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Resilience: An Innate Human Capacity

Many of us understand psychological resilience as the human ability to “bounce back” after facing adversity, and we are surprised – astonished, even – at the ways in which people can survive, and often thrive, despite their experiences of trauma. But here is what we know: resilience is an innate human capacity that can be learned and developed in anyone. All people have the ability to develop the skills that will put them on the path to resilience.

According to Michael Unger of the Resilience Research Centre, resilience is the human capacity to navigate and negotiate culturally meaningful resources to sustain their well being. It has to do with a person’s ability to make plans and follow through with them, to problem solve, and to manage impulses and feelings. Resilience is more than a skill – it’s an adaptation.


In this video, Dr. Ann Masten explores resilience and shares basic strategies to nurture and protect human adaptive systems.

We also understand resilience as a process or a journey that may begin in early childhood, but continues throughout the lifespan. Our lives are ever evolving narratives, and so is the pathway to resilience and the equally important parallel process of healing. With this framework in mind, the information and resources in this Special Collection address resilience broadly, including survivors of childhood trauma at any age or life stage.

While we understand trauma as a common human experience (see above), we also know that 1/2 to 2/3 of children exposed to trauma go on to achieve successful and well-adjusted lives (The Melissa Institute, 2008). Research on children exposed to domestic violence has found that 37% to 50% show no greater problems than children not exposed (Grych, Jouriles, Swank, McDonald, & Norwood, 2000). Researcher Ann Masten (2001) states, “the great surprise of resilience research is the ordinariness of the phenomena.” While human adaptation is truly remarkable, we should in fact not be surprised when this basic human operation works.

According to Psychology Today (2015), “We have the capacity, within ourselves, to create better health.” There are three key factors promoting psychological resilience:

  1. Internal support: Abilities and skills such as communication, problem-solving, behavioral and emotional regulation, hope, and a positive view of oneself.
  2. External support: Caring supportive relationships with friends, family, neighbors, etc.
  3. Existential support: Cultural values and faith/belief systems.

Culture cuts across all factors promoting resilience and affects the way people form networks, what skills and abilities are valued, and determine their core values and beliefs. In this way, a person’s culture may impact their trauma response and tap different resiliencies.

This collection offers tools that support the three key promotional factors (internal, external, and existential). While many children live with violence, there are also many who do not. Trauma-informed, culturally responsive, resilience-focused approaches have a positive impact on all children, whether or not they have experienced trauma. Embracing this model can help ensure that all children have opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive.

Learn more:

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The Resilience Research Centre at Dalhouse University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada is a world leader in the arena of resilience research, resources, and training.