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“I Had to Make Them Feel at Ease”: Narrative Accounts of How Women With Breast Cancer Navigate Social Support

Social scientific studies of social support predominantly focus on the positive associations between social support and emotional well-being. The negative aspects of social support have received much less attention. We conducted semi-structured interviews of women with breast cancer (n = 47) to examine the emotional strain associated with social support and how recipients navigate it in ways that protect themselves and their relationships. Based on our analysis of narratives of women’s lived experiences of breast cancer, we found that social support can be perceived negatively and associated with experiences of emotional strain. Interviewees engaged in strategies of avoidance, information control, and cognitive reframing to minimize emotional strain. We applied the concept of emotion work to understand the complexity of emotional strain in this context. The findings highlight the difficulties of social support from a recipient’s perspective and emphasize the importance of perception and agency in navigating this experience.

Authors: Wright, Jaime D; Kroenke, Candyce H; Kwan, Marilyn L; Kushi, Lawrence H

Qual Health Res. 2021 05;31(6):1056-1068. Epub 2021-02-28.

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