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Avoiding Grief May Help With Recovery, Says Professor of Psychology

30 October 1995


f.gif (1005 bytes)or people who suffer the loss of a loved one, a complete recovery from grief may be impossible. But avoiding the emotional impact of the loss may help.

"Complete denial of grief would be a bad thing. Loss does not go away, but allowing grief to overwhelm you or to play a major role in your life is harmful," says George Bonanno, assistant professor of psychology at The Catholic University of America.

He studied long-term grief in 100 middle-aged individuals who lost their spouses. He found that those who repressed their grief or appeared to be holding grief inside were psychologically and physically healthier six and 14 months after their losses than others who grieved more.

His study refutes the accepted belief that delayed grief will catch up to the bereaved individual. Three years after the death of their spouses, Bonanno found that the individuals who repressed their grief still had not suffered from any traumatic confrontations with grief.

"A part of grief is feeling isolated and cut off from people. It makes sense that people who appear to contain their grief are more easily approached by others around them. This contact helps ease the feeling of isolation," says Bonanno.

Not everyone can repress their feelings, but bereaved individuals who are naturally disposed to avoiding emotions should not be forced to confront their grief. "Respect your natural disposition. If you can let your grief go, do it," he says.

Dwelling on grief can increase the stress of the loss and stall recovery. "If a person copes with the loss of a loved one by avoiding his emotions, that is not a bad thing. The important thing is that he is coping and doing it better then a person who lets his grief consume him," says Bonanno. George Bonanno, a psychologist at Catholic University, is available for interviews at 202-319-5750.

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Revised: 27 October 1997

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