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Attachment and grief : developing the Ongoing Relationship Scale and the Grief Attachment Model



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Loss is an inevitable human experience. How each individual reacts to loss may be affected by various factors – among these is one’s attachment style. The present studies examine the ultimate form of loss, the death of a significant attachment relationship in one’s life. Specifically, the research focuses on how people respond to and cope with the death of an attachment figure. In so doing, the relationship between grief and attachment theory is discussed and an integrated model of grief and attachment is proposed, which accounts for various differences in how individuals respond to the death of an attachment figure in adulthood. Study 1 examined the notion that in order to maintain an ongoing relationship with a deceased person and engage in behaviours that maintain this relationship, one must have had a close relationship to the deceased prior to his or her death. Seventy-three undergraduate students who reported having experienced the death of someone they knew were recruited to complete the online survey. This study utilized a measure specifically designed for the present research, the Ongoing Relationship Scale (Waskowic & Chartier, 2006), to demonstrate the necessity of a close relationship in order to engage in behaviours that maintain an ongoing relationship with the deceased. The ORS was used to distinguish between whether one perceived engaging in ongoing behaviours with the deceased attachment figure as positive or negative, that is, whether engaging in certain behaviours brought an individual comfort or discomfort. The findings showed that those who identified themselves as having had a closer relationship to the deceased were more likely to engage in behaviours consistent with maintaining an ongoing relationship; whereas those who did not report having had a close relationship to the deceased were less likely to do so. Preliminary psychometric data for the ORS demonstrated good reliability. Convergent and discriminant validity for the measure are also provided. Study 2 extends the findings from the first study by exploring a specific type of close relationship, the attachment relationship, and how one copes with the grief upon the death of the attachment figure. One hundred and ninety three participants who experienced the death of either a partner or parent were recruited to participate in the study. Participants were asked to complete a survey containing measures of attachment style, relationship closeness, grief, coping with the loss, interpersonal dependency, ongoing relationship with the deceased, and resilience. Utilizing Stroebe, Schut, and Stroebe’s (2005) Dual Processing Model and O’Leary and Ickovics’s (1995) Outcome of Challenge Model the differences in coping with the death of an attachment figure were explored based on one’s type of attachment. Based on the findings from the present research that there are differences between the four types of attachment (i.e., secure, preoccupied, fearful, and dismissing) in how each copes with the death of a significant attachment figure, a new comprehensive model of grief, which integrates previous theories within an attachment theoretical framework is offered. This new model, referred to as the Grief Attachment Model, accounts for observed differences in the way people cope with the death of a significant attachment figure in their lives, and suggests that researchers focus on the attachment relationship to explain variability in a person’s grief response. The results of Study 2 provide support for this new integrated model and encourage others to consider using attachment theory, and its theoretical speculations, for how individuals with different attachment styles (i.e., secure, preoccupied, fearful, and dismissing) will respond to the death of an attachment figure in adulthood. The present studies’ findings advance our understanding of the relationship between attachment theory and grief in that they go beyond present theory and provide empirical data for the current theoretical assertions. Further, the findings are reported in regards to specific attachment styles, rather than the secure versus insecure distinction that has been more commonly utilized when conducting research on attachment style differences. Implications and directions for future research are also proposed.



attachment, attachment style, grief, loss, bereavement



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)






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