Resilience can be defined as the capacity to rebound from adversity strengthened and more resourceful. It is an active process of endurance, self-righting, and growth in response to crisis and challenge. The ability to overcome adversity challenges our culture’s conventional wisdom: that early or severe trauma can’t be undone; that adverse experiences always damage people sooner or later; and that children from troubled or “broken” families are doomed.
Resilience entails more than merely surviving, getting through, or escaping a harrowing ordeal. Survivors are not necessarily resilient; some become trapped in a position as victims, nursing their wounds and blocked from growth by anger and blame (Wolin & Wolin, 1993). In contrast, the qualities of resilience enable people to heal from painful wounds, take charge of their lives, and go on to live fully and love well. In order to understand resilience, it is important to distinguish it from faulty notions of “invulnerability” and “self-sufficiency.” As we will see, resilience is forged through openness to experiences and interdependence with others.

The American ethos of the rugged individual (Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, & Tipton, 1985), with its associated images of masculinity and strength, has led many to confuse invulnerability with resilience. The early use of the term “invulnerable child” contributed to an unfortunate image of survivors of destructive environments as impervious to stress because of their own inner fortitude or character armor (Anthony, 1987). These hardy children were likened to steel dolls—so constitutionally sound that, unlike glass or plastic dolls that break under pressure, they could withstand even the most severe stressors. The danger inherent in the myth of invulnerability and the image of “super-kids” is in equating human vulnerability with weakness and
invulnerability with strength. As Felsman and Vaillant (1987) note, “The term ‘invulnerability’ is antithetical to the human condition. . . . 
In bearing witness to the resilient behavior of high-risk children everywhere, a truer effort would be to understand, in form and by degree, the shared human qualities at work” (p. 304). Most studies do not find that resilient individuals maintain a steady state of competence and high functioning through adversity, as some
have proposed (Bonanno, 2004). Similarly, the capacity to rebound should not be misconstrued as simply “breezing through” a crisis, unscathed by painful experience, as if fortified with a Teflon ego, troubles bouncing off without causing pain or suffering (Schwartz, 1997). 
With only two alternatives posed—either to shake off adversity or to “wallow” in it—too many Americans “cut their losses” or simply move on. Our culture breeds intolerance for personal suffering; we avert our gaze from disability, avoid contact with the bereaved, or dispense chirpy advice to “cheer up” and get over it. Well-intentioned loved ones encourage people to get instant closure from personal life crises and to leap into new relationships on the rebound from failed ones. Likewise, we are urged simply to put national crises and past atrocities behind us—whether Vietnam, Abu Ghraib prison abuses, or legacies of slavery—without looking back to draw meaning from them, come to terms with them, Foundations of a Family Resilience Approach 5 and heal as a society. This tendency to cut off from highly stressful and conflict-laden experiences is rooted in our immigrant and pioneer heritage. In order to forge a new life in a strange land, it was more adaptive to focus on meeting new challenges (with a curious blend of stoicism and optimism) than to dwell on the loss of loved ones and communities left behind, or on the extreme conditions many fled as refugees.

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