An application of the theory of resilience and relational load : family communal orientation, social support, stress, and resilience during gender transition




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This dissertation aimed to explore vital questions in health communication scholarship focused on the role of family communication in transgender individuals’ coping with stress. As posed by the Minority Stress Theory (MST; Meyer, 1995; 2013), transgender individuals endure chronically high levels of stress as a consequence of discrimination. Studies demonstrate that transgender people have fewer sources of familial and network support, and overall have fewer places to turn during times of duress and health crises (Gamarel et al., 2014; Meyer, 2003). The present study was framed with the Theory of Resilience and Relational Load (TRRL; Afifi et al., 2016; 2017; 2018). The central idea of the TRRL is that relationships (partners, families, and on) that frequently enact positive relational maintenance behaviors demonstrate more resilience when faced with stressors. Because families have a distinctive capacity to influence individuals’ coping strategies (Segrin & Flora, 2011), there is a need to examine the ways that transitioning individuals perceive the support and conflict communication with family members, and what influence this communication can have on their mental health. In order to test the propositions of the TRRL in this context, a web-based questionnaire was administered, and 257 individuals who identify as transgender responded. Participants were asked to think about their relationship with one member of their family of origin with whom there is ongoing communication. Participants responded to measures of communal orientation, enacted support, conflict, relational load, stress, and resilience. To analyze these data, a series of multiple regressions were performed and three path models were fitted. Findings from this study illustrated mixed results regarding the impact of relational maintenance on stress and resilience outcomes. While family members that are more communally oriented and use more constructive conflict strategies demonstrate a positive effect on lower stress and higher resilience; more communally oriented family members that employ more enacted support foster more stress for transgender individuals. Findings suggest that those with higher stress about transitioning may be seeking more support, and or support providers may be offering ineffective support to their loved ones in ways that contribute to their feelings of stress.


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