The Development Of Human Resilience During Life

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This essay will summarise the definition of resilience and how it develops as humans progress through life. This essay will argue that a large majority of individuals will positively adapt in the face of adversity with a minority of individuals developing genuine emotional and/or behavioural problems. This essay will argue that protective factors such as high self-esteem, social support networks and coping methods promote resilience within individuals. This essay will also describe the concepts of coping, mindfulness and resilience in relation to theory and practice in social work. This essay will argue that mindfulness meditation increases awareness, promoting resilience within social workers and in turn increases their quality of service to their clients. Furthermore, this essay will also discuss the skills and qualities a resilient social work practitioner should display. Additionally, this essay will highlight how resilience relates to birth, childhood, adulthood and later life. Furthermore, this essay will explore the concept of post-traumatic growth and how it relates to resilience. A number of case studies will be used to explore the concept of resilience through different developmental stages to support these findings.

Resilience is an ever-changing concept, however, is mostly defined as the ability to adapt positively despite adversity (Rutter 2012). Rutter (2012) argues that resilience should be perceived as a process and not a set characteristic an individual acquires. Mental health professionals have been inclined to emphasise the negative impacts traumatic events have on individuals rather than focusing on the positive outcomes that come as a result of exposure to these situations (Werner, 2005). However, resilience is a concept that mental health professionals, specifically social workers are starting to focus on more, which draws attention to the positive effects a stressful situation can provide to an individual. Collins (2008) recognises that it is important to note that resilient individuals still experience stressful circumstances and feel negative emotions, however they balance these negative emotions with positive emotions. Rutter (2012) challenges the assumption that individuals will respond to threats in a similar manner to each other. Rutter (2012) argues that when an individual encounters a stressful event this, in turn, can result in better coping with later stress. Protective factors refer to the characteristics of an individual that are protective in cases of adversity which decrease the risk of a negative outcome. Protective factors may include higher intelligence, good education, nurturing parents, social support networks, high self-esteem and coping methods. Collins (2008) argues that resilience is not a fixed concept but is influenced by the situation, the number and severity of stressors, individual attributes and the individual’s environment. Collins (2008) argues that resilience is not an unusual attribute in individuals which challenges the assumption that resilience is rare. Werner (2005) describes the ingrained assumption that if a child is exposed to a negative situation such as domestic violence, substance abuse or poverty that it is inescapable that the child will encounter difficulties with their development. Mental health practitioners have had the habit of focusing on the negative impacts that individuals experience as a result of these traumatic events rather than the positive outcomes of the individual. Werner (2005) argues that only a small number of individuals develop significant emotional disruptions or continuous behavioural issues after exposure to a number of stressors.

Werner (2005) discusses the Kauai Longitudinal Study which explored development from birth to midlife. The study looks into how a number of biological and psychosocial risk factors, traumatic events and protective factors impact a sample of 698 children from Kauai in 1955. The children were observed by a group of mental health workers, social workers, paediatricians and nurses at ages 1, 2, 10, 18, 32 and 40. Werner (2005) refers to those who positively adapt in spite of their adversities as ‘survivors’ and those who don’t as ‘casualties’. Werner (2005) found that 30% of the sample were ‘survivors’ and some of these children came from poor backgrounds, experienced family dysfunction, had parents with psychiatric disorders, encountered complications with birth or were raised by mothers with significantly low levels of education. These are all considered risk factors that increase the chance of a child developing serious emotional or behavioural problems. Werner (2005) found that 20% of the children who had encountered a majority of these risk factors by age 2 developed behaviour or learning difficulties by age 10 or had run into trouble with the law or mental health issues by 18. However, a third of these children turned out to be capable adults with no indication of any behaviour or learning problems throughout childhood or adolescence, flourishing in school and their social life. Werner (2005) argues that the achievements of these individuals challenged the assumption that children recognised as ‘high risk’ are destined to do poorly in life. Werner (2005) describes that children with ‘easy going’ personalities, nurturing parents and access to social support networks such as family, friends or community acted as protective factors, promoting resilience in children. Werner (2005) found that those who were resilient in adulthood despite difficult circumstances turned to the assistance of their family and community that increased their ability to achieve their goals and decrease the number of stressors they encounter and in turn allowed new opportunities to arise. Furthermore, children described as having ‘easy going’ personalities had higher levels of problem-solving skills which in turn increased their likelihood of overcoming their problems independently (Werner 2005). Additionally, Werner (2005) found that the ‘survivors’ were those who had formed a strong connection with at least one stable parental figure who was empathetic to their needs at a young age.

