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Behav Res Ther. 2008 Dec;46(12):1311-5. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2008.09.003. Epub 2008 Sep 24.

Self-defining memories in complicated grief.

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School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia.


There is increasing attention to the mechanisms underpinning maladaptive responses to bereavement. This study indexed self-defining memories in bereaved individuals with and without complicated grief (CG). Participants with and without complicated grief (N=40) were asked to describe three self-defining memories. Results showed that CG participants provided more self-defining memories involving the deceased. Both groups were equally likely to report their loved one's death as a self-defining moment, however, the no-CG group showed more evidence of benefit finding in their memory narratives and experienced less negative emotion on recall. The findings suggest that CG is associated with distinctive patterns of autobiographical memory that are linked to self-identity. The pattern is consistent with self-memory system models of autobiographical remembering, and suggests that grieving individuals who experience ongoing yearning for their loved one view their self-identity as more closely linked to the deceased are more distressed by memories involving the loss.

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