Insecurity in Relationships May Lead to Severe Health Problems
People who are insecure in relationships seem to have a higher risk of
heart disease and other health problems than those who are secure,
according to a new study by the American Psychological Association.
Using data from another survey on adults aged 18-60, researchers found that
those who felt insecure in relationships and those who avoid getting close
to people could have a greater chance of developing a number of chronic
conditions -- including cardiovascular disease, stroke, high blood
pressure, persistent pain and ulcers.
"The more insecure people feel, the more likely they are to have the bad
outcomes," lead author Lachlan A. McWilliams, a clinical psychologist and
associate professor at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada, told AOL
He said the study, which he published with a colleague in the journal
Health Psychology, is the first to look at the link between a variety of
specific ailments and adults' attachments to others.
Prior research has identified an association between how people feel in
relationships and pain-related problems like frequent headaches.
"We were initially surprised that some of our strongest findings involved
conditions related to the cardiovascular system," McWilliams wrote.
The study's participants rated themselves as either secure, anxious or
avoidant in relationships. Secure attachment means a person feels confident
and lovable and is able to form close relationships. Anxious attachment
refers to feelings of neediness, a lack of self-worth and worry about
rejection, making it difficult to cultivate intimate bonds. Avoidant
attachment involves shying away from relationships because of fears that
others aren't trustworthy.
Subjects answered questions about their history of chronic pain, arthritis,
persistent or severe headaches, seasonal allergies, stroke and heart
attack, as well as of various psychological disorders. They also reported
whether a doctor had diagnosed them with high blood pressure, heart
disease, asthma, ulcers, diabetes or cancer, among other conditions.
Researchers learned that avoidant attachment was linked mostly to problems
defined by pain, like chronic headaches. Anxious attachment was positively
associated with a broader scope of health issues including those of the
cardiovascular system, and people who said they were anxiety-ridden in
relationships had a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood
pressure, persistent pain and ulcers.
The authors adjusted for various demographic factors that might contribute
to the health of the participants and for a history of psychological
McWilliams theorized that people who are stressed and insecure might be
more prone to adopt unhealthy habits than those who aren't.
"Insecure people might be more likely to smoke and drink and engage in
behaviors associated with developing cardiovascular conditions down the
line," he told AOL Health. "They're also thought to be more reactive to
stress ... [so they have] a bit more wear and tear on their system."
They also might be less likely to seek social or medical support, he added.
"These findings suggest that insecure attachment may be a risk factor for a
wide range of health problems, particularly cardiovascular diseases,"
McWilliams wrote. "Interventions aimed at improving attachment security
could also have positive health outcomes."
Those treatments could include couples counseling that focuses on feeling
secure in relationships. Such therapy might lead to an improvement in
physical health, McWilliams said, but more research needs to be done to
determine whether one's ability to get close to people can predict whether
he or she will have a heart attack, stroke or other problem later in life.
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