Durmont and Provost (1999) explore the concept of resilience in those transitioning from childhood to adulthood. Adolescence is a phase where individuals undergo a number of changes physically, cognitively and socially, in which some individuals will adapt positively and others will encounter issues adjusting (Durmont & Provost, 1999). Durmont and Provost, (1999) explore the protective factors that assist individuals in positively adapting to these changes. Durmont and Provost (1999) argue that protective factors such as high self-esteem, social support networks and coping methods promote resilience within individuals during their transition from childhood to adulthood. Durmast and Provost (1999) demonstrate this by examining the levels of young adolescents, stress and depression and how protective factors influence them. Hassani, Izadi-Avanji, Rakhshan and Majd (2017) explore resilience in later life. Hassani, et al. (2017) argue that resilience improves physical and mental health in later life. Although, older people experience a number of health problems most tend to adapt to their situation. The promotion of resilience is significant in later life as older people are more inclined to lose physical and cognitive functioning as well as face chronic diseases. Older people are at an increased risk of developing mental illnesses due to increased feelings of loneliness, insecurity and helplessness due to lack of mobility and independence (Hassani et al., 2017). Increased resilience in older people assists them in managing the negative changes in their health and increases their feelings of independence (Hassani et al., 2017). However, Hassani et al. (2017) mention that resilience does not decrease with age, recognising that older people have similar and sometimes higher scores of resilience than younger people. Hassani et al. (2017) describe that older people suffering from cancer believed that factors such as social support and spirituality enhanced their resilience. Alongside struggles of chronic diseases, older people are more likely to experience traumatic events such as losing their spouse, thus resilience in later life is significant.

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Resilience relates enormously to social work as the concept surrounds the idea that every individual has the ability to rebuild themselves positively and recognises the individual’s strengths (Hernández & García-Moreno, 2014). Collins (2008) describes how the social work profession can be demanding resulting in high levels of stress for social workers. Collins (2008) argues that emotional resilience is important for social workers to help them overcome the stress of their demanding profession. Stress outcomes such as burnout and compassion fatigue are common consequences of working in mental health professions such as social work (Crowder and Sears, 2014). Compassion fatigue describes the process by which a practitioner becomes emotionally exhausted from working with distressed clients (Crowder and Sears, 2014). Burnout refers to a continuous response to severe emotional and interpersonal stressors in work, resulting in exhaustion (Crowder and Sears, 2014). Because the social work profession requires practitioners to support people through difficult situations, it is important that social workers practice self-care. Self-care is a critical component of social work practice and mindfulness can be used to decrease the effects of stress and increase awareness (Kelly & Okolo, 2016). Kelly and Okolo (2016) describes that as a mental health worker it is important to be aware of our own levels of stress and how our body reacts to stress. Kelly and Okolo (2016) argue that mindfulness meditation can promote awareness and as a result increase the quality of services social workers provide to their clients. Mindfulness relates to a process that allows an individual to become fully emerged and aware of what they are feeling and thinking in the present moment (Kelly & Okolo, 2016). The National Association of Social Workers code of ethics describes that a social workers personal problems should not interfere with their professional practice (NASW, 2008) which suggests that self-care is an essential practice for social workers. Collins (2008) argues that in the social work profession, it is important that socials workers receive support from their co-workers where they can share their negative emotions, in order to promote resilience. Social workers are exposed to an array of negative emotions as they frequently work with individuals that are coping with stressful situations, thus it is important that social workers are resilient so they don’t burn out (Collins, 2008). Collins (2008) supports the idea that good self-esteem and a sense of control are key factors that promote resilience in individuals. Collins (2008) describes that social workers who display qualities such as being optimistic are beneficial to promoting their client’s resilience. Social workers encourage their clients to look at new opportunities and emphasise their strengths of their client’s display, encouraging them to recognise the resources around them (Collins, 2008). This encourages self-determination in clients and allows them to solve their problems on their own. Social workers focus on not only the problem but on the outcome. As a social worker, it is important to have confidence in your client and set goals. For example, if a social worker expects their client to be resilient this encourages their client to develop a plan (Collins, 2008).

Grant and Kinman (2014) describe qualities and skills such as emotional intelligence, reflective ability, empathy, social skills and support are important to possess to be considered a resilient social worker. Emotional intelligence refers to an individuals ability to drive oneself to persist in cases of frustration, to think even when stressed and display characteristics such as hope and empathy (Grant & Kinman, 2014). Grant and Kinman (2014) argue that those with emotional intelligence are described as confident, responsible, and adaptable who utilise coping methods to solve problems and make decisions. Grant and Kinman (2014) also argue that the ability to reflect on one’s emotions and attitudes and the perspectives of others promotes resilience. Social workers who show empathetic feelings such as compassion towards their clients report feelings of personal achievement and mental wellbeing, however, it is important to lay out boundaries in order to prevent burnout and compassion fatigue (Grant & Kinman, 2014). Grant and Kinman (2014) also support the significance of social support in the social work profession in an effort to promote resilience. Social skills such as good communication and confidence are essential to developing effective social support networks with co-workers, family and friends (Grant & Kinman, 2014). Collins (2008) argues that resilient individuals often display characteristics such as optimism, good sense of humour and being open-minded. Collins (2008) supports the idea that an individual who reflects and responds positively to unfamiliar and continuous situations are more likely to positively adapt. Hernández and García-Moreno (2014) argue that social workers who display high levels of extrovert and conscientiousness are more likely to develop resilience within themselves and with their clients.

