This project will take an issue that is very prominent in today’s society and attempt to look, in detail, how families of military war casualties are coping with the death of their loved ones and which coping strategies seem to be most influential in helping them get back to leading a life that closely resembles what they had before loss. This topic of military coping is important, especially in this time, because there have been so many casualties due to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan (see Appendix A) By looking at these conflicts, but also those such as the Vietnam War and the Gulf War, we would essentially hope to find common themes or strategies that make coping just a little bit easier for those who are left on the home front.
This topic is important to investigate because of the amount of people affected each day by military death- the total deaths are in the thousands and rising every moment. War is a phenomenon that is not going to be disappearing anytime soon, and if there is a way to help those being influenced by tragedy in a more efficient and effectual way, the benefits are immense. The audience for this study is most likely going to be students, but there is also the potential for the military to take an interest in order to help the families of the victims. Mental health counselors, community counselors and psychiatrists may find the information from the study helpful because of the implications it will have on how people deal with death and how it may be possible to engage those dealing with death in better coping strategies.
Much of what has been studied in the realm of coping and stress management has been done with the focus on the individual and how people deal with stress in general. This begs the question “what is stress?”. Stress is most commonly defined as a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension, and for the sake of this study that is the way it would be defined. Many researchers still feel that the term stress is highly ambiguous because there can be so many different levels. Stress can be caused by an event such as abuse, a natural disaster, an attack, a life threatening ordeal, or even just a dramatic unexpected change in lifestyle. Most of these topics have been studied, and through looking at this previous research, it is seen how very few researchers focus on how people cope with the stress of losing a loved one to an event such as war.
Perhaps documentation of how people have coped with death throughout history is rare, or perhaps there has just not been a lot of studies done on the topic. When searching keywords such as “coping”, “death”, and “military” into a psychological search engine, only seven results were retrieved, and of those seven, there were only two or three that seemed they would benefit this research positively. These few articles that that were found that generally focused on post-traumatic- stress disorder, or PSTD. They studied (both quantitatively and qualitatively) how families felt they were influenced by the war, whether it by deployment, responsibility at home, the unknown, and of course, death.
It was found that it is indeed important to look at everyone involved and try to work together to get through the trauma of war. The researches should not forget parent-child relations and should not forget that it takes time and understanding of an individual to help cope with the loss (Dekel et al., 2010, page). The other article that was looked at did not focus so much on a study, but the history of coping with loss during both war and peace times. It covered a broad range of time and explained how the military had continually developed counseling and groups to help those who were affected by the war. It looks at how the loss can be integrated into one’s life as a whole, and is looked at as positive for the soldier (Bartone et al., 1994, page).
This suggestion for coping, also known as hardiness in another article, seems to be a reoccurring idea when coping with trauma. If one can integrate the tragic event into their life and think of positive ways to let it influence them, they seem to be more likely to be able to deal with their stress or loss. Optimism was another element of this article, focusing on how if people believe that something is going to be positive, it has a greater impact on how they deal with stress (Maddi et al., 1999, page).
Yet another strategy that can be involved with coping is forgiving. It is often through the idea of forgiving the person or people that harmed someone important to you can be a strong motivator to getting over a stressful situation because it allows some sort of closure and understanding (Hodgson et al., 2007, page). All of these factors- hardiness, forgiveness, empathy- must be taken into consideration while doing this research on coping.
Historically research often focused on negative consequences of specific factors. We all know the effect that trauma, poverty, abuse, divorce, and other factors of such sort have on psychological development and what life long effects it has for an individual. In the last 20 to 30 years researchers finally began to shift their focus on resiliency and how people develop positive coping skills despite adverse life events. “The recent broadening of coping theory might be a reaction to to earlier conceptualizations of coping that neglected to include such aspects as goals, purpose, and meaning”. (Schwarzer & Luszczynska, 2008, p22) People want to feel successful in their lives and will look for opportunities for growth. They work hard for “more resources, desire to maximize gains, and build up resistance factors either to ward off future crisis or to grow and cultivate their capabilities for their own sake” (Schwarzer & Luszczynska, 2008, p22).
Resilience studies with children and adolescents have identified the following major factors to play a role in buffering how they cope with stress and trauma: IQ, parental quality, connection to other competent adults, internal locust of control, and social skills (Tiet et al., 1998, p1191). In addition there have been many studies that focused on gender differences when coping with stress and this are well documented when it comes to adults. “Research concerning gender differences that may influence coping in children and adolescents revealed mixed results.” (Eschenbeck et al., 2007, p18) This could be attributed to level of development, environmental factors, and gender socialization.
The study completed by Eschenbeck and coleagues (2007) however demonstrated that “girls scored higher in seeking social support and problem solving” (Eschenbeck et al., 2007, p20). Other studies also identified that social supports and problem solving skills were most influential factors in coping with adverse life events and linked these factors with “greater social competence and fewer internalizing and externalizing behavior problems” (Clarke, 2006, p12) for children and adolescents.
Children in military families are more often exposed to stressful situations. Yet according to reports from counselors and other school personnel military children tend to be resilient. “ They are used to changing schools, enduring long separations from a parent, and saying goodbye to old friends and making new ones.” (Hardy, 2006, p11) These children often are being taken care of by family members other than their mothers and fathers, such as aunts, uncles, grandparents, or close family friends. They may experience relationship conflicts within the setting of their families as the boundaries of the family is shifted due to temporary and permanent losses.
