Emotional Expressiveness May Mark Complicated Grief

New research is going beyond the current understanding of Complicated Grief (CG) to explore additional factors that might play a role in assessment and treatment of the malady, which may affect 10 to 20 percent of bereaved people. For instance, according to findings recently published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychiatry, there is

... important preliminary evidence that persons suffering from Complicated Grief are less able to flexibly enhance and suppress their expressions of emotion compared to asymptomatic bereaved and nonbereaved adults.

Researchers Sumati Gupta and George Bonanno of Columbia University explain that "depending upon the context, there are costs and benefits to both enhancing and suppressing emotion."

The ability to flexibly modulate emotional expression appears to be especially important for adjustment in the aftermath of highly aversive or demanding life circumstances.

While noting that additional research is needed to expand upon their preliminary findings, the researchers make a possibly important link between emotional expressive flexibility and the dual-process model of bereavement, which suggests "that bereaved adults oscillate between sad, painful emotions related to reflections about their loss and present-oriented thoughts about everyday tasks and needs."

In this context, it is plausible that bereaved persons who experience deficits in expressive flexibility may be less able to flexibly oscillate between grief-related states and more normative states associated with the demands of daily activities ... For example, bereaved adults who have difficulties suppressing their emotional expressions may wallow in sad, painful emotions in inappropriate contexts that require them to be alert and present in the moment. Similarly, such bereaved adults may have difficulties enhancing their emotional expression when they try to communicate their deep sadness and seek help from others.