According to the United Nations, human resilience is about removing the barriers that hold people back in their freedom to act (Ryan and Waite, 2020). It is concerned with enabling disadvantaged and excluded groups to be active agents in shaping their destiny. A person’s well-being is affected by the context in which they live, their freedom to act and recover from adversity. Resilience is a protective or positive process that reduces maladaptive outcomes when risk arises. It is not an all or nothing thing since it includes a spectrum of qualities. It is a dynamic concept that focuses on safeguarding and nurturing human development.

Resilience is many protective factors that allow us to neutralise risk factors that threaten to compromise health. Resilience is a learned process that is ‘not natural’. Emergent resilience is positive adjustment in the face of chronic adversity. Minimal impact resilience is positive change in response to more acute adverse events. It is more than a fixed trait but a multifaceted phenomenon including individual, relational and contextual aspects that is not a permanent characteristic. Resilience helps to make sure that community, state and global institutions empower and protect people. Human development is about removing the obstacles that prevent people from exercising their autonomy to act. A person’s development can modify their resilience level. It is important to distinguish between resilience and thriving. The goal should be to promote positive development beyond what is normal. Resilience is linked with adequacy whereas thriving is linked with excellence.

In adolescence resilience is particularly complex given the risks of this age. Vulnerabilities include rapid changes, desire for independence and peer influence. Protective factors that work for one person in one context may not work for another. Peer support may be particularly important at this age. Some believe that resilience is less about innate ability and more to do with accessing social networks and support that can aid positive development in the face of adversity. ‘Caring connected environments’ are more important than genes or other factors in supporting adaptation. Resilience inherently advances early intervention rather than treatment so it is not just about focusing on those facing challenges but helping everyone develop the strengths and resources they possess and that they can access in their environment. Within a social-ecological model, the responsibility is on the broader community to advance resilience. People are embedded in families, communities, societies and cultures – failures in adaptation in the individual is not only the responsibility of the broader social world but the impact will be felt by that world.

Developmental scientists describe the ability to bounce back from adversity as ‘displays of resilience’ (Hays-Grudo and Morris, 2020). It is the capacity of a system to adapt successfully to disturbances that threaten the function and viability of development of the system. This can be applied to systems at all levels from ecosystems to economies. Resilience, it has been claimed, requires two conditions: exposure to threat or severe adversity; and positive adaptation must occur despite this ‘attack on development’. Ann Masten’s (2014) list of factors associated with resilience include: effective caregiving and good parenting; close relationships with other adults; close friends and romantic partners; intelligence and problem-solving skills; self-control, emotion regulation and planfulness; motivation to succeed; self-efficacy; faith, hope and belief that there is meaning to life; effective schools and neighbourhoods and collective efficacy.


Hays-Grudo, J., & Morris, A. S. (2020). Adverse and protective childhood experiences: A developmental perspective. American Psychological Association.


Waite, R., & Ryan, R. A. (2019). Adverse childhood experiences: What students and health professionals need to know. Routledge.