Coping with loss: families in crisis

Coping with Loss: Families
in Crisis
Jay A. Mancini
The University of Georgia
Our Nation’s Hidden Victims: National Conference on Responding to Missing and Unidentified Persons
Atlanta, Georgia, September 2014
With appreciation
Catherine W. O’Neal, The University of Georgia
Alycia DeGraff, The University of Georgia
William H. Milroy, OBE, Veterans Aid (London)
Angela J. Huebner, Virginia Tech
Pauline Boss, University of Minnesota
Gary L. Bowen, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The Men at New Belvedere House, Stepney, East London
Military members, their spouses, and their youth (CONUS and OCONUS)
National Criminal Justice Training Center, Fox Valley Technical College
U.S. Department of Agriculture Grant No. 2009-48680-06069
A quilt called “family”
Stories from everyday life and by the numbers
• Powerful stories open our awareness of family
situations, challenges, and responses
• Some of these stories show marked family resilience
while others show dramatic vulnerabilities
• Solutions that families arrive at vary greatly and are
influenced by numerous elements; some solutions
make sense to the rest of us whereas other solutions
seem outrageous
• I begin with a few stories extracted from the popular
press as a way of introducing how we might think
about families in crisis
• As I conclude, we will return to everyday life stories
as they involve ambiguous loss and they will be
joined by action steps for us to consider
• Our goals are to broaden our awareness of what
families face, consider what we might do to mitigate
family vulnerability, and support family resilience
• Systematic research also opens our awareness of
family situations, challenges, and responses
• Research I will site from UGA’s Family and
Community Resilience Laboratory draws on two very
different sources of information:
• Homeless men in East London, UK
• Youth and their parents in U.S. military families
• They each face vulnerabilities and each bring
resilience to the equation of their lives
• At first glance it may seem that homeless men and
military families face overwhelming challenges, but
at second glance we see the process of navigating
these challenges for increasing the odds of success
• These stories “by the numbers” are instructive for
understanding the complexities in people’s lives and
point to leverage points for supporting individuals
and families
Three stories: The outcomes are clearer
than the pathways traveled
• The killing of 6 children in Minneapolis, MN
• Murder-suicide in Las Vegas, NV
• Infant abandonment in Richmond, VA
Framing the stories of
Coping, Loss, & Resilience:
Contextual model of Family Stress
A-B-C-X Framework on Stress:
Leverage points
• ABC-X theory
• A-circumstance or situation
• B-existing resources
• C-perception of the situation
• X-result
• B and C are clear leverage points, and A is a potential
leverage point
Resilience: The other side of hardship
Vulnerability: Usual and unforeseen
Resilience & Vulnerability
• Resilience
• Process of successfully
overcoming adversity
• Family resilience is the process
by which families are able to
adapt and function competently
following exposure to
significant adversity or crises
• Vulnerability
• Experiences, situations, or
characteristics that expose a
person to additional negative
experiences and results
• Risk
• Increase odds of poor results
• Internal and external elements
• Chronic and acute
How stress presents itself to families
Vulnerability and resilience
among homeless men:
Getting sorted out in East
William H. Milroy & Jay A. Mancini
Buckingham Palace Road, London
East London Hostel
Voices of Homeless Men:
Family alcohol abuse
“My mom and dad were big drinkers. That sort of put blocks on everything
because if I wanted to do something, they'd always be too drunk to sort it
out. If I wanted clothes or holiday, I don't remember any holidays with
them, you know what I mean? They was always down at the pub, they was
always in the pub.”
A Life of Uncertainty
“I just remember seeing my dad
walking down the road with a
suitcase in his hand and then me
too, calling him back, but he just
walked away…after my father left
my brother became like a father
figure to me…then a year after he
started abusing me…I didn't
really understand…I didn't
realize it was wrong or
Understanding a Context of
Turning Things Around
• Life in East London Hostel as unique
Not easy to be admitted and not easy to be retained
Promotes social inclusion
Both caring and confrontational
Immediately shows value for the person
Provides support and expects responsibility
Promotes informal support among Veterans
Provides training and educational opportunities
Individualized according to needs
Prepares individuals for next steps; resource development
Sustains involvement with former residents
Understanding Resilience
Jason is an avid reader and intentionally focuses on improving his values and having positive
beliefs; he considers himself very spiritual.
