“Bereavement is a painful event that most people experience at some point in their lives. While most bereaved people are able to resume normal functioning within a year after the loss, a small but important subset, usually around 10–15%, continue to suffer from prolonged grief symptoms for several years or longer,” said Sumati Gupta and George A. Bonanno, of the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. “Although relatively little research has yet explored the possible mechanisms of complicated grief (CG), there is good reason to suspect that deficits in emotion regulation play a role in the disorder.” The researchers conducted a study to determine if people who suffer with CG actually experience such severe and prolonged symptoms in part due to inability to regulate emotions, which is a critical function for maintaining social relationships. They added, “The ability to flexibly modulate emotional expression appears to be especially important for adjustment in the aftermath of highly aversive or demanding life circumstances.”
The team enlisted 54 married participants and 64 individuals who had lost a spouse in the previous three years. The bereaved subjects were categorized into a group of asymptomatic subjects or those with CG. The participants were enrolled in two separate assessment sessions, two weeks apart. During each session, the individuals were shown pictures that were designed to elicit negative or positive emotions. The study revealed that the individuals in the CG group responded with more negative emotions and more symptoms of depression than those in the asymptomatic or married groups. “Importantly, however, CG participants evidenced relatively less ability to enhance emotional expressions and suppress emotional expressions (i.e., less expressive flexibility) relative to the asymptomatic bereaved and married groups.” They added, “This study provided important preliminary evidence that persons suffering from Complicated Grief are less able to flexibly enhance and suppress their expressions of emotion compared to asymptomatic bereaved and non-bereaved adults.”
Gupta, Sumati, and George A. Bonanno. “Complicated Grief and Deficits in Emotional Expressive Flexibility.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 123.3 (2011): 635-43. Print.
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