Unresolved Grief

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UNRESOLVED GRIEF AND CONTINUING BONDS:
AN ATTACHMENT PERSPECTIVE

Much of the contemporary bereavement literature on the continuing bond to the deceased (CB) has emphasized its adaptiveness and given limited attention to when it may be maladaptive. The attachment literature on disorganized– unresolved attachment classification in relation to loss, or ‘‘unresolved loss,’’ is informative in identifying CB expressions that are indicative of failure to integrate the death of a loved one. In this article, an important linkage is identified between a prominent indicator of unresolved loss that involves a lapse in the monitoring of reasoning implying disbelief that the person is dead and the clinical writings of J. Bowlby (1980) and V. D. Volkan (1981) on maladaptive variants of CB expression. The aim is to highlight the value of the attachment literature on unresolved loss in clarifying the conditions under which CB is likely to be maladaptive.

There is increasing agreement among bereavement theorists and practitioners that an ongoing attachment to the deceased can be an integral part of successful adaptation to bereavement (Klass, Silverman, & Nickman, 1996). This position, commonly known as the ‘‘continuing bonds’’ perspective, is counter to that presented by Freud (1917=1957) in his classic work ‘‘Mourning and Melancholia,’’ in which he proposed that successful adaptation to loss

required the bereaved to detach his or her psychic investment in the deceased, or ‘‘relinquish’’ his or her attachment to the deceased, in order to complete the mourning process.
Much of the bereavement literature on the continuing bond to the deceased (CB) has emphasized its adaptiveness while paying minimal attention to conditions under which it may be maladaptive (Fraley & Shaver, 1999). Despite its value in identifying CB as a normative aspect of bereavement adjustment, and its positive Address correspondence to Nigel P. Field, Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, 935 East Meadow Dr., Palo Alto, CA 95006. E-mail: nfield@pgsp.edu 739

Death Studies, 30: 739–756, 2006
Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0748-1187 print/1091-7683 online
DOI: 10.1080/07481180600850518
Downloaded By: [USC University of Southern California] At: 22:52 13 November 2009 impact in drawing attention to the importance of interventions that serve to promote such an inner bond (e.g., Neimeyer, 2001), the CB literature also may have had some unfortunate consequences in ignoring possible maladaptive variants of CB expression. In fact, there is a tendency among those who advocate the adaptiveness of CB to summarily dismiss classic work in the bereavement literature that identify maladaptive CB expressions, such as the writings of Volkan (1981) and Bowlby (1980), on grounds that these theorists have embraced the Freudian (1917=1957) relinquishment perspective (Silverman & Klass, 1996). In this article, I will attempt to show how there is noteworthy overlap between some of the clinical insights of these classic writings with empirical findings in contemporary adult attachment literature on unresolved=disorganized

states of mind with respect to loss, hereafter referred to as ‘‘unresolved loss,’’ in terms of their implications for the maladaptive use of CB.
In a previous paper, my colleagues and I introduced an
attachment theory-based framework for distinguishing adaptive versus maladaptive CB expressions (Field, Gao, & Paderna, 2005). Here, we attempted to point out how this perspective is informative in identifying the kinds of changes that occur in the representation of the relationship with the deceased in the normative course of bereavement that allows for a continuing tie to the deceased while satisfying what is required in accommodating to the loss. This work also provided a means for distinguishing successful versus maladaptive ways of maintaining CB. The present

article extends this previous work in introducing the reader to the...
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