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Dysfunctional grieving.

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  • 1Emergency Mental Health Service, Northwestern University.


Dysfunctional grieving represents a failure to follow the predictable course of normal grieving to resolution (Lindemann, 1944). When the process deviates from the norm, the individual becomes overwhelmed and resorts to maladaptive coping. The process implies movement toward assimilation to or accommodation of the loss, resulting in progression toward social, psychological, and medical morbidity. Nurses will better assess the needs of the client with adequate information about the client's recent losses and perception of those losses. Such an assessment, in conjunction with an understanding of the signs, symptoms, and predisposing factors of complicated bereavement, will enable the nurse to develop a plan of effective intervention. Both case examples illustrate unresolved grief. In Case Example 1, the patient denied the importance of the relationship, which became masked with displaced anger and therefore delayed the grieving process. In Case Example 2, the patient's attempts at grieving over the loss of her son were complicated by her long-standing struggle with her husband's infidelity at the time of her pregnancy. The revelation of secondary loss is common in dysfunctional grieving. Resolution of grief encompasses not only accommodation to object loss, but also change in the pathological behaviors incorporated into the patient's self-image as a result of the loss (Lazare, 1979). The maladaptive operations employed by these patients to preserve self-image were discarded as the grief resolved. The focus of therapy included the loss of those behaviors as they were relinquished to prevent the patient from experiencing further anxiety and sense of loss (Zisook, 1987).(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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