Entries in anxiety (21)


Anxious-Avoidant Duos: Walking on Thin Ice in Relationships and Physical Health

While the Disney animated film “Frozen” is most famous for its lovable characters and award-winning song “Let it Go”, this kids’ movie can teach us a thing or two about attachment styles in close relationships and the important interplay between partners’ preferences for intimacy versus independence. In “Frozen,” the relationship difficulties that occur when these preferences clash are most evident between the two protagonists, sisters Elsa and Anna.

Anxious Anna and Avoidant Elsa: Attachment in “Frozen”

Attachment style describes the degree to which we perceive our relationships (usually romantic partnerships) as being secure, capable of meeting our needs, and a source of comfort in times of distress. People who are securely attached are comfortable depending on others as well as having others depend on them. Some people, however, have negative expectations in relationships, leading to insecure attachment styles. For example, individuals with an anxious attachment style fear rejection and abandonment, yet their cravings for closeness may inadvertently drive others away. In “Frozen”, Anna is anxiously attached. Her parents’ death and her sister’s abandonment leave her alone and desperate for love – so desperate, in fact, that she almost married a man she just met (Prince Hans). Whenever Elsa seeks distance in the movie, Anna continues to pursue her and ends up getting hurt in the process. Anxiously attached people may engage in behavior like this because they over-rely on their attachment figures for reassurance. 

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Life after Breakup: An International Survey

To better understand life after breakup, researchers surveyed 5,705 people in nearly 100 countries about their breakups and experience of grief afterwards. The most common reason for breaking up was “lack of communication.” Women were more likely to initiate a breakup; those who were broken up with experienced more grief than initiators. Post-relationship grief was more severe emotionally (e.g., anxiety, depression) than physically (e.g., insomnia, weight change). Among those who were dumped, women reported slightly more emotional and physical consequences than men, although post-relationship grief was high for both men and women. 

Morris, C. E., Reiber, C., & Roman, E. (2015). Quantitative sex differences in response to the dissolution of a romantic relationship. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 9, 270-282.


When and Why We iSnoop on Others

Even in the best relationships, individuals may find themselves lacking information about specific relationship partners (romantic or otherwise). For example, as we’ve discussed previously, anxiously attached partners are more likely to Facebook stalk their partners in an attempt to alleviate anxiety and (hopefully) confirm their partners’ undying devotion. Such findings suggest that individuals use the internet as a means to cope with their own desires to learn more about another.  

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For Better or for Worse: Attachment and Relationships Over the Long Haul

Quick—think of someone you know who’s in a relationship (or has been in the past). This person can be a friend, a family member, your own past or current relationship partner, or even yourself. Which one of these statements best describes something that the person you thought of might say?

A) I feel comfortable depending on romantic partners.

B) My desire to be very close sometimes scares people away.

C) I don't feel comfortable opening up to romantic partners.

These descriptions* have formed the basis of research on adult romantic attachment for some time.1 Attachment is a topic we’ve covered extensively here at ScienceOfRelationships. Whether you realize it or not, attachment is evident virtually everywhere (even in popular fiction!), having been linked to all sorts of outcomes in relationships. Briefly, researchers think of adult attachment as a tendency to approach relationships in a particular way, primarily based on experiences with childhood caregivers.2 Usually, researchers view attachment in terms of the degree and kind of insecurity (avoidance or anxiety) a person might have (see our earlier work for a full review of how attachment styles play out in relationships).

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Women are More Socially Anxious than Men – But Only Just

Many social situations can provoke anxiety. Be it a networking event for work or having unannounced guests, these kind of interactions can cause even the most outgoing among us to feel unsettled. But do these feelings differ between the sexes?

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Was Cookie Monster Anxiously Attached?


The notion that women cope with relationship problems or breakups by eating is widespread. Films like Bridget Jones’s Diary perpetuate the stereotype that attacking a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey or devouring a bag of potato chips soothes a broken heart, or at least helps women deal with relationship troubles. But is there evidence that relationship problems actually lead women to eat more? Or is this a myth that Hollywood perpetuates?

