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  • Writer's pictureTiffany Wicks

Is Resilience Determined by Nature or Nurture?

Resilience is the ability to maintain mental health and positively adapt despite situations of adversity. It is our “toughness” through life’s most difficult moments. However, resilience can be hard to develop. Coping with adversity, especially unexpected obstacles, requires many different aspects of life to work together to instill the ability to adapt and change as needed. In a study based in Canada (Herman et al., 2011), researchers worked to define the collaboration of systems that are needed to establish and maintain resiliency.

The study looked at how resilience was defined and what factors impact it. The researchers reviewed multiple studies published on the topic of resilience between 2006 and 2010. The authors identified primary causes of resilience to be personal, biological, and systemic. Personal factors pertained to one’s personality traits. This includes but was not limited to: extrovertedness, openness, self-efficacy, self-esteem, and optimism, and resourcefulness. Biological factors were linked to early nourishment in infancy, nurturing caregivers, and higher morning cortisol. Cortisol levels, the stress hormone regulator, earlier in the day were associated with the ability to handle stressful events on a daily basis. Environmental and systemic factors were related to positive family relationships and social support. The interaction of these three factors was what constituted the components of resilience. The authors also looked at some early signs that someone was capable of being resilient.

The signs of resilience often occur in childhood. People able to rise above challenges may be identified from an early as children who perform well academically, have a strong sense of emotional regulation, low frequency of behavioral issues, and positive social relationships. Although these are signs, this does not mean that all people have to have those traits in early childhood in order to be resilient. There’s always opportunity to change perspective, look at potential positive outcomes, and create healthy relationships for support through hard times.

The authors discuss that resilience development must be an interactive process. Personal, biological and environmental factors must all work together to create the indicators that identify people with the ability to adapt to obstacles. The authors also further conclude that resilience is not the end goal. Hardiness is the next step, which is one’s sense of control over one’s life. Benefit finding then looks at adversity and one is able to make meaning from that adversity. Thriving is the third step beyond resilience and it is the ability to return to a prestress level within those interactive factors of resilience. Finally, Posttraumatic growth establishes a sense of personal strength, growth, and a new depth of relationships. These steps beyond resilience can be goals of those who are overcoming adversity, and they are possible when the systems align, interact, and enacted.


Herrman, H., Stewart, D. E., Diaz-Granados, N., Berger, E. L., Jackson, B., & Yuen, T. (2011). What is resilience?. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 56(5), 258-265.

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