“The effects of this kind of loss are displayed in ways that potentially impede successful adolescent development.” (Huebner et al., 2007, p121) Much of the work with these youths have been focused on concept of fostering resiliency. This approach focuses on “(a) finding meaning, (b) tempering mastery, (c) reconstructing identity, (d) normalizing ambivalence, (e) revising attachment, and (f) discovering hope” (Huebner et al., 2007 p 120).
It seems to be that choosing to research along the lines of how military death influences families will be a topic that has been studied little before, and thus hopefully the information that we gather will be helpful in organizing more constructive ways for families to cope with loss.
It was determined that the setting for the research project would be twenty families with adolescents ages 12-18 chosen from the upstate New York region (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse). The families selected would be those who have lost someone in the war within the last year. We would gather information through the use of personal interviews, family interviews, group discussions and observation. Using qualitative methods in this research will be more beneficial because it will better help us understand what people are directly feeling- we will be able to see their reactions and work with them and empathize with them to hopefully make them feel more comfortable. Using qualitative studies will also help us to see the reactions of those in the groups and if there are certain individuals who benefit from the interaction with others.
We will also be able to better compare the depth of grief and the coping strategies to the others in the groups. Since it would be necessary to see how coping skills develop over a period of time, it seems that this study would be longitudinal, over the period of 6 months to a year. This would help us to see the progress of the individuals and of families in their ability to cope with having lost someone. Analysis of the study will be based on how well individuals and families are able to overcome loss and what social factors allowed them to get to a more stable state of being.
To figure the results we will have looked at how the individual or family functioned when they first learned of the loss compared to how they functioned 6 months to a year down the road. If we have chosen someone who has lost their loved one more than 6 months ago at the beginning of the study, they will be a good point of reference as to where those who more recently lost someone should be in six months. It is easy to see this study in a circular formation due to the fact that deaths are still occurring and there are constantly more people and families to interact with.
The idea behind this research allows many different paths to explore, but that is also a challenge that must be faced. Each term we use in the research has to be clearly defined so that the people we are studying do not get confused or put off by anything that may be asked. Also, it has to be taken into consideration that many people react different ways to trauma to begin with, and that may be hard to determine at first. Some people may get depressed, others may get angry, and yet others may just try to go on living as they were before. Each person spoken with will have to be individually looked at to determine their premier coping style and from that point progress will have to be determined.
The type of death that each soldier faced is yet another factor to consider, as it may be easier for the family to deal with death of someone who was injured and then died from those injuries. If that is the case, there is more of a chance that the family got to say goodbye than if the soldier was killed unexpectedly by enemy troops in another country. One of the other important limitations to consider is the openness of the people and families being interviewed. They may see the death as a private family matter and thus have a hard time letting an outsider into the mix. All of these limitations, though, can hopefully be avoided or at least overcome, with patience, empathy and respect for all involved.
Bartone, P. & Ender, M. (1994). Organizational Responses to Death in the Military. Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Washington, D.C. Death Studies, 18, 25- 39.
Cameron, A., Palm, K. & Follette, V. (2010). Reaction to stressful life events: What predicts symptom severity? Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 24, 645–649.
Clarke, Angela (2006). Coping with interpersonal stress and psychosocial health among children and adolescents: a meta analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35(1), 11-24.
Dekel, R. & Monson, C. (2010). Military-related post-traumatic stress disorder and family relations: Current knowledge and future directions. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15, 303–309.
Eschenbeck, H., Kohlmann, C.-W., Lohaus, A. (2007). Gender differences in coping strategies in children and adolescents. Journal of Individual Difference, 28 (1), 18-26.
Hardy, L., (2006). When kids lose parents in our war in Iraq. The Education Digest, 72(4), 10-12.
Hodgson, L. & Wertheim, E. (2007). Does good emotion management aid forgiving? Multiple dimensions of empathy, emotion management and forgiveness of self and others. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships SAGE Publications (www.sagepublications.com), 24(6), 931–949.
Angela J Huebner, Jay A Mancini, Ryan M Wilcox, Saralyn R Grass, & Gabriel A Grass. (2007). Parental Deployment and Youth in Military Families: Exploring Uncertainty and Ambiguous Loss. Family Relations, 56(2), 112-122. Retrieved July 29, 2010, from Platinum Periodicals. (Document ID: 1260882231).
Leland, A. & Oboroceanu, M.-J. (2010). American war and military operations casualties: Lists and statistics. Congressional Research Service, 7-5700. Retrieved July 29, 2010 from www.crs.gov (RL32492).
Maddi, S. & Hightower, M. (1999). Hardiness and optimism as expressed in coping patterns. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice & Research. 51(2), 95-105.
Schwarzer, R., & Luszczynska, A. (2008). The Prevention Researcher, 15(4), 22-24.
Tiet, Q. Q., Bird, H. R., Davies, M., Hoven, C., Cohen, P., Jensen, P. S., & Goodman, S. (1998). Adverse life events and resilience. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 37(11), 1191-1201.
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