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"I Haven't Been Fully Honest with You..."

A recent Twitter post by Nathan Fielder asked his followers to text their partners and say “I haven’t been fully honest with you.” If that isn’t anxiety provoking enough, they also weren’t supposed to respond to any reply sent by their partner for one hour. Not only is this a brilliant comedic premise, but it also provides a great example of an “interpersonal dilemma.” Interpersonal dilemmas are situations where people face competing motives such that they can either respond in a way that harms the relationship or in a way that benefits the relationship.

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I Get BUY With A Little Help From My Friends.

Imagine you’re buying a new cell phone. Would you rather have a ton of different options or only 1-2 choices? Usually, people assume that having more choices is better. In fact, in experiments that mimic game shows (“what’s behind door #1?) people will pay more money to have more options to choose from. But ironically, having more choices can be a source of distress. People feel less satisfied with their decision after it’s made when they have a bunch of different options to choose from, and sometimes people experience paralysis-by-analysis (they give up and don’t choose anything at all.). Some scientists refer to this as the “paradox of choice”—a lot of choices feels like something we want, but it ends up being bad for us.1

New research suggests that how supported we feel in our relationships affects how appealing we find having a lot of options/choices.

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Drafting a New Relationship Blueprint

Last weekend, I went on a road trip with The Consultant. I was nervous, as we hadn’t been sexually intimate with each other since our first, failed attempt several weeks ago. A weekend away together pretty much guaranteed that we would try again. We have hung out a few times since that frustrating night, but I have made myself conveniently busy to give myself some time to process the new, more intimate direction of our relationship. He was patient and persistent, so when he invited me to spend the weekend away with him, I accepted.

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Feelings Of Insecurity Prompt Fantasies Of Emotionless Sex And Aggression

A new set of studies reveals that the content of our sexual fantasies is influenced by feelings of relationship insecurity. In three experiments, college undergraduates were primed to feel attachment security or anxiety. To do this, participants thought about a past relationship in which they felt secure or anxious (Study 1), or they viewed a photo of a mother either gazing at her child (security) or turning her back on her child (anxiety; Studies 2 and 3). Afterward, participants were asked to report on one of their current sexual fantasies. The anxiety prime produced fantasies in which individuals viewed themselves as more distant from and hostile toward their partners compared to the fantasies described following the security prime. More specifically, the anxiety prime was linked to fantasies that involved sex without emotion or romance, as well as fantasies that involved themes of aggression. These findings suggest that when we feel insecure about our relationships, we subconsciously alter the content of our sexual fantasies as a way of protecting the self from further feelings of rejection.  In other words, when we are feeling insecure, we may use our fantasies to create a psychological barrier between ourselves and our partners in order to protect our self-esteem.

To learn more about the details of this study, check out this article on The Psychology of Human Sexuality.

Birnbaum, G. E., Simpson, J. A., Weisberg, Y. J., Barnea, E., & Assulin-Simhon, Z. (in press). Is it my overactive imagination? The effects of contextually activated attachment insecurity on sexual fantasies. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.


How Does Your Attachment Influence Your Sexual Relationships?

I saw a symposium of researchers who used attachment theory to explain differences in sexual behavior. In general, people high on attachment anxiety or avoidance (in other words, more insecure folks) have less satisfying sexual experiences.

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Feel the Warmth: Attachment Anxiety and Temperature

Relationships with others are often described in terms of temperature. We can have “hot” romances, “warm” friendships, and encounters with strangers that feel “cold”, and give others the cold shoulder. To the extent that interpersonal feelings coincide with a sense of temperature, an individual with greater sensitivity to relationship dynamics may also have greater sensitivity to physical temperatures. In other words, those who pay more attention to how others express warmth may be attentive to warmth in general, including actual physical warmth.

