Identity and intimacy in adults who have suffered parental death in childhood or adolescence

Carolyn Pica Beer, Pace University


The present study explored the impact of parental death in childhood and adolescence on the development of identity and intimacy in adulthood. In addition, grief resolution and bereavement circumstances were investigated for their relationship to these variables. Thirty-nine parentally bereaved and 107 non-bereaved college students (42 males and 104 females) completed the Objective Measure of Ego Identity Status (OMEIS; Adams, Shea, & Fitch, 1979), subscales of the Erikson Psychosocial Stage Inventory (EPSI; Rosenthal, Gurney & Moore, 1981), the Personal Assessment of Intimacy in Relationships (PAIR, Olson & Schaefer, 1981), the Texas Revised Inventory of Grief (TRIG; Faschingbauer, DeVaul, & Zisook, 1978), and a demographic questionnaire. It was hypothesized that parentally bereaved participants would report lower levels of identity and intimacy than non-bereaved participants. ANCOVA results, with age as the covariate, disconfirmed these hypotheses. On the contrary, partial support for an inverse relationship was found whereas bereaved participants had significantly lower identity diffusion scale scores and were classified as identity diffused significantly less often than non-bereaved participants, F(1,141) = 9.34, p < .01, partial [special characters omitted]. Likewise, bereaved participants evidenced significantly higher EPSI intimacy scores than non-bereaved participants, F(1, 141) = 3.77, p = .05, partial [special characters omitted]. A statistical investigation of the impact of grief resolution on the dependent variables was not feasible due to low n size. However, qualitative case material is presented and discussed. Lastly, bereavement circumstances were analyzed for their relationship to identity and intimacy. Death of a father was related to higher identity adjustment than death of a mother (r = −.33, p < .05). Remarriage of the surviving parent (r = .33, p < .05) and attainment of counseling ( r = .40, p < .05) were also related to higher levels of identity. Perceived closeness to the deceased and the experience of having anniversary reactions were positively related to EPSI intimacy ( r = .35, p < .05; r = −.36, p < .05). Individuals who accepted a “substitute” parent in their lives showed higher levels of recreational intimacy ( r = .40, p < .05). Finally, lower sexual intimacy was related to feelings of having the same illness as the deceased (r = .35, p < .05). The results of this study are discussed and challenge more traditional views about childhood bereavement and psychosocial development. Suggestions for future research are provided with a focus on sampling procedures, the use of longitudinal data, and the hypothesis that parental bereavement can facilitate identity development.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Developmental psychology|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Beer, Carolyn Pica, "Identity and intimacy in adults who have suffered parental death in childhood or adolescence" (1999). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI9926396.



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