Sean was thrown out of East London Hostel several years ago for being drunk, angry, and violent.
He returned five months ago, has stopped drinking and says he is committed to making something
of himself.
Dave recently “graduated” from East London Hostel and has his own flat. In his own words, “I
mean to see me now you wouldn’t have recognized me two years ago.”
Chris was living in a park and was a heavy drinker. What pushed him to stop drinking was a
return to the park while at the hostel: “I sat there and I thought I couldn’t go back to this. I couldn’t
go back to being like this.” It took him seven weeks at the hostel before sleeping in his bed. “The
floor felt safe to me.”
James recognizes that his continued well-being starts with consistently taking his medication
prescribed for mental illness. “Because if I don’t do that I find it very hard to get through the day.”
• Christy claims that East London Hostel is a Godsend. “You know, all I want to do is get a job
and get back into work because sitting around is, you know, just sitting like tearing things apart.”
• Michael has a history of getting into fights. He has a son he has not seen for eight months but
is working with the East London Hostel social worker to prove his paternity and be a Father to
his son.
• Adrian, now employed in the construction industry and in the process of transitioning from
East London Hostel, is involved in a positive intimate relationship, and says of his life today,
“Yeah, now it’s completely different. One, because I like myself, but you know, I do genuinely
like myself, yeah.”
Resilience & Vulnerabilities
Resilience Markers
Vulnerability Markers
• Positive memories of childhood
• Positive family connections now; sense of
• Family disruptions, past and present
• History of occupational success
• Alcoholism in family of origin and in own
• Independent living track
• Violence in family and community
• Management of mental illness and alcohol
• Unresolved interpersonal conflicts
• Active friendships
• Vague sense of future
• Social isolation/exclusion
• Connections with formal support systems
Resilience and vulnerability:
U.S. Military families
• “Ordinary magic”
The University of Georgia Research on
Military Members & their Families
• Social connections of adolescents, a study of 1000 youth
• Family dynamics of military families, a study of 273 families,
adolescents and their parents
• Building community capacity, an online education program,
a program of U.S. Department of Defense, Military
Community and Family Policy
Youth Well-Being & Social Support
• How do family transition and stress relate to important
youth characteristics such as depression, school success,
and personal mastery/efficacy?
• How do the social connections of youth mitigate how
challenges affect these important youth outcomes?
Influence of Family Risks on Adolescent
Family Risk
Conceptualized as:
Number of School Changes
Current Parental Deployment
Parental Rank
Adolescent Social Isolation
Parent Marital History
Minority Status
Multiple Dimensions of Adolescent
Influence of Family Risk on Adolescent
Outcomes Changed by Social Provisions
Family Risk
Mental Health:
Measure of Social Provisions
Reliable Alliance Subscale
Attachment Subscale
Social Integration Subscale
NOTE: direct relationships between
risk and outcomes not significant
Conclusions: Connections Among Youth in
Military Families
• Cumulative vulnerabilities (risks) are related to more
depression, less success in school, and reduced ability to move
forward despite challenges
• The influence of social provisions: Even when an adolescent
comes from a challenging family context, the influence of
positive support ties (i.e., having someone to turn to, feeling
connected) is related to positive adolescent outcomes. Having
healthy ties to others is related to lower levels of depression,
better grades, and higher levels of self-efficacy
• In the face of vulnerabilities, relationships function to turn
hopelessness to hopefulness
Persistence of parental adverse
experience in early childhood
• What is the relationship between early childhood adverse
experiences of parents and their current well-being?
• In turn, how do these experiences and their effects migrate
to the lives of their children?
