Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Anxiety Study: The Results

(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.


Dr. Cheryl Carvajal said...

I so see this at work in my own life. I am an avoider, plain and simple, and thank God my husband isn't a clinger, or I would go insane!

Unfortunately, I do come across clingers... and they drive me crazy...

Shadow said...

this was mighty interesting...

awareness said...

Very interesting! I think its bang on correct. I would add that clingers also develop their behaviour if they have experienced rejection repeatedly in previous relationships or life events as well.

What I've been thinking about lately is that often the personality traits two people are originally attracted to in another person can eventually be what pushes them apart. Opposites attract because of the traits one admires in another person. Then, it becomes an irritation that festers. Once this happens, the clinger/avoider behaviour kicks in? perhaps.

Lots to chew on here. I like it. :)

DILLIGAF said...

None the wiser old bean.

Where do I fit into this?

Just post the names old bean!

If they don't like it they shouldn't have participated.

Come on!

Inquiring minds need to know!!!

Terri said...

That all makes a whole lot of sense and pretty much fits with what I know about myself. I'm an Avoider, glad to be of service :)
If I may be so bold as to take it a step further, this is probably also tied to those walls you wrote about not too long ago; we build the walls around our hearts to protect ourselves from being hurt. More avoidance.

Anonymous said...

Shakespeare, I'm an avoider too, so I understand what you're saying. It was a shock for me to realize how much anxiety I feel. Outwardly, I seem unusually calm and unaffected. I guess I believed it too.

Shadow, glad it provoked some good thought!

Awareness, you're touching on a similar concept as Imago theory. The things that wounded us in childhood feel comfortable. They are old challenges that we really want to solve. For example, if we clung to an emotionally distant parent in childhood, we will be drawn to a distant lover, because we want to solve that old problem and heal that old wound.

Four Dinners, your answers to questions 21, 22, and 23 put you in the avoider category. I'm an avoider also. You answers helped me to determine whether avoiders scored the highest overall anxiety levels.

Terri, you can definitely see my avoider tendencies in many of my stories, poems, etc. I always got the sense that you saw it there, because you have similar pushes and pulls. Thanks for sharing here!

Unspoken said...

Fascinating. I have been both.

Margaret said...

I've found out that I'm an avoider. My husband on the other hand fits into the category of clinger.

Interesting to find out that both have the fear of being alone.

I never thought of myself as being high on anxiety but when I think about it, I believe it's there but that I try to cover it up.

Thanks Jason for all the work gone into this study.

Mona said...

O Dear. I remember the timewhen I was at playschool which was in the same premisis of the college where my mother used to teach at, and I was 2 1/2 yeara of age. I saw a woman walking on the road from my clasroom window and thought it was my mother leaving me . I sneaked out of the class, and ran screaming after her on the raod, but the woman had disappeared. I kept running on and calling my mother and weeping inconsolably, till I reached home ( which was about 5 miles away from school) . I can still remember the feeling I went though!

Anonymous said...

She Writes, then you can see how that can happen. How natural a dynamic it is between two people.

Margaret, I know how weird it sounds to "discover" that you've been feeling anxiety. I liken it to crossing a street and suddenly hearing a car horn blare at you. You think, "I have to get off this road now!" It feels like important information is being given to you. However, your heart may be pounding and you feel the need to run, but no car is actually coming. That reaction might be just anxiety, no more. It's NOT information to be acted on. If fact, whipping into action almost always makes the situation worse.

Mona, wow, that must have really traumatized you! In fact, even today, reliving that memory probably has a physical effect on you. However, knowing it's there is the first step in learning how to push back against it.

Blaine from Anxiety and Stress Be Gone Said: said...

Interesting. I am reflecting on my own relationships and how they fit into your article. I guess I would have to be considered to be an avoider.

Atrisa said...

Wow this was a fascinating read, something almost everyone can relate to. Seriously insightful. I never thought that being the avoider means there is greater anxiety level, I would've thought it was the other way round.

Anonymous said...

Blaine, I hope you find some of the observations helpful.

Atrisa, does it hold true for you, do you think? Are you an avoider?