The prediction of object representations after childhood parental death
Plotkin, Janet Irene
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The present study attempted to identify factors which may be protective of the developmental maturity of internalized object representations in adulthood, following the experience of parental death during latency. The relationships among dysfunctional family structure following bereavement, inhibited mourning, unresolved grief, and impaired object representations were explored. Sixty-eight volunteers, aged 19 to 44, who were bereaved of one parent between 6 and 13 years of age, were administered: the Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scales III (Olson, Portner, & Lavee, 1985); the Mourning Behavior Checklist, (Murphy, 1986); the Grief Experience Inventory (Sanders, Mauger, & Strong, 1985), and the Rorschach. The Rorschach was scored using two object representations scales: the Developmental Analysis of the Concept of the Object Scale (DACOS) (Blatt, Brenneis, Schimek, & Glick, 1976a), and the Mutuality of Autonomy Scale (Urist, 1977). Information about subjects' general background characteristics and circumstances surrounding the parent's death was also obtained. Multiple linear regression analyses found that healthy family cohesion, that is, a moderate degree of emotional bonding within the post-bereavement family, is a significant predictor of developmentally mature and realistic object representations in adulthood, as measured by the DACOS. This finding is discussed in terms of the potential role of structural family therapy (Minuchin, 1974) in protecting the parentally bereaved child's later capacity to invest oneself as an adult in mature and gratifying relationships, by modifying impaired boundaries within the post-bereavement family.