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
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
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
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
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