Robert A. Neimeyer
University of Memphis (TN), USA

E-mail: neimeyer@memphis.edu
Website: http://neimeyer.psyc.memphis.edu/

 

TRAUMA, LOSS, AND THE DIALOGICAL RECONSTRUCTION OF MEANING

 

Loss, and especially traumatic loss of loved ones through bereavement, can disrupt our self-narratives on many levels. Such tragic transitions can introduce fundamental changes in the settings for the dramas of our lives, deprive us of those characters who once jointly shaped our core role, introduce plot elements (e.g., in the form of traumatic imagery) that challenge narrative integration, and undercut the assumptive themes that once gave the stories of our lives significance and direction. Drawing upon a constructivist conceptualization of human beings as authors of explicit stories and implicit enactments on a social stage, I will offer some working notes toward a new approach to bereavement, surmounting some of the constraints of traditional stage-and-symptom focused accounts of grief. In this view, grieving will be revealed as an active process of reaffirming or reconstructing a world of meaning that has been challenged by loss, a process that unfolds at personal and interpersonal levels. Among the most important of these are the formulation of an account of the traumatic event that gives it some sense of coherence in the eyes of self and others, and the recruitment of an audience for the performance of a changed identity. Throughout, I will review contemporary grief theory and research that is compatible with such a perspective, and outline meaning-making interventions that assist people to 're-author' life stories transformed by loss.