Worrying can harm social relationships

The health of social relationships can be damaged when a person worries too obsessively, new research has suggested. Amy Przeworski, a Case Western Reserve University faculty member in psychology, found that people who suffer from generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) often indulge in over-nurturing or extreme detachment.

Ms Przeworski said both of these approaches can be destructive, adding individuals with GAD manifest their worries in different easy, depending on the manner in which they interact with others.

Along with colleagues from Penn State University, she discovered four styles distinct with GAD - non-assertive, intrusive, exploitable and cold.

"All individuals with these styles worried to the same extent and extreme, but manifested those worries in different ways," Ms Przeworski added.

She noted therapies to treat GAD should therefore look at both the concern and the related interpersonal problems associated with the condition.

The findings have been printed in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, which is a publication of the American Psychological Association.

Dr Gillian Butler, Chartered Psychologist and Fellow of the British Psychological Society, commented: "I think this finding is fascinating and it also appears to fit with the emphasis given by Tom Borkovec to interpersonal matters in the treatment that he has devised and evaluated for people who suffer from GAD.

"Further questions arise of course: who else besides worriers might be non-assertive, intrusive, exploitative or cold in their relationships with others? Which came first, the [apparently] damaging style of interpersonal interaction or the worrying? Do worriers switch between these styles, for example in response to the behaviour of others, or does one style predominate for each person? And does the style of social interaction associated with worry change after successful treatment of GAD? 

"Of course there will also be some people with GAD whose styles of social interaction fit none of these patterns and appear to work well for them. Does their family history, or their history of friendships and more intimate personal relationships, help us to understand why this might be so? Might they have developed attitudes and/or skills that counteract the effects of worrying? And if so, would a specific focus on these attitudes or skills significantly enhance the effectiveness of currently available treatments? 

"One of the best things about interesting research findings is that they open up specific lines of questioning as well as providing answers to the questions originally asked."