Everyone worries to some extent, but for some, worrying can become so obsessive that it interferes with a person’s life and damages social relationships.
A new Case Western Reserve University study reviews this behavior in the context of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Psychologist Dr. Amy Przeworski said that individuals with GAD frequently put social relationships with family, friends, or coworkers at the top of their lists of worries, but the negative methods they use to cope — from over-nurturing to extreme detachment — may be destructive.
In the study, Przeworski and colleagues at Penn State University reviewed case histories of individuals receiving psychotherapy for GAD.
They discovered individuals presenting with GAD displayed their worries in different ways based on how they interact with other people.
The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology and call for integrating the therapies for worrying and relationship issues.
In two studies, the researchers found four distinct interactive styles prominent among people with GAD — intrusive, cold, nonassertive and exploitable.
Both studies supported the presence of these four interpersonal styles and their significant role in how people with GAD manifested their worrying.
“All individuals with these styles worried to the same extent and extreme, but manifested those worries in different ways,” Przeworski said.
For example, when people have similar worries about someone’s health and safety, they may display the worries in different ways.
One person may call their parent or spouse every five minutes to get an update on what’s happening, while another person may criticize the behaviors that the person believes to be careless or reckless.
“The worry may be similar, but the impact of the worry on their interpersonal relationships would be extremely different. This suggests that interpersonal problems and worry may be intertwined,” Przeworski said.
She suggests that therapies to treat GAD should target both the worry and related interpersonal problems.
Therapists often use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help those with GAD. But the study authors believe techniques targeting interpersonal relationship problems (as well as the worrying problems) should be incorporated into the therapy, as CBT alone is 60 percent effective.
Source: Case Western Reserve University