Family Grief Communication, Self-Construal, and the Functioning of Grieving College Students
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Grieving the deaths of immediate and extended family members as well as friends is a common experience among traditional-age college students. The overarching purpose of this study was to provide a more nuanced understanding of how various family grief communication factors (i.e., frequency, quality, willingness to communicate—personal/perceived family, reasons for grief communication avoidance—self-protection/relationship-protection) and self-construal might be related to the post-loss functioning of grieving traditional-age college students. Using hierarchical multiple regressions, I analyzed survey data from 369 grieving college students who were between ages 18 and 24 and had experienced the death of at least one individual they considered as family member within the last two years. First, the current findings indicated that the more frequent grieving students communicated about their grief with their family, the stronger their grief reactions. Second, the more students reported family grief communication of high quality, the weaker their grief reactions and the higher their post-loss family satisfaction. Third, there were no relationships between grieving college students’ personal willingness or their perceived family willingness to communicate about grief and their own grief reactions. Fourth, grieving students’ post-loss family satisfaction levels were similar regardless of how personally willing they were to communicate their grief, but increased as they perceived their family members as more willing to communicate about their grief. Fifth, the more grieving students avoided family grief communicate for self-protection reasons, the stronger their grief reactions and the lower their post-loss family satisfaction. Sixth, college students reported similar levels of grief reactions and post-loss family satisfaction regardless of how much they reported avoiding grief communication to protect their family relationships. Seventh, quality, personal and family willingness to communication, and reasons for grief communication avoidance did not moderate the relationship between the frequency of family grief communication and grieving students’ post-loss functioning. Eighth, grieving students reported similar levels of grief reactions and post-loss family satisfaction regardless of how much they identified with interdependent self-construal, independent self-construal, or a combination of both. Finally, the relationships between grieving students’ reasons for grief communication avoidance (i.e., self-protection, relationship protection) and their post-loss functioning (i.e., grief reactions, post-loss family satisfaction) remained similar regardless of how much they identified with independent or interdependent self-construal. The results of this study may be used to inform clinical interventions and outreach efforts for grieving traditional-age college students and their family members.