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“He's Doing Fine”: Hope Work and Emotional Threat Management Among Families of Seriously Ill Children

Symbolic Interaction

Published online on


In this study, I examine how people in emotionally fraught circumstances strategically structure social interactions in order to protect fragile emotional states. Data come from interviews and observations with 18 families of children being treated for life‐threatening conditions at an elite university research hospital. I show how families worked to ward off emotional threats to their ability to maintain hope that their children would recover by preempting and restructuring social interactions with friends and family members and pruning social networks. These efforts allowed families to minimize reciprocal obligations and avoid encountering pessimistic reflected appraisals that might trigger “emotional shortcuts” leading to states of fear and anxiety. Similar efforts to reconstruct social interactions and social networks may be common among those working to maintain fragile emotional states in a variety of challenging circumstances.