How Worry Makes Things Worse

Some people are just natural-born “worriers.” They seem to have inherited a worry gene. You know the type. You may have family members who (or you, yourself may) belong to this esteemed group, always concerned about the welfare of others (or their own). Does that ring a bell? What benefit(s), if any, are there in worrying?

If the worrying and certain associated behaviors reach the level of obsession, they are likely to cause problems in one’s career, job, and/or relationships. It might have, at that point, entered the realm of the generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Most people with GAD worry and obsess about their family, friends, and colleagues. Ironically, however, the behaviors manifested as a result of their anxiety (e.g., over-protecting, enabling, nagging, micromanaging, or, on the other hand, detachment, withdrawal, alienation) tend to sabotage or even ruin their relationships with the very people about whom they are so concerned.

Researchers studying people with GAD found that they demonstrated four distinct styles of interacting with others: intrusive, cold, non-assertive, and exploitable. Although the study participants all worried to the extreme and at about the same level, they did so in different ways. Have you ever found yourself exhibiting any of these types of behaviors? Asking your spouse a thousand questions on his/her return from a business trip (intrusive)? Offering only negative criticism regarding your child’s attempt at cleaning his room or competing in her first tennis match (cold)?

Most psychotherapists who treat patients with generalized anxiety employ cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) to do so, and it has shown positive results. Psychologists’ recommendations from this study, published recently in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, are that treatments for GAD should not focus solely on the anxiety/worry issue, for optimal effectiveness, but instead should target both interpersonal relationship and worry issues simultaneously.