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Do you feel secure in your relationships with friends, family and partners? How confident you feel in your relationships with others may determine what kind of health problems you’ll have later on in life, according to a new study published in the journal Health Psychology.
People who have trouble trusting others are more likely to suffer from pain conditions, like frequent or painful headaches. Those of us who are anxious in our dealings with other people because we worry about rejection are prone to a wider range of health issues, from chronic pain and ulcers to cardiovascular conditions like stroke, heart attack or high blood pressure. In contrast, those who are comfortable with emotional intimacy showed no increased risk for any particular disease. Perhaps this helps explain past research that people with the strongest social connections tend to live longer.
If you fret over whether people will like you, don’t blame yourself. According to the newer study, it often comes down to how you were cared for as an infant. When parents are compassionate and responsive to their infants’ needs, their children often grow up thinking the world is a safe and trusting place, and will develop close interpersonal relationships. But when parents are either inconsistent or unresponsive to their tots, those kids are more likely to view the world as an unsafe place. They may be more sensitive to rejection and have a harder time getting close to people.
Past research detailed in this study indicates that these people who are anxious or insecure around others are more susceptible to stress and may rely more often on unhealthy coping skills, like food or alcohol – both of which can increase one’s likelihood of developing a health condition. People who are uncomfortable with closeness may also be less likely to take care of themselves or follow their doctor’s recommendations.
As someone who grew up shy and nervous around other people, I find this study fascinating—and scary. It has taken me a long time to come around to trusting other people. At 36, after years of therapy, I am finally getting married to someone I can open up to completely. That doesn’t mean I am confident in all of my other relationships, though I am working on it.
When I was born, my mom experienced postpartum depression; back then, doctors weren’t on the lookout for it the way they are today. Luckily, she told my dad that she was struggling, and my aunt lived close enough by to come over every day and help out. I’m sure those days when she couldn’t even get out of bed affected me. We were also a household that believed in keeping a stiff upper lip – better to stay strong and not show our emotions. After all, things could always be worse, so why waste time complaining? I’m glad I can look back and understand that how my parents raised me and chose to express themselves was not a reflection of how much they did or did not love me – it’s simply a product of what they were taught growing up. I hope that by figuring all of this out, I am, at the same time, decreasing my risk for developing chronic disease. And if not, at least I can take comfort in knowing that I can learn from the generations before me, and hopefully bring a child into this world who is much more confident and comfortable in developing loving relationships.
How do you relate to others – and can you trace it back to your childhood? Chime in below!