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Trust: It Does a Body Good

image source: reputation-communications.comTrust is good for your relationship, but does it also benefit your physical health? A sample of married, engaged, and dating couples completed surveys every six months for for two and a half years. Partners experiencing more trust in their relationships subsequently had lower depression and anxiety, which in turn were associated with enhanced mental and better physical health. Exercising trust in your relationship is good for your mind and body. 

Schneider, I. K., Konijn, E. A., Righetti, F., & Rusbult, C. E. (2011). A healthy dose of trust: The relationship between interpersonal trust and health. Personal Relationships, 18, 668-676.


I’m Watching You on Facebook: Attachment and Partner Surveillance

Facebook helps you stay connected with friends and family, but some people also use it to keep tabs on their romantic partners. Anxiously attached people are more likely to use Facebook to monitor their partners’ behaviors and are more jealous about their partners’ Facebook use (e.g., if the partner is still friends with a former boyfriend/girlfriend). Conversely, avoidant people show the opposite pattern; they monitor their partners less and feel less jealousy.

(A note to you anxious folks out there: if it will help you feel better, please don’t be afraid to spend lots of time monitoring the SofR Facebook page; avoidants are welcome too.)

Marshall, T. C., Bejanyan, K., Di Castro, G., & Lee, R. A. (in press). Attachment styles as predictors of Facebook-related jealousy and surveillance in romantic relationships. Personal Relationships.


Valentine’s Day Gifts: Pleasure or Obligation?

image source: askmen.comDo you enjoy giving Valentine’s Day gifts? Or is it an unpleasant obligation? Your feelings about giving presents depends on your attachment style. Across two studies, secure people reported that giving gifts to partners was more pleasurable and not done out of obligation. Conversely, people high in avoidance experienced less pleasure, whereas those high in anxiety felt more obligated to give gifts, possibly because they feared losing their partners when their relationships weren’t going well.

Nguyen, H. P., & Munch, J. M. (2011). Romantic gift giving as a chore or pleasure: The effects of attachment orientations on gift giving perceptions. Journal of Business Research, 64, 113-118.


Attachment: A "Bittersweet Symphony" or "Unwritten"?

"Just how stable are attachment styles?" This question is raised every year by my students. Some ask because they are curious if attachment styles are similar to personality traits. Others wonder if attachment styles imply destiny with their relationship outcomes. Yet others are certain that attachment styles are flexible and malleable, changing with context, situations, or partners. Others hope that attachment can be changed, or even overwritten entirely. It turns out these questions aren't that different from the ones attachment theorists have debated for decades.

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Measuring Attachment Security - A Little Or A Lot?

Measuring any personality trait is a tricky business, and attachment security is no exception. As I mentioned before in this post on attachment, sometimes a person could have a mild or moderate level of insecurity, which is quite different from being extremely insecure. It may not be completely accurate to categorize people into one of three groups when there is so much variation in people’s behavior.

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Attachment Theory: Explaining Relationship “Styles”

Sometimes it’s easy to spot insecure people. They could be highly jealous, petty, paranoid, or emotionally distant. They could resist being touched or comforted when they’re upset, or they could go from being happy to furious at the drop of a hat, leaving their partners scratching their heads.

Fortunately, there’s an explanation for these behaviors, and it lies in “attachment theory.”

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Attachment Styles at Hogwarts: Love in Harry Potter’s World

Like in any boarding school teeming with youngsters, Hogwarts is overflowing with raging hormones. Our three main characters (Harry, Ron, and Hermione) go through not just the angst of trying to defeat He Who Must Not Be Named; they are also trying to reign in the power of their own attraction to each other. We can better understand their failures and successes by viewing each of these characters through the lens of attachment theory, one of the most popular perspectives on romantic relationships.

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It’s the End of the World as We Know It and I Feel Committed to You

Last week, as the supposed Rapture was looming, how were things going in your relationship? Did the impending end of the world and your earthly demise change how you were thinking about your partner? You might be surprised to learn that this is something that scholars have studied quite a bit, working from the general perspective of "terror management theory."

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