You are here
Health Lifestyle Reviews 

The intergenerational transmission of anxiety

The parent passes to the child anxiety or the child’s temperament to trigger parental apprehension? Studies on seeking an answer…

The anxious parent transmits anxiety to their child? Studies in the field of intergenerational transmission of anxiety try to answer this and other questions.

Anxiety disorders: High psycho-socio-economic impact

The idea that anxiety disorders are among the most common and widespread mental disorders within the population, and now widely shared by most of the epidemiological studies on the topic. From what emerges, in fact, their prevalence is around 25% in the normal population, develop early, on average around 11 years old, are more frequent in women, tend to become chronic over time and for all these reasons have high social costs -Cheap. They are in fact due to difficulties in various areas: social, to the family, education, and work, constituting themselves as a risk factor for the development of additional disorders such as depression or substance abuse. It is, therefore, essential that researchers keep up the interest towards these disorders, in order to identify more and more early and effective treatments that can reduce the high psycho-socio-economic impact.

The intergenerational transmission of anxiety

Advertisement The anxiety disorders are usually characterized by a wide variety of symptoms including for example excessive worry, intense fear, nervousness, insomnia, difficulty indigestion, muscle tension, tachycardia, feeling of suffocation, panic; this symptom has, therefore, different implications cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous, coming to affect greatly, in severe cases, the individual’s general physical and mental functioning. The effects of this impairment will also have an impact in other areas of the person’s life, putting at risk it’s more general adaptation to the environment and society.

generalized anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, social phobia are in fact some of the most common anxiety disorders are recognized as limiting or otherwise interfering with learning, socialization, love life, performances school, personal ambitions and / or the individual’s life goals. How can a CEO suffer from a social phobia? Or a surgeon has the blood phobia? Can an operator ecological suffer from agoraphobia? For all these reasons it is important to be able to identify not only the triggers but also the factors that contribute to the maintenance and chronicity of this specific category of ailments. Being a very vast and complex topic, in this article, we will focus mainly on the deepening of knowledge and implications anxiety intergenerational transmission. In fact, have a clearer idea of the main mechanisms and factors involved in the development and transmission of anxiety symptoms between parents and children, it can help you better understand the potential of early interventions for the treatment or prevention of anxiety disorders.

Anxiety intergenerational transmission

One of the most interesting achievements of research on the subject is the discovery that anxiety disorders occur in families. But it is a very complex phenomenon, the understanding of the mechanisms involved is still incomplete and sometimes contradictory: some studies have said that suffering from anxiety disorders children of parents have seven times more likely to develop themselves a disturbance anxiety than children of parents suffering from such psychopathology, other studies have pointed out that they are the parents of the children look forward to being at risk of developing a disorder themselves anxiety than parents of healthy children. Therefore, how important genetics in the intergenerational transfer of an anxiety disorder between parent and child? And if it was more an environmental issue, which factors have more weight? But, above all, is the anxious parent who sends his child anxiety or is anxious temperament of the child to unleash the apprehension of the parent? Studies in the field of intergenerational transmission of anxiety have tried and still try to answer all these questions.

A recent contribution on the subject was given by Eley and colleagues (2015) in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The study involved 387 families of monozygotic twins and 489 fraternal twins’ families along with their respective partners and one of their teenage children. The families were evaluated with several specially calibrated tools to detect different aspects of anxiety symptoms. The data obtained confirmed the contribution of genetics with regard to the presence of anxiety symptoms among identical twins, while they have not detected an equally significant genetic effect compared to the intergenerational transmission of anxiety among parents and children. These results, therefore, corroborated the hypothesis that the children have not inherited so much anxiety from their parents as much as that they have developed from other mechanisms such as subsequent learning experiences. The experiment results, therefore, remain in line with the model currently most shared on intergenerational transmission of anxiety for which, even if the heredity contributes to predispose the individual in terms of vulnerability to the symptomatology, the weight of environmental factors seems to be more significant.

Intergenerational transmission of anxiety: Factors and mechanisms involved

Many studies have examined what environmental factors are mainly involved in the intergenerational transmission of anxiety and among these the most studied is the bond of attachment between parents and children, the operation and the family structure, educational and behavioral style of the parent and ultimately the beliefs and parenting responsibilities. In particular, concerning the attachment, it is now certain that a relationship of insecure in parents and children is mainly associated with anxiety child and that the perception of control, a sense of autonomy and sense of personal competence are important mediators in the association between family factors and anxiety disorders. However, it remains to clarify some specific mechanisms by which attachment contributes to the intergenerational transmission of anxiety disorders, in particular, the different contribution of attachment maternal than paternal in the development of specific forms of childhood anxiety. Some research suggests the hypothesis that the bond of paternal attachment can play a predominant role than maternal anxiety in social development.

As regards the operation and the family structure, it can be stated that the quality of the relationship between the parents and