All people and systems need to be resilient. There are many definitions for resilience, in lots of different fields. At its most basic form, resilience is the ability to respond effectively to adversity. Based on my research, I have learned that there are a few key questions about resilience that have been discussed at different levels, from individuals to systems. It is pretty universally agreed now that resilience is a process, not a trait or state. This means resilience is something that you DO, not something that you ARE, per se. This is important, because it puts some of the control for resilience in your hands, rather than saying you have it or you don’t.

We can understand resilience in any field as being essentially:

Adversity + Response = Positive Outcomes

So let’s consider the questions that surround this idea in more detail. Researchers have widely debated the following:

  • What is adversity? Adversity is generally defined as a bad or threatening experience. Some researchers understand adversity as a trauma, while others consider it stressors, or challenges. Some authors have made the point that adversity needs to reach a certain level of ‘badness’ for this process to constitute resilience, while others have said adversity can exist on any level. Some authors have even argued that ostensibly positive events, like weddings or graduations, can constitute a form of adversity because of the stress that these life transitions bring with them.
  • What is the response? The least explored area of resilience research is the response to adversity. There has been lots of research about prevalence and types of adversity, protective factors, and what the possible outcomes of a resilience process can be. However, we are still learning about what constitutes an adaptive response. It is challenging to identify these responses, because they can vary between people and situations. For example, a fight in a romantic relationship might lead one couple to recommit to each other and work things out. Another couple may decide that they shouldn’t continue their relationship. Both of these responses could be optimal, depending on the situation. I used my master’s research to explore the responses of critical care nurses, which you can read more about here.
  • What constitutes a positive outcome? There are different ideas about what is considered a positive outcome in a resilience process. If we consider that adversity arrives at a state of baseline functioning (which could be highly variable, but for the purposes of this example…), resilient performance may be staying at baseline despite the adversity. Resilient performance could also be a decrease in functioning, but maybe not as far as expected or as experienced previously. There could also be a drop in functioning, but then a period of post-traumatic growth afterwards where functioning is higher than baseline. The timing is also an important consideration; someone could recover more quickly or slowly than expected, which could impact the outcome.
  • What is the context? The context is important in any situation, including resilience processes. Context can be thought of as the who what, when, where, why, and how of a situation. If there are a lot of resources available, a resilient performance may be different that a situation where there are very few resources available.

There are a lot of questions to ask about resilience. There are few agreements between researchers, as there are lots of different perspectives about resilience across many sectors. So where does that leave you? This is the inspiring thing about this research. You can consider these questions, and then you get to decide for yourself. A resilient performance can be something that is meaningful to you, whatever that may look like.

A final note: Keeping all of these ideas in mind, it is important not to compare resilient performance against someone or something else. Resilience is complex, with a lot of different things to consider. No two situations are the same, so no two resilience processes or outcomes will be the same either.

Click here to learn more about resilience in critical care, higher education, and in systems.

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