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Three Faces of Resilience: Harness Your Full Potential

Resilience has morphed into a life-changing tool for those who understand it.

Key points

  • The word resilience, though overused, has untapped potential.
  • Research has shown resilience to consist of three factors, not one.
  • Harnessing the full range of resilience can lead to resistance, recovery, and growth.

Words are more than scripted representations; they are powerplants of raw energy that can be harnessed and honed for great achievement, even happiness. One such remarkably powerful word is resilience. Teetering on the precipice of becoming passe if not being discarded from serious discourse, the word resilience is a conduit for potential. Perhaps it's time to rediscover the term resilience and harness it not only for use in the wake of adversity but as a springboard for opportunity and growth.

Words Matter

Vocabulary is a beast few can master. It has the power to inform or mislead. If not tamed, it will surely lead to misunderstanding, if not chaos. The Whorfian hypothesis was formulated by Benjamin Lee Whorf, drawing upon the work of a mentor, Edward Sapir. Simplistically stated, Whorf asserted the words shape thoughts, furthermore, thoughts shape attitudes, attitudes shape actions, and actions become habits. Thus, words can be asserted to be determinants and justifications for actions. The noted author George Orwell built the Whorfian hypothesis into his classic book 1984 showing the power of words in practice. Let’s take a look at the word resilience, its provenance, and its potential.


The Latin term resilire, which means to rebound or bounce back, should likely be acknowledged as the linguistic origin of the English word resile and ultimately the word resilience. The first use of the Latin resilire to mean bounce back can be traced to Cicero’s Catilinarian Orations published around 60 AD. The word resile was first used in English by none other than Henry VIII in 1529. The word resilience first appeared in the English language around 1626, first published in Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum. In its almost 2000-year journey, the Latin resilire evolved into the English words resile and resilience, the meaning to bounce back or rebound, which remained intact until only recently.

Within the last 30 years, the term resilience departed its original denotations in Latin and the English language. The generally accepted dictionary denotation of the term resilience remains to bounce back, spring back, or recover after exposure to pressure or stress. But Parul Sehgal in the 2015 New York Times Magazine article The Profound Emptiness of ‘Resilience’ asserts the term resilience has now taken on so many forms that it has long lost its original meaning. For example, rather than bouncing back from adversity, psychologist George Bonnano (2004) defines resilience as the ability to maintain relatively stable and healthy levels of psychological and physical functioning after having been exposed to potentially disruptive or traumatic events (adversity). This implies some degree of stress resistance. This extension of the concept of resilience is based on the work of Norman Garmezy and Emmy Werner as they studied protective factors among high-risk children. So, which is it? Is resilience the ability to be resistant to adversity (a form of psychological or stress immunity), or is it the ability to bounce back from adversity? Or is it more?

Three Faces of Resilience

In an effort to resolve the imprecision surrounding the word resilience, researchers factor analyzed the most popular psychometric tool for assessing resilience, the Connor-Davidson resiliency survey. Results consistently yielded two factors, not one: 1. resistance and 2. rebound. But wait, we are not done yet. Let us not forget the legend of the Phoenix, which gives us a third dimension of resilience. This mythical bird was destroyed every seven or so years only to rise bigger, better, and bolder than before. Thus, the notion of posttraumatic growth was born, which added a third dimension to the term resilience. Fredrick Nietzsche captured this notion when he said “That which does not destroy him makes him stronger” (Was ihn nicht umbringt, macht ihn stärker). Charles Carver suggested using the term thriving in the wake of adversity.

The three faces of resilience have been integrated into the Johns Hopkins’ Resilience Continuum, which is used not only to capture resilience descriptively but prescriptively as well (Kaminsky et al., 2005). So, what do public health and mental health scholars tell us about the potential of resilience?

Harnessing the Three Faces of Resilience

Descriptively, we now understand resilience to encompass 1. resistance, the ability to resist disabling stress; 2. resilience, the ability to rebound from adversity and stress; and 3. growth, salience, and the ability to leap forward out of the abyss of distress.

Prescriptively, evidence (see Everly and Lating, 2019 for a review) informs us that 1. resistance is built through gaining empowering information, setting expectations, and generating optimistic attitudes; 2. resilience is fostered through cognitive reinterpretation and interpersonal support, and 3. growth is energized through optimism, the attitudes of gratitude and forgiveness, and perhaps the inquisitive search for opportunity which can propel you to the discovery of success and happiness yet unimagined.

© George S. Everly, Jr., PhD, 2024.


Bonanno, G. A. (2004). Loss, trauma, and human resilience: Have we underestimated the human capacity to thrive after extremely aversive events? American Psychologist,59(1), 20-28.

Everly, GS, Jr. & Lating, JM (2019). Clinical guide to the treatment of the human stress response 4th Ed. NY: Springer.

Kaminsky, M., et al, (2005). Resistance, resilience, recovery. In Everly, G. & Parker, C. (Eds) Mental Health Aspects of Disaster: Public Health Preparedness and Response. Balto: Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health Preparedness.

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