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Insecurity in Relationships May Lead to Severe Health Problems. - Article
Insecurity in Relationships May Lead to Severe Health Problems. - Article

Insecurity in Relationships May Lead to Severe Health Problems. - Article
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Insecurity in Relationships May Lead to Severe Health Problems

By Catherine Donaldson-Evans

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 Health.

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 syndromes.

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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