Parental early life experiences and
ongoing effects
Conclusions: The persistence of adversity
and implications for intervention
• Parents’ adverse experiences in childhood (their family of
origin) are relevant to their functioning as adults, in diverse
ways (mental and physical health, relational health)
• In turn, parents’ well-being is linked to their adolescents’ functioning
(mental, physical and relational health)
• The findings are especially pronounced for civilian spouses, as
compared to parents who are military members
• Intervention can be effectively aimed at particular dimensions
of parents’ lives, especially non-military members
Financial issues and marital quality
• How do couple concerns about finances affect their
marital quality?
• How do relationship warmth and hostility play into
how concerns about finances and marital quality
Marriage relationships & economic
Conclusions: Financial management &
relationship quality
• Concerns that married couples have about finances spill over
into their warm and hostile behaviors
• Marital quality is particularly sensitive to warmth.
• Therapeutic interventions should target the expression of
warmth, perhaps even more so than lowering hostility, per se
Revisiting change in families
• We have explored general ways of thinking about family
• A contextual framework has been proposed for making
sense of the endless factors that comprise the everyday
life of families, including ordinary and extraordinary
The special case of
Ambiguous Loss
Pauline Boss,
University of Minnesota
Emerita Professor
& Jay Mancini,
2013 University of
Minnesota Ambiguous Loss
Visiting Scholar
Athens, Georgia
July 2014
Ambiguous Loss: Here but not here, there but not there
The special case of Ambiguous Loss:
Professor Pauline Boss and Family Stress
• Families are especially stressed by losses that are ambiguous
• Is a family member absent or present? And how do we know
• The lost person may be:
• Physically present but psychologically absent
• Physically absent but psychologically present
• This increases the likelihood of being immobilized
Deployment &
Ambiguous Loss
Uncertainty when a
family member is deployed
Changes in how families function
“Here but not here, there but not there”
Situations of Ambiguous Loss: 5 Stories*
• Sarah Bajc, Philip Wood and Malaysia airlines Flight 370
• Donna Elliott and her brother Jerry who disappeared on
January 21, 1968, in service to America
• Charles Wolf, his wife Katherine and 9/11
• Donna Carnes and her husband Jim Gray, who went sailing in
January 2007 and has not returned
• Linda Lair and her husband Jim’s dementia
*AARP Magazine, August/September 2014 (“The Missing” by
Christopher Beam and David Dudley)
Recommendations for families & those who
work with families
• Exploit the social world and foster connections with the
“good people”
• Search for new meaning, for developing a new narrative of
life, redefine how life will go forward
• Recalibrate the “C” in the ABC-X model of stress
• Recognize the influence of surroundings on quality of life
• Search for the intersections of vulnerability and resilience
Who is there? Exploiting the social world
• In neighborhoods where there is more
fluidity than stability, more uncertainty
than predictability, and more ambiguity
than clarity, the odds of chaos increases.
It’s hard to know who to go to, if you
don’t know who is there.
Exploring New Meanings
Victor Frankl and the search for
The symbolic interactionists and
defining situations
“If people define things as real, they
are real in their consequences”
William Isaac Thomas, The Child in
America, 1928, p. 572.
Recognize Surroundings: Layers &Levels of
Human Development & Contexts (Lerner)
• Surroundings make a
difference even if we do
not recognize them.
• For example, here is the
social world of an
Intersections of Resilience & Vulnerability
• Pitfalls and
opportunity for
growth often go handin-hand.
• They are complex.
• Life contains multiple
In every conceivable manner, the family is
link to our past, bridge to our future.
Alex Haley
Jay A. Mancini
Jay A. Mancini is Haltiwanger
Distinguished Professor at The
University of Georgia, and director of
the UGA Family and Community
Resilience Laboratory. He is the 2013
Ambiguous Loss Visiting Scholar at
The University of Minnesota. He is
the author, with Pauline Boss and
Chalandra Bryant, of Family Stress
Management (3rd edition, Sage
Publishers, in press), and editor, with
Karen Roberto, of Pathways of
Human Development: Explorations
of Change (Lexington, 2009). For
further information:
[email protected]; 706-542-4331.

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