(Click HERE for the survey.)
Okay, time for the results of the anxiety study from last Friday! First, a little background.
If you look at any relationship under stress, one individual will act out the role of the "clinger" and one will act out the role of the "avoider." What do I mean? The clinger is the one who feels better by getting closer, hanging on, not letting go. The avoider feels better with distance, walls, and space. In a way, one begets the other. The clinger chases the avoider harder because of the avoiding, and the avoider runs faster because of clinging. However, both ultimately want the same thing, i.e., not to be alone. It's just that the clinger's primary fear is that losing this particular person will be worse than being alone, and the avoider's primary fear is that being with this particular person will hurt worse than being alone.
Clinger/avoider behaviors are relative things. People can switch sides. A hard core avoider can come up against an even greater avoider and suddenly look like a clinger. However, I believe that each person has a basic preference one way or the other. They will tend to play one of the roles in relationships repeatedly. My question is WHY? What accounts for the different approaches? What fuels it? As I try to boil human behaviors down to their lowest common denominators, I came to suspect that the basic force at work here is the physical experience of anxiety.
MY HYPOTHESIS: Avoiders are people who tend to experience substantial levels of anxiety when faced with the emotions of other people. Clingers, on the other hand, will exhibit more normal emotional boundaries, because drawing closer to a person requires you to endure more exposure to that person's feelings. I posit that avoiders cannot endure the price of clinging behaviors. It is their anxiety that drives them away.
The questions in my survey targeted a wide range of social situations which might spark anxiety. The last three questions were designed to see whether you strongly identify with either avoiding or clinging behaviors. Regardless of how my hypothesis turns out, if you answered "strongly agree" to question 21 and you scored high in many anxiety categories, then anxiety may be a powerful, negative force in your life. You may not even be aware of all of its effects. I'll be doing a follow-up post on how anxiety and "anxious attachments" might be gnawing away quality of life. Anxious attachment is a preoccupation with the fear of losing the people you care about.
Okay, so how did my hypothesis turn out? Six responders indicated high agreement with avoider behavior. Three responders indicated high agreement with clinger behaviors. Four responders did not indicate an anxious attachment style (question 21), and also did not strongly correlate with either avoiding or clinging.
RESULTS: Avoiders scored the highest overall for anxiety with an average score of 5.8 of 10. Clingers came next with an average of 5.0. Interestingly, the group without an anxious attachment style scored sharply lower with an average anxiety level of only 2.8.
It appears that my hypothesis was correct in that avoiders experience the highest levels of anxiety of the three groups. In 8 of the 20 questions, avoiders scored at least 1.0 points more anxious than clingers on average. In only 2 of the 20 questions did clingers score at least 1.0 points more anxious than avoiders on average.
What's fascinating is which questions were the most predictive of avoiders and which were the most predictive for clingers.
Avoider Predictors (Highest Comparative Anxiety)
-Watching movies full of tense drama, conflicts, and heartbreak.
-In childhood, being yelled at.
-Someone crying in front of you.
-Public speaking/group attention.
-Failing to meet your parents' expectations.
Each of these situations involve either the expression of emotion or a generalized, impersonal threat of judgment/rejection.
Only one question was a big predictor of clingers.
Clinger Predictor (Highest Comparative Anxiety)
-In childhood, being separated from your parents.
That really fits, doesn't it? The loss itself is the greatest fear. It eclipses any anxiety generated by the being with a person.
In conclusion, wide-ranging anxiety seems to correlate with anxious attachments and strong avoider/clinger behaviors. As the anxiety levels increase, especially in emotional situations, it becomes more likely that a person will react to an anxious attachment with avoiding behaviors. Clingers may experience slightly less overall anxiety, but they may exhibit a history of sharp anxiety associated with separation from parents. People without an anxious attachment style tend to experience much lower levels of anxiety overall.