Bereavement: How Strength Saps Coping

By Bower, Bruce | Science News, June 22, 1991 | Go to article overview

Bereavement: How Strength Saps Coping


Bower, Bruce, Science News


A harmonious marriage, a solid bank account and a sense of control over life offer many rewards. But such sought-after assets also set the stage for a particularly difficult adjustment to the death of a spouse, according to preliminary data from the first large-scale study of adults both before and after bereavement.

"People with considerable [psychological and financial] resources may be at most risk for negative reactions to the loss of a loved one," says psychology graduate studnt Vicki Gluhoski of the State University of New York at Stony Brook. "If someone view the of predictable and safe, bereavement may hit them especially hard."

Gluhoski, who conducted the study with Stony Brook psychologist Camille B. Worthamn and sociologist Ronald Kessler of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, presented the findings at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Society in Washington, D.C., last week.

Their findings suggest that people involved in conflict-riddent marriages suffer less emotional distress following a spouse's death than those in stable marriages. This contradicts the traditional assumption, based on clinical observations, that the survivor of a tumultuous relationship faces major difficulties in resolving the loss of his or her partner, Wortman points out.

The data also undermine the widespread notion that people armed with a sense of self-worth, confidence in their ability to overcome obstacles through hard work, and other emotional resources fend best in the face of severe stress, such as bereavement.

"So far, the findings fly in the face of most theories about grief," Wortman asserts. "A Protestant work ethic type of world view can be very adaptive in many settings, but apparently not after the sudden loss of a loved one. …

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