Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Connections With Self-Reported Attachment

Jude Cassidy, June Lichtenstein-Phelps, Nicholas J. Sibrava, Charles L. Thomas, Thomas D. Borkovec

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Even though generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is one of the most common of the anxiety disorders, relatively little is known about its precursors. Bowlby's attachment theory provides a framework within which these precursors can be considered. According to Bowlby, adult anxiety may be rooted in childhood experiences that leave a child uncertain of the availability of a protective figure in times of trouble. Furthermore, adult "current state of mind with respect to attachment" is thought to relate to adult anxiety. Both attachment-related components were assessed with 8 subscales of the Perceptions of Adult Attachment Questionnaire (PAAQ). Clinically severe GAD clients who were about to begin therapy reported experiencing less maternal love in childhood, greater maternal rejection/neglect, and more maternal role-reversal/enmeshment than did control participants. In keeping with a cumulative risk model, risk for GAD increased as indices of poor childhood attachment experience increased. GAD clients, in contrast to controls, also reported greater current vulnerability in relation to their mothers as well as more difficulty accessing childhood memories. Logistic regression analyses revealed that elevations on PAAQ subscales could significantly predict GAD vs. non-GAD status. Results and the implications for advancing the theory and treatment of GAD are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-38
Number of pages16
JournalBehavior Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology


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