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A patient's psychological adaptation to heart failure can influence its impact on his or her life. However, attempts to understand how patients cope mentally with severe emotional strain have led to inconsistent use of a plethora of concepts, making communication and clinical care difficult.The aim of the present study was to develop a framework for conceptualizing how patients with chronic heart failure cope mentally with their illness, and then use the framework to suggest how GPs can facilitate patient self-care.We systematically reduced and reassembled the narrative texts of personal, semi-structured interviews until their interpretation was complete. The interviews were conducted during late 1999 with 62 heart failure patients under GP care in 30 practices across central Auckland, New Zealand.Our framework describes four coping strategies: avoidance, disavowal, denial and acceptance. Disavowal provides a distinct coping strategy through which patients, who basically understand the threat to their life situations, seek hope through positively reconstructing this threat. Use of this strategy was highly salient regardless of patients' age, the length of time since their recorded diagnosis or the degree of self-reported limitation of recent physical function due to heart failure. Only over age 70 were avoidance and acceptance also highly salient among patients whose heart failure was diagnosed at least 3 years previously and had mildly limited their recent physical function.Many different heart failure patients use disavowal to palliate the emotional strain and find hope. Disavowal is not a problem to deal with but a process GPs can facilitate by implementing a range of suggested strategies through methods such as story telling.