Resilience theory (A complete guide)

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In this article, we will discuss Resilience Theory and its development. 

We will also explore the various resilience theories based on the research of various studies and how it applies to human functioning. 

What is Resilience theory?

Resilience theory according to experts refers to the study of the various process that make the phenomenon of resilience whole. 

This theory is the conceptual framework with which research makes sense or which enables the understanding of how some people are more resilient than others. 

Resilience refers to one’s ability to apat and bounce back from adversity, failure, and conflict. It involves one’s ability and capacity to recover from challenges that affect us in healthy ways.

Resilience theory not only helps to understand the process of resilience development in an individual but also helps us to understand the process with which we face or deal with adversity and challenges. 

Who developed the theory of resilience?

Resilience Theory was developed out of a collective study on resilience by various researchers and one of the most notable researchers who pioneered the study of this phenomenon is Norman Garmezy.

The initial studies of resilience were developed when researchers studied the risk and outcomes of children who were at high risk for psychopathology- specifically those who recovered from it easily. 

This particular field of study led to a paradigm shift in the way researchers studied development of human beings. 

From a focus on the various risks factors and vulnerabilities that lead to poor developmental outcomes, the focus became more strength focused and developmental research started looking at the positive variables that contributed to healthy outcomes in development. 


What are the major characteristics of this theory?

Major characteristics of resilience theory include:

  • In the early days of research the focus of this theory was on various personality traits that lead to resilience and it was based on some static internal quality however over time, research has found that resize capacity is dynamic which allows for adaptability and growth in resilience capacity. 
  • Research has also found that resilience is a common ability found in everyone that this process is present innately for survival and not something only extraordinary people have. 
  • The studies also noted that it is only when adaptive systems are impaired, then the resilience process falters but it is possible that these systems can be repaired to develop resilience. These systems include individual, family, and community factors. 
  • The theoretical studies done also found that personal or individual factors play a major role in terms of resilience such as temperament, tendency towards neuroticism etc. It is external factors from family and community such as parenting styles, acceptance, safe neighbourhoods etc that also play a huge role in developing resilience. 
  • Recent research has found that people’s resilience is not fixed and can fluctuate depending on various domains. An individual’s resilience when it comes to their career might be healthy however might find it difficult to be resilient in areas related to commitment and relationships. 

What are the different theories of resilience?

Let us look at the various theories of resilience that has been developed over time that contributes to the overarching understanding of resilience:

Dr Norman Garmezy’s Resilience Theory:

Dr Norman Garmezy is a clinical psychologist and is known as the pioneer in the research of resilience. 

According to the Norman Garmezy Resilience theory, someone one who has resilience is someone who is able to function adequately despite emotional turmoil and not someone who is simply brave. 

According to his theory, resilience reflects the capacity for recovery and adaptive behavior that is maintained even after initial incapacity of facing the stressful event.

The Key elements of his theory include:

  • Resilience is a result of Individual factors such as Temperament, Positive responses to others and Cognitive skills.
  • Familial factors- Family cohesion and warmth, empathy, communication. 
  • Support factors external to the family such as supportive friends, mentors, peers.

The work in research that Garmezy has done also found that resilience is a dynamic construct that changes over time  and also that resilient functioning in one domain can impact other levels of adaptive function in the face of adversity.


Shame Resilience Theory

Shame resilience theory was developed by Brené Brown in her 2006 paper, Shame Resilience Theory: A Grounded Theory Study on Women and Shame.

Her theory explored how people respond to and defeat the universal emotion of shame. She described her own theory as the ability to recognise a negative emotion such as shame when we experience it and overcome it constructively.

Brown’s theory also highlights that this overcoming of shame must be done in a way that protects and retains authenticity and also allows for growth from the experiences of shame. 

Family resilience processes

In a meta-analysis on family resilience, Walsh (2003) introduced the concept that involves nine processes that interact with each other to help strengthen familial ties. 

This theory also posits that these processes also help to develop more resources and competencies that help families, familial bonds, and individual members remain resilient in the face of adversity.

According to this theory, these dynamic princesses include:

  • Making sense of adversity by normalizing distress and viewing crises as manageable, and also finding meaning from the adversity. 
  • Having a positive and optimistic outlook 
  • Growing from adversity and connecting with larger purpose or value.
  • Being able to reorganise and remain flexibility in the face of challenges to provide continuity. 
  • Being connected and providing mutual support. 
  • Mobilizing economic resources to create financial stability
  • Clarity in communication
  • Sharing emotions openly 
  • Solving problems through joint effort. 

Community Resilience Theory

Community resilience is understood as the process by which people in a community make use of the existence and engagement of community resources to overcome adversity, change, disasters, etc. 

Community resilience studies emphasizes the importance of individual mental health and personal development on the larger social scale such that efforts are made by social systems to work towards a shared goal to protect individual resilience and wellbeing. 

Community resilience theory considers community resilience as part of the personal development of resilience when faced with adversity. 

Organizational Resilience Theory

According to Dr. George Stalk of the Boston Consulting Group, Organizational resilience is,

“….a ‘culture of resilience,’ which manifests itself as a form of ‘psychological immunity’.”

According to Stalk, organisational resilience allows for “ incremental and transformational changes” in the face of adversity and challenges within corporate or non-corporate organisations. 

It is a major factor that has recently gotten a lot of attention and traction due to the turbulent and adversity environments that corporations usually have. 

According to this theory, building a “culture of resilience” requires a lot of education and role-modeling of resilient behaviours by high profile individuals within the organisation which can help encourage others to do the same. 

These resilience inducing behaviors include:

  • Persistence
  • Putting effort into dealing with challenges
  • Practicing self-aiding thought patterns
  • Providing support to others
  • Leading with integrity
  • Open communication
  • Showing decisiveness

Seligman’s 3Ps Model of Resilience

The best theory and model of resilience that relates resilience to positive psychology is 

Seligman’s 3Ps model.

These three Ps are:

  • Personalization – a cognitive distortion where people indulge in the internalization of problems or failure and put a lot of unnecessary blame on ourselves.
  • Pervasiveness – assuming negative experiences to be spread across different areas of our life leading us to assume that all is doomed.
  • Permanence – believing that bad experiences last forever, which prevents us from putting effort into improving our situation and instead give up. 

According to seligman, by addressing these three nonadaptive responses and changing our perspectives- mindself, thoughts, and beliefs- we can build resilience and learn to cope better with challenges.


In this blog, we learned about Resilience Theory and its history from where it emerged. We also focused on it’s characteristics and the various theories of resilience. 


Li. P. Resilience Theory in Psychology (Definition & Characteristics). Parenting for brain. 7th August 2021. Retrieved on 19th November 2021. 

Moore. C. Resilience Theory: What Research Articles in Psychology Teach Us (+PDF). Positivepsychology. 10th November 2021. Retrieved on 19th November 2021. 

FAQ: Resilience theory

What is resilience theory in social work?

The resilience theory in social work is based on promoting the competence of children and improving their health and also helping them to overcome the obstacles and negative situations or life-stressors and boosting their ability to grow and survive. 

Who developed the resilience theory?

The resilience theory was developed by Dr Norman Garmezy, also known as the founder of research in resilience.

What are the 3 categories of resilience?

The three categories of resilience are natural, adaptive and restored.

What is the concept of resilience?

Resilience is the ability to adapt to any stressful situation and be able to bounce back with full potential and with enough strengths.

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