Definitions of Vulnerability

There are few explicit definitions of vulnerability available in the literature (Ingram et al., 1998; Ingram & Price, 2001). However, theory and research on vulnerability suggest a number of features essential to the construct of vulnerability and can therefore be used to arrive at a suitable definition of vulnerability. The most fundamental of these features is that vulnerability is conceptualized as a trait rather than as the kind of state that characterizes the appearance of depression. That is, even as episodes of depression emerge and then disappear, vulnerability remains constant. It is important to note in this regard that even though vulnerability is seen as a trait, this does not mean it is necessarily permanent or unalterable. Although psychological vulnerability may be resistant to change, corrective experiences can occur that attenuate vulnerability (e.g., therapy). Vulnerability is also viewed as endogenous to the person (in contrast to risk that is a function of external forces),1 as well as typically being viewed as dormant unless it is activated in some fashion. Related to this notion of dormancy, stress can also be viewed as a central aspect of vulnerability in that cognitive diatheses cannot precipitate depression without the occurrence of stressful life events.

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