The grief process is different for every individual and is shaped by social, personal, and psychological factors. For instance, people who are highly resilient, who have strong support systems, and who have stable psychological health may go through the bereavement process much more quickly and much more adaptively than people with fewer coping resources. One trait that has been theorized to have a tremendous impact on the grieving process is the attachment style of the bereaved. Both avoidance attachment and anxious attachment can affect the way a person grieves their loss, but it is unclear exactly how these attachment styles influence the grieving process and if they contribute to prolonged grief symptomology (PGS).
Adrienne M. Meier of the Department of Clinical Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in California based her most recent research on this subject. Meier conducted two separate studies to examine the effects of attachment on the grieving process. In her first study, Meier looked at attachment-influenced PGS in 656 young adults who had recently experienced the loss of a loved one. She found that after examining the type of death, natural versus violent, and the relationship the participants had to the deceased, that attachment anxiety was more predictive of PGS than attachment avoidance.
In a second study, Meier compared a group of individuals who had lost someone to violent death (191) to a nonbereaved group (191) of demographically similar control participants. She found that although attachment anxiety again predicted longer and more complicated grief in those who lost a loved one, attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance affected both groups of participants. More specifically, elevated levels of both styles of attachment did increase levels of PGS in the bereaved group, but even the control participants had poorer physical and psychological functioning if they had high levels of attachment avoidance or anxiety. These findings suggest that attachment styles are unique predictors of psychological well-being and can be especially vital at determining how a person will cope when faced with a difficult life stressor such as the loss of a loved one. Meier said, “When stressors are more traumatic, deactivating and denial strategies more consistently emerge as less effective, resulting in an inability to cope with bereavement.” She believes clinicians working with bereaved clients should pay close attention to the difference between resilient and avoidant behaviors in those with attachment avoidance styles. Also, she feels that establishing secure bonds with individuals with attachment anxiety will help them move through the grieving process more effectively.
Meier, Adrienne M., Drew R. Carr, Joseph M. Currier, and Robert A. Neimeyer. Attachment anxiety and avoidance in coping with bereavement: Two studies. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology 32.3 (2013): 315-34. Print.
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