Jan De Clercq
Ghent University, Department of Developmental and Personality Psychology, Belgium

E-mail: j.declercq@rug.ac.be

 

'HIGH RISK'(HR)-OFFSPRING'S EXPERIENCES OF AMBIGUOUS LOSS:
ENTANGLED IN THE PROCESS OF MEANING RECONSTRUCTION?

 

Accounts of children and adolescents with a parent developing major mental illness (HR-offspring) often describe a sense of grief over their ambiguously lost parent. They experience their mother or father figure as mentally and symbolically absent but at the same time physically present. This paper will discuss how HR-offspring's experiences - their specific nature of bereavement in particular - illustrate a potential entanglement in the processes of meaning (re)construction, operating at different levels: social constructions about mental illness, the 'entrapment' between or difficult integration of the disjunctive mental representations about the parent, the confusing dialogue between models of the self corresponding to the representations about the parent, the responses of the other parent and/or significant others to parental mental breakdown, invalidation of their 'mourning' by mental health care and the community at large (disenfranchised mourning), It is argued that this perspective may deepen our understanding of the (not solely adverse!) developmental impact of growing up in a family with a parent being diagnosed as mentally ill as well as provide guidelines for preventive intervention.