeopardise the normative growth and adaptation of the individual or system (Bonanno, 2004; Masten, 2001; Rutter, 2006). This conceptualisation of resilience has found applications in a variety of contexts and fields, beginning with psychopathology, developmental psychology, and disaster management to newer areas like intervention and rehabilitation programmes for war-affected communities, and people affected by ethno-political conflicts. Within the psychological literature, three general uses of the term resilience have been recognised (Werner, 1995) – good developmental outcomes despite high-risk status, sustained competence under stress, and recovery from trauma. These uses also denote the contexts of recognising resilient behaviour and indicate the path that resilience as a psychological construct has traversed.

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