The Resilient Personality: 4 Defining Features

· January 19, 2018

Having a resilient personality is more than being strong. After all, authentic strength is not a product of physical ability, but of an indomitable will. Thus, a strong person doesn’t know how to give up. They’ll fall eight times and get up ten, allow themselves to fail and to keep looking at the future with hope.

While we’ve all heard about this personality type at some point, it’s interesting to know that the concept emerged in the 80’s in the field of social psychology.

Suzanne C. Kobasa, psychologist at the University of Chicago, wanted to know what was “special” about certain people. People not only able to tolerate stress better, but who also learned from difficult, demanding situations.

“The man who gets up is even stronger than he who has not fallen.”
-Viktor Frankl-

A resilient personality was defined at that time as a subtle combination of certain biological components and the way these people learn from their experiences in society. However, the focus has changed a bit since then.

We could say that it grew and now we see a set of capabilities with indisputable potential that we should all develop.

In fact, if there’s anything big companies have begun to value, it is “mental toughness.” In other words, mental tenacity plus a resilient personality.

Because, in a world as complex and competitive as ours, it’s no longer enough to be brilliant and have talent. We must use all of our resources to keep progressing in any field, any scenario, any circumstance.


a tree with roots and houses

Four components of a resilient personality

Peter Clough, professor of applied psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University, is a leader in the study of the resilient personality and mental tenacity. In books like “Developing Mental Toughness”,  he offers tools and psychometric tests to evaluate the four dimensions composing this capacity.

In addition, one aspect that we must be very clear on is that nobody is born with a resilient personality. None of these mental approaches and internal strengths are there from birth. Rather they’re the exceptional result of thoughts, attributions and attitudes that one must keep choosing based on their experiences. Both successes and, of course, their failures.

1. Confidence, the ability to believe in oneself

Let’s admit it, there’s no worse enemy than the one that lives within us. Our self-image is what determines our behaviors, after all. Therefore, if one views oneself as small, fragile, wounded and caught up in a tangle of indecision, they will seldom attain anything good or fulfilling. They will also not face challenges, struggles, and difficulties well.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, it is self-confidence alone which is the first step towards success and well-being. We can put it another way: our life is our self-esteem.

In order to trust ourselves and our self-esteem, we have no choice but to summon the courage to face our fears. To feed our self-esteem and to set aside our limiting attitudes.

a woman blowing a dandelion, turning into doves

2. Self-control, somewhere between peace and positivity

The resilient personality is not characterized at all by a high capacity for self-control. They actually have it at an intermediate level, where they’re fully aware they can’t control everything. Everything that happens around them or what fate has in store for them… they realize it’s out of their hands.

A resilient person knows that part of life is governed by uncertainty. However, in the face of uncertainty, a refusal to surrender prevails. They connect with their own emotions in order to face what may come with courage.

In this way, in the midst of every difficulty, it will always be possible to achieve new goals and learn something new.

3. Face challenges without fear

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi once said it: changes are part of life. Absorbing them as best we can means an incentive for our personal growth.

However, we all know that challenges often come with the unwelcome trio of fear, stress, and anxiety.

A resilient personality is characterized most of all by cognitive flexibility and an ability to tolerate ambiguity well. Their inner vision, calm and mature, allows them to see every challenge not as a threat, but as a time to gather internal resources in order to put into place a positive and effective resistance.

an owl representing difficulty versus a resilient personality

4. Commitment to myself and those around me

Commitment in the resilient personality goes beyond oneself or one’s own benefit. A defining feature is their authentic social commitment, their sense of community and cooperation. This deep desire for altruism and social support often makes them an inspiration to others.

In fact, their mere presence and focused, relaxed attitude often lowers stress considerably in their surroundings.

For existentialist psychologists, a resilient personality is authentic person, someone who looks to the future with certainty, free from selfishness and moved by an express desire for the common good.

To conclude, this personality type brings together approaches, traits and internal processes where resilience abounds. Let’s start today to build these aspects in ourselves.

If we can’t choose our life circumstances, we can at least try to work on our thoughts and attitudes. We may be surprised by how much it changes our life.