Although many people believe post-traumatic growth and resilience are the same, the two are distinct concepts, however, both compliment each other, both referring to a positive outcome from adversity (Anderson, 2018). Post-traumatic growth refers to an individual’s personal growth as a result of enduring a traumatic event, resulting in positive changes (Anderson, 2018). Tedeschi and Calhoun (1996) argue that these positive changes can include an increase in personal strength, spiritual change, a new found appreciation of life, new opportunities in life and an increase in relationships with others. These positive changes highlight an individuals ability to heal even after the most unfavourable situations (Anderson, 2018). Anderson (2018) describes that many individuals report personal growth after experiencing a traumatic event. Ben-Porat (2015) describes how adversity can lead to either a positive change of negative change denying on the context of the situation and the resources available to the individual at the time. For example, an individual who is exposed to a natural disaster such as a tornado is more likely to engage in post-traumatic growth if a good social support network is available to them (Anderson, 2018). Anderson (2018) challenges the assumption that those who are exposed to traumatic events will remain wounded and not positively grow. Anderson (2018) supports the concept that social support is a significant factor in promoting post-traumatic growth and in turn promoting resilience within individuals.

To conclude, resilience is an important factor in all stages of human development and defined as the ability to positively adapt even when faced with stressful circumstances. This essay outlines that protective factors such as high self-esteem, good social support networks and coping methods promote resilience within individuals from all stages of development. This essay argues that resilient social workers should display skills and qualities such as emotional intelligence, reflective ability, empathy, social and support skills, optimism and confidence. This essay concludes that post-traumatic growth and resilience are distinct concepts, however, are closely connected with one promoting the other. This essay recognises that self-care is a critical aspect of social work in order to prevent stress-related outcomes such as burnout and compassion fatigue. This essay explores coping methods such as mindfulness meditation that increases awareness, in turn, promoting resilience in social workers.


  1. Anderson, K. M. (2018). Post-traumatic growth and resilience despite experiencing trauma and oppression. Journal of Family Social Work, 21(1), 1-4. doi: 10.1080/10522158.2017.1402540
  2. Ben-Porat, A. (2015). Vicarious post-traumatic growth: Domestic violence therapists versus social service department therapists in Israel. Journal of Family Violence, 30(7), 923-933. doi: 10.1007/s10896-015-9714-x
  3. Collins, S. (2008). Social workers, resilience, positive emotions and optimism. Social Work in Action, 19(4), 255-269. doi: 10.1080/09503150701728186
  4. Crowder, R., & Sears, A. (2017). Building Resilience in Social Workers: An Exploratory Study on the Impacts of a Mindfulness-based Intervention. Australian Social Work, 70(1), 17-29. doi: 10.1080/0312407X.2016.1203965
  5. Grant, L., & Kinman, G. (2014). Emotional Resilience in the Helping Professions and how it can be Enhanced. Health and Social Care Education, 3(1), 23-34. doi: 10.11120/hsce.2014.0004
  6. Hassani, P., Izadi-Avanji, F., Rakhshan, M., & Majd, H. (2017). A phenomenological study on resilience of the elderly suffering from chronic disease: a qualitative study. Psychology Research and Behaviour Management, 10, 59-67. doi: 10.2147/PRBM.S121336
  7. Hernández, C., & García-Moreno, C. (2014). Migration, Resilience and Social Work: Latin Americans in Tarragona. The British Journal of Social Work, 44(1), 88-104. doi: 10.1093/bjsw/bcu045
  8. Kelly, A., & Okolo, I. (2016). Mindfulness Meditation as a Self-Care Practice in Social Work. Retrieved from
  9. National Association of Social Workers. (2008). Code of Ethics. Retrieved from
  10. Rutter, M. (2012). Resilience as a dynamic concept. Development and Psychopathology, 24(2), 335-344. doi:10.1017/S0954579412000028
  11. Tedeschi, R., & Calhoun, L. (1996). The posttraumatic growth inventory: Measuring the positive legacy of trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 9(3), 455-471. doi: 10.1002/jts.2490090305
  12. Werner, E. (2005). Resilience and Recovery: Findings from the Kauai Longitudinal Study. Research, Policy, and Practice in Children’s Mental Health, 19(1), 11-14.

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