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Robert O. Hansson, Department of Psychology, University of Tulsa, 600 South College, Lorton Hall 307, Tulsa, OK 74104,
Eric L. Daleiden, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Div., Hawaii Department of Health, 3627 Kilauea Ave., Honolulu, HI 96816,
Bert Hayslip, Jr., Department of Psychology, University of North Texas, P.O. Box 311280, Denton, TX 76203-1280
Important personal relationships can at times become stressed, conflicted, unpredictable, and a poor fit to our needs. At such times, adaptation depends largely on one's ability to successfully access, initiate, develop, and maintain support relationships. The chapter describes the theoretical and empirical efforts that led to the formulation of a two-component model of “relational competence,” emphasizing competencies and perspectives relevant to the initiation and enhancement of relationships. We examine developmental processes characteristic of populations ranging in age from infancy to late life, with an eye to (a) the nature and development of relational competence, (b) links to early developmental phenomena such as temperament, attachment, and self-concept, and to (c) psychological processes in adulthood such as hardiness, resilience, and adaptation to dependency.
From the beginning, relationships shape and influence our lives. They provide nurturance, security, support, and companionship. They are our inspiration, our links to the broader social world, and the contexts for our emotional and cognitive development.
Yet the nature and composition of our relationships and the functions they serve tend to change across the life span. Unfortunately, personal relationships can also become problematic. At each phase of development, important peer, friendship, and support relationships can become stressed, conflicted, overwhelmed, unpredictable, and a “poor fit” to one's needs. Our personal and support relationships cannot, therefore, always be taken for granted. Such events present complex adaptive challenges for those in need of a support network, and the ability to successfully cope with these “relational challenges” varies considerably across individuals.
The Handbook of Bereavement constitutes a comprehensive review of scientific knowledge on the consequences of losing a loved person through death. The volume brings into focus a wide variety of theoretical approaches that have been incorporated into bereavement research. Physiological changes associated with the mental and physical consequences of bereavement, where significant advances in knowledge have been made, are surveyed. The phenomenology of grief, distinctions between normal and pathological grief, as well as measurement and assessment techniques, are given detailed coverage. Chapters document not only detrimental effects to mental and physical health, but a much broader range of consequences associated with loss. The Handbook of Bereavement brings together an international, interdisciplinary group of scholars to report research and explore key issues on the topic of bereavement. Focusing on methodologically sound, theoretically oriented, and empirically derived knowledge, the authors provide a structured framework for researchers and practitioners.
Until fairly recently, researchers interested in the topic of bereavement tended to be scattered throughout the world, having little contact with one another and not much knowledge of each other's work. This was to some extent true of the editors of the current volume, until a conference meeting in the early 1980s led to the discussion of joint interests and the beginning of a collaboration that has continued without pause ever since. The main objective of our collaboration has been to work toward a synthesis of scientific evidence on the impact of bereavement. Out of this interest came a special issue of the Journal of Social Issues, “Bereavement and Widowhood,” in 1988, to which an international, interdisciplinary group of bereavement researchers contributed.
Due to the constraints of a journal, the scope of the issue had to be limited. Thus, it seemed a natural extension of this work to produce a more comprehensive volume that would provide readers with an up-to-date account of knowledge about bereavement's impact and effects and the possibilities for social or policy intervention and treatment: The Handbook of Bereavement is the result of this endeavor. Well over half of the chapters were newly commissioned. Leading researchers from many different disciplines and many countries, including Australia, Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States, were invited to contribute. It was very gratifying that, as for the journal issue, the response was overwhelmingly positive, such that all of the chapters are by “first-choice” authors.
To date there is no common strategy for assessing the psychological reaction to bereavement. Widely differing measurement approaches reflect the complex nature of the phenomenon, as well as the diversity of purpose among researchers and practitioners. The essential question is how to measure grief in any meaningful sense. The emotional reaction to the loss of a loved one is particularly complex in that it tends to involve cognitive, affective, behavioral, physiological, and social symptoms (cf. W. Stroebe & Stroebe, 1987). Moreover, each of these can be assessed at several levels. The physiology alone might be assessed as part of the symptomatology (experience) of grief itself, such as hypoarousal or gastrointestinal problems; as disruption in related systems, such as immunologic or endocrine markers (Irwin & Pike, this volume; Laudenslager, Boccia, & Reite, this volume; Kim & Jacobs, this volume); or as consequences of grief, such as long-term epidemiological outcomes (McCrae & Costa, this volume). Similarly, assessment might proceed from particular perspectives, such as stress and coping.
In addition, grieving is thought to progress through somewhat overlapping stages of resolution (cf. Weiss, this volume; Shuchter & Zisook, this volume), and given symptoms may be present at several stages, although more characteristic of some stages than others. Thus, any given clinical picture should probably be viewed within its temporal context. Validation strategies for a grief instrument, therefore, often include an assessment of whether the nature and intensity of symptoms vary as expected over time.
The loss of a loved one is a tragedy unequalled by any other for most bereaved people. It is an experience that occurs some time or other in nearly everyone's life, and many suffer losses long before they reach old age, when such events occur with increasing frequency. According to statistics for the year 1985, more than 2 million people can be expected to die in a single year in the United States alone. Of these, more than 16,000 are children between the ages of 1 and 14, and as many as 38,000 are young people between the ages of 15 and 24 (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 1985). Such statistics also show alarming infant mortality rates, more than 40,000 babies dying before they reach the age of 1 year. For each of these deaths, bereaved persons are left behind - parents, spouses, children, siblings, and friends - all of whom are at high risk of detrimental effects on their mental and physical health.
If one looks beyond such statistics to consider world events, concern for the bereaved becomes hugely magnified. Natural disasters and human conflicts have devastated families in many nations during recent years. Frequently under such circumstances, grief over the death of a loved one is compounded by related tragedies, as when one person alone survives the loss of an entire family, when personal injury adds to suffering, when the violent or brutal death of a loved one has been witnessed, or when homes and livelihoods are also lost through the circumstances of war or other disaster.
Research on bereavement and widowhood typically has focused on understanding the nature of the phenomenon, short-term consequences, and processes underlying recovery. Few investigations have attended systematically to the contexts in which widowhood is experienced or to the likely influence of age-related changes in a widow's coping resources. Yet a number of such themes broadly influence the experience of widowhood in Western society.
First, widowhood usually occurs in one's later years; in the United States the mean age at widowhood is 69 years for men and 66 years for women. Second, it is primarily a women's issue, because of sex differences in expected life span favoring females and because men tend to marry women younger than themselves and are more likely to remarry following the death of a spouse. Among people 65 years or over, 51% of women compared to 13% of men are widowed (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1984). On this point, however, it is noteworthy that widowers, although a minority, also experience serious adjustment problems, and much of the discussion to follow applies also to them (M. Stroebe & Stroebe, 1983). A third concern is that widowed individuals are more likely to live alone and on a reduced income. Finally, and perhaps most important for the purposes of this chapter, widowed persons, especially women, have much of their life still before them. The mean duration of widowed life is approximately 14 years for women and 7 years for men (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1984).