People face all kinds of adversity in life. There are personal crises, such as illness, loss of a loved one, abuse, bullying, job loss, and financial instability. There is the shared reality of tragic events in the news, such as terrorist attacks, mass shootings, natural disasters, a global pandemic, and war. People have to learn to cope with and work through very challenging life experiences.
Resilience theory refers to the ideas surrounding how people are affected by and adapt to challenging things like adversity, change, loss, and risk. Resilience theory has been studied across different fields, including psychiatry, human development, and change management.
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Resilience theory tells us that resilience isn’t a fixed trait (you can grow your capacity to practice resilience). And it’s not constant, in that you might demonstrate a lot of resilience when it comes to one challenge you’re faced with, but struggle more with being resilient when it comes to another stressor you’re up against.
Flexibility, adaptability, and perseverance can help people tap into their resilience by changing certain thoughts and behaviors. Research shows that when students believe that both intellectual abilities and social attributes can be developed and improved they increase their own resilience, showing a lower stress response to adversity and improved performance. (1)
Dr. Sood says resilience involves these five principles:
The Top Factors That Build Resilience
Developing resilience is both complex and personal. It involves a combination of inner strengths and outer resources, and there isn’t a universal formula for becoming more resilient.
According to APA, some of the key factors that contribute to one’s personal resilience include:
- The ways someone views and engages with the world
- The availability and quality of social resources
- Specific coping strategies
A combination of factors contributes to building resilience, and there isn’t a simple to-do list to work through adversity.
Resilience is also something that you develop over time. In a previous longitudinal study, factors that were protective for adolescents at risk of depression, such as family cohesion, positive self-appraisals, and good interpersonal relations, also led to more resilience in young adulthood. (2)
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According to resilience theory, other factors that help build resilience include:
- Social support Research shows that one’s supportive social systems, which can include immediate or extended family, community, friends, and organizations, foster one’s resilience in times of crisis or trauma and support resilience in the individual. (3)
- Self-esteem A positive sense of self and confidence in one’s strengths can stave off feelings of helplessness in the face of adversity. A study published in November 2020 in Frontiers in Psychology found that self-esteem and resilience were closely related.
- Coping skills Coping and problem-solving skills help empower a person who has to work through adversity and overcome hardship. Research finds that using positive coping skills (like optimism and sharing) can help bolster resilience more than nonproductive coping skills.
- Communication skills Being able to communicate clearly and effectively helps people seek support, mobilize resources, and take action. Research shows that those who are able to interact with, show empathy toward, and inspire confidence and trust in others tend to be more resilient.
- Emotional regulation The capacity to manage potentially overwhelming emotions (or seek assistance to work through them) helps people maintain focus when overcoming a challenge, and has been linked to improved resilience, a study published in Frontiers in Psychology in November 2017 showed.
Resilience isn’t something people tap into only during overwhelming moments of adversity, according to research on resilience theory. It builds as people encounter all kinds of stressors every day.
What Does the Research Say About Why Resilience Is Important?
Resilience is what gives people the emotional strength to cope with trauma, adversity, and hardship. Resilient people utilize their resources, strengths, and skills to overcome challenges and work through setbacks.
People who lack resilience are more likely to feel overwhelmed or helpless and rely on unhealthy coping strategies (such as avoidance, isolation, and self-medication).
A study published in May 2022 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggested that people with resilience, coping capabilities, and emotional intelligence are more likely to have better overall well-being than those with lower resilience, and better life satisfaction.
A study from the February 2022 issue of Psychology, Health & Medicine that surveyed 1,032 college students showed that emotional resilience was linked to reduced stress and a more positive life satisfaction overall during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One study showed that people who had attempted suicide had significantly lower resilience scale scores than people who had never attempted suicide.
Resilient people do experience stress, setbacks, and difficult emotions, but they tap into their strengths and seek help from support systems to overcome challenges and work through problems. Resilience empowers them to accept and adapt to a situation and move forward, Sood explains. “It’s the core strength you use to lift the load of life.”
What Are the 7 Cs of Resilience?
Ken Ginsburg, MD, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a cofounder of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication, developed the 7 Cs model of resilience to help kids and teens build the skills to be happier and more resilient.
The 7 Cs model is centered on two key points:
- Young people live up or down to the expectations that are set for them, and need adults who love them unconditionally and hold them to high expectations.
- How we model resilience for young people is far more important than what we say about it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics summarizes the 7 Cs as follows:
- Competence This is the ability to know how to handle situations effectively. To build competence, individuals develop a set of skills to help them trust their judgments and make responsible choices.
- Confidence Dr. Ginsburg says that true self-confidence is rooted in competence. Individuals gain confidence by demonstrating competence in real-life situations.
- Connection Close ties to family, friends, and community provide a sense of security and belonging.
- Character Individuals need a fundamental sense of right and wrong to make responsible choices, contribute to society, and experience self-worth.
- Contribution Ginsburg says that having a sense of purpose is a powerful motivator. Contributing to one’s community reinforces positive reciprocal relationships.
- Coping When people learn to cope with stress effectively, they are better prepared to handle adversity and setbacks.
- Control Developing an understanding of internal control helps individuals act as problem-solvers instead of victims of circumstance. When individuals learn that they can control the outcomes of their decisions, they are more likely to view themselves as capable and confident. (6)
The 7 Cs of resilience illustrate the interplay between personal strengths and outside resources, regardless of age.