Psychologists define resilience as «the process of adapting well in the face of adversity,
trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship
problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors» (American
Psychological Association, 2014).
Steven M. Southwick, professor of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine (New
Haven, CT, USA) wrote: «Most of us think of resilience as the ability to bend but not break,
to bounce back, and perhaps even grow in the face of adverse life experiences».
George A. Bonanno, professor of Clinical Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia
University (NY, USA), gives this definition: «We define resilience very simply as a stable
trajectory of healthy functioning after a highly adverse event». This trajectory can be
characterized by a relatively brief period of disequilibrium but knows no psychopathology.
Ann Masten, professor at the Institute for Child Development at the University of Minnesota
(Minneapolis, MN, USA), defines resilience as «the capacity of a dynamic system to adapt
successfully to disturbances that threaten the viability, the function, or the development of
that system». This definition can be used for different systems, including the human behavior
in a family, community, or even societal contexts.
The dominant definition of resilience makes it the capacity to cope successfully with
adversity, bending (= adapting) to circumstances without breaking (= falling into
psychopathological condition). Adversities can be common daily stressors (unemployment,
divorce, bullying, sickness, aging, solitude, etc.) or life-threatening traumatic experiences that
can heavily influence mental and physical health: interpersonal violence, the trauma of war or
ethnic cleansing, death of a loved one, natural disasters, terrorism, rape, severe poverty, etc.
Given this definition of resilience – the most shared one – what the hell does kintsugi have to
do with it?
Kintsugi is not the art of creating elastic pottery that can bounce back from a fall, like bouncy
balls, or making a roly-poly toy style ceramic.
Kintsugi deals with critical breakages, not with resilience.
Defining kintsugi as the art of resilience is a contradictio in adjecto, a “contradiction in terms”
(not an oxymoron).
Defining resilience as the ability to successfully “bounce back” from whatever life throws at
us is a childish approach to life (we break sometimes) and, moreover, a rigid and frigid
Some scholars – still a few of them – are developing a new and more scientifically fruitful
concept of resilience, which includes a certain degree of “breakage”. Rachel Yehuda,
Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience and Director of the Traumatic Stress Studies
Division at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine (NY, USA), conceptualizes resilience as the
process of moving forward in an insightful and integrated positive manner (= with a
conscious effort of self-reintegration), that can co-occur in presence of a severe post-
traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
This different approach can open new scientific and therapeutic perspectives, which I will not
explore here, ‘cause it’s time, now, to mind a new gap. And jump it.
Here’s a 2-minute video featuring Rachel Yehuda: