Attachment Styles May Influence Duration of Grieving

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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  • Evie

    March 13th, 2013 at 3:48 AM

    Again it all goes back to how healthy you and your life are all around. If you have a fairly healthy and stable life you will always have an easier time dealing when life deals a blow because you have been able to create for yourself better coping skills all around.

  • VaporMan

    March 14th, 2013 at 1:09 PM

    I’m sorry but I have no sorries for those that literally push themselves under a heap. while I do understand some people taking longer than others to recover from a loss, some jus’ dont seem to be wantin’ to get out of the rut.they wanna feel sorry for themselves n stay that way. and that just isn’t done.

  • Tim

    October 26th, 2018 at 3:06 PM

    I know this is a late reply but I’m guessing you have never studied psychology and have not read literature on attachment style.

  • TransformativeLifeSolutions

    March 15th, 2013 at 11:34 AM

    It actually varies with the loss. Between 90-91 I had multiple losses-very significant, many unexpected. I was quite resilient,going back to work- functioning in other important life arenas. In 2004 another series of losses started again very significant,many unexpected. These however brought me to my knees and it took years to recover-more than 2. Believe me I wanted to get out of the rut but I could not without therapy and alot of other support.

  • Adrift

    March 21st, 2013 at 3:43 AM

    I saw a therapist for grief therapy after my partner died, and we developed a really good rapport. At nine months the therapy was terminated involuntarily, and I was referred to another therapist. My first therapist diagnosed attachment disorder and complicated grief, and explained that she did not have the skillset to treat me as my presentation was multifaceted. Another reason for referring me on was that she believed that any gains made had been lost, and that referring me on was the ethical thing to do. I acknowledge that I was highly dependent on my partner; we were together a long time, and he was my first and only love. Four months into the therapy I developed a dependency and strong attachment to my therapist. As the therapy continued, my feelings for her became stronger. At no time was the topic of transference/countertransference broached, and when she ended the therapy it all ended in tears for me. I am still picking up the pieces, and believe that her role of grief travelling companion should have continued longer than it did. The rough sea became turbulent, and I thought she would help me through it. I know she believes that referring me on was the only option, but it is very painful and heightens my sensitivity and increases my vulnerability. My therapist says it is time for me to let go of her, but my attachment style and lack of sound coping strategies makes it very hard.

  • Rebecca

    May 30th, 2013 at 1:42 AM

    VaporMan, I can only say I hope life takes from you your greatest treasure. Maybe then you will have empathy.

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