Do adults with irritable bowel syndrome exhibit a lack of existential defence mechanisms against the awareness of death?
Keywords: Irritable Bowel Syndrome, IBS, Death anxiety, Existential stress, Existential defence mechanisms, Terror management, theory, Mortality salience, Death awareness, Attitudes towards death
AbstractThe purpose of this qualitative study was to investigate whether irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients present a lack of existential defence mechanisms against the awareness of death. Three female and four male IBS-suffering participants were selected from an opportunity sample. Participants were interviewed on a 1:1 basis and were asked open-ended questions on how IBS affects their lives and how they feel about mortality and death. In the thematic analysis of the data, three key subthemes were identified: “Stress sources”, “Mortality Salience” and “Self-image”. The study revealed that IBS restricts participant’s lives to the extent that it can hold them back from self-actualisation, it harms their self-esteem and causes additional existential stress. Participants were found to experience self-conflict, to not affiliate strongly with their cultural worldview and to not demonstrate a strong sense of neutral acceptance towards death. Since successful existential defence mechanisms against the awareness of death are based on self-esteem, self-actualisation striving and cultural worldview bolstering, this study concludes that participants present a lack of existential defence mechanisms against the awareness of death. The findings of this study offer an opportunity for further research that will investigate novel ways of employing targeted therapeutic techniques that strengthen self-esteem, self-actualisation striving and cultural worldview affiliation in IBS patients with the aim of alleviating IBS-related mental and physical distress.