Resilience Theory (A complete guide)

In this article, we’ll learn about Resilience Theory, what it is and where it has emerged from.

Then we’ll focus on the different Theories known worldwide by famous researchers.

Then we’ll learn about Positive psychology and then the relationship between resilience and different social psychology fields.


Resilience Theory refers to the ability to adapt successfully and bounce back from adversity, failure, conflict, frustration and misfortune.

It helps us to recover from the difficulties that have taken a toll on us.

Resilience Theory argues that the important is how we deal with the difficulties rather than the nature of adversities.


In the 1970s, while investigating the risk of psychopathology in children, it was found that some children, even after exposure to risk, recovered from it easily.

It is then the concept of resilience took place and it changed the focus from mental illness to mental health.

Resilience research provides data that has a significant improvement in the outcomes of psychological, educational, social and emotional in young children.

What is Resilience Theory:

Resilience can be defined as the process between the adversity and the outcome.

There is no particular definition of Resilience, for some, it is a holistic approach whereas, for some, it’s something intrinsic to the individual.

Some refer to the capacities of people whereas, some take it as a positive functioning in the face of adversity.


Michael Rutter Theory:

In 2006, Rutter defined resilience as, “An interactive concept that is concerned with the combination of serious risk experiences and a relatively positive psychological outcome despite those experiences”.

Key elements of theory:

Rutter believes that resilience is not at all related to the individual’s psychological traits, rather he believes it to be the ability to adapt when given the right resources.

He also believes that children can be resilient with some risk factors and therefore different risks and environmental factors can eventually result in the children showing resilience or lack of it in different situations.

Dr Norman Garmezy’s Resilience Theory:

Dr Norman Garmezy is a clinical psychologist and is known as the founder of research in Resilience. According to the Norman Garmezy Resilience theory, someone with great resilience is not necessarily someone who is extremely brave despite adversity, it is someone who is able to show functional adequacy despite the emotional turmoil.

Dr Norman Garmezy defines resilience as “not necessarily impervious to stress. Rather, resilience is designed to reflect the capacity for recovery and maintained adaptive behavior that may follow initial retreat or incapacity upon initiating a stressful event”.

He defined resilience as “not necessarily impervious to stress, rather, resilience is designed to reflect the capacity of recovery and maintained adaptive behaviour that may follow initial retreat or incapacity upon initiating a stressful event”. 

He very well made sure that resilient children are not in any kind of “hero” in front of the non-resilient children or who faces the stressful situation with retreat or despair.

According to him, to be resilient one need to show “functional adequacy despite an interfering emotionality, as a benchmark of resilient behaviour under stress”

Key elements of theory:

  • Individual factors- Temperament, Positive responses to others and Cognitive skills
  • Familial factors- Family cohesion and warmth or concern for all the family members including grandparents and children
  • Support factors- Factors those are external to the family, those can be supportive teachers, a strong maternal substitute etc.

Emmy Werner Theory:

Werner defined resilience as, “The capacity to cope effectively with the internal stresses of their vulnerabilities and external stresses”.

In simple meaning, she described resilience as those children who “worked well, played well, loved well, and expected well.”

Key elements of theory:

Werner had an ecological view of resilience that focused on the protective factors of the child, those can be dispositional attributes of the individual, affectional ties in family and external support system.

Werner believed the more stressful situation will be, the more protective factors will be required.

Suniya Luthar Theory:

Luthar in 2000, defined resilience as “a dynamic process encompassing positive adaptation with the context of significant adversity.”

According to her, two significant things are important for one to be resilient and those are- exposure to the significant stress and the achievement of positive adaptation.

Key elements of theory:

According to Luthar, there are three types of protective factors and those are-

  • Protective-stabilizing (despite the increasing risk, attribute gives stability to competence)
  • Protective-enhancing (engaging stress and increasing confidence within self)
  • Protective but reactive (general advantages but not with high-stress levels)

Ann Masten Theory:

In 2011, Masten defined resilience as “The capacity of a dynamic system to adapt to disturbances that threaten system function, viability, or development.” 

Key elements of theory:

Masten believed that for a child to be resilient he must have positive adaptation and the presence of conditions that threaten to disrupt positive adaptation.

According to her positive adaptation refers to meeting developmental tasks and fundamental human adaptation systems (attachment relationships and parenting, self-regulatory systems for emotion)

Michel Unger Theory:

Unger defined resilience as, “more than an individual set of characteristics. It is the structure around the individual, the services the individual receives, the way health knowledge is generated, all of which combine with characteristics of individuals that allow them to overcome the adversity they face and chart pathways to resilience.”

Key elements of theory:

In 2011, Ungar believed that there are four principles that are important to be considered and those are complexity, atypicality and cultural relativity.

He did not propose that the child has nothing to do with resilience, but he focused on the emphasis that should be on the nature of social and physical ecology, then on the interaction between the child and environment and then at last on the child.


There is a positive relationship between resilience and positive psychology and they both are subjects of social psychology.

When we are happy and positive then it is more likely that we are able to adapt in the situation easily wouldn’t be stressed out easily.

They both are applied fields of study which means that they can be used in everyday life and can make some differences in society.

Character Strengths and Resilience:

Our strengths help us in being able to adapt the difficult situations in life, these can be taken as the protective factors against stressful situations and help us in coping with these difficulties.

Resilience and Positive Emotions:

If a person is happy, he can be more adaptive and elaborative in his own thoughts which ultimately leads to an individual being more resilient and therefore it has a positive relationship between the two.

Role of Resilience in Positive Organizational Behaviour:

A person who has good resilience is said to be able of coping with negative emotions and situations.

And a person who is supposed to be good in an organization should have a personality with optimism and hope and a person who has resilience is likely to have good organizational behaviour.


In this blog, we learned about Resilience Theory and it’s history from where it emerged.

Then it focused on the different Resilience theories known worldwide.

Then it highlighted the relationship between different Social psychology subjects and Resilience.

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 able to bounce back with full potential and with enough strengths.


Moore, C. (2020). Resilience theory: what research articles in psychology teach us.

Shean, M. Current Theories related to resilience and young people. A literature review

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