Resilience: Past, Present, and Future

I tried to bake a cake for my mother’s birthday – it took me four hours. It was terrible, and I cried for three days.

-Rachel Ray, professional chef


The concept of resilience burst onto the modern research stage when a team of investigators, led by psychologist Dr. Emmy Werner, studied a group of people living on the island of Kauai. Researchers confirmed that indeed, when kids are exposed to multiple risk factors, they are much more likely to have problems throughout their lives. The real find was in unexpected: one-third of these children were doing just fine, despite negative circumstances. These children were deemed resilient.


Since then, there is even more information on how resilience is influenced by negative and positive life circumstances. It turns out there are complex interactions occurring amongst “risk” and “protective” factors. It’s like baking a cake: If you have the ingredients and follow the recipe exactly, you should get a perfect cake right? But what if your baking powder has been in the cupboard for who knows how long, or the eggs are small instead of extra large, or you frost the cake before it’s completely cool? Perhaps you have a cake mix on hand and you are able to bake with nearly total concentration. Even though we want there to be an exact science to baking, one unexpected event can influence your baked masterpiece in a variety of ways—a dry or smooshy texture, dripping frosting instead of light and fluffy, or an amazingly delicious cake. Would the cake taste ok under any of these circumstances? Probably—-I’d eat it! Like Rachel Ray, we can expect some imperfect, but edible cakes over the course of an otherwise pretty good and committed career.


Here are some positive influences that are known to foster resilience1, 2:


  • Having a good relationship with at least one adult
  • Being able to adapt to new situations
  • Family stability
  • Mothers free from depression or substance abuse
  • Good schools
  • Community services
  • Spirituality and religion
  • Supportive, sensitive caregiving in infancy & childhood
  • Having a sense of mastery of something
  • Positively interpreting events
  • Flexibility
  • Managing emotions
  • Optimism and hope
  • Being resourceful
  • Cultural support
  • Sports and the arts
  • Thinking positively about oneself
  • Actively coping with problems


See yourself and your child in any of these positive qualities? Where would you like to grow? Just because you or your children have been exposed to difficult or even tragic times, does not mean the potential for resilience is poor for a lifetime. In the next post, I’ll discuss specific strategies you can use to boost resilience in your family. You might find your journey interesting and fun as you learn to “bake” something that works for your family.



1 —Herrman, H. Steward, D. E., Diaz-Granados, N., Berger, E. L., Jackson, B., Yuen, T. (2011). What is resilience? La Revue canadienne de psychiatrie, 56, 258-265.

2 Hjemdal, O., Vogel, P. A., Solem, S., Hagen, K., & Stiles, T. (2010). The relationship between resilience and levels of anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms in adolescents. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 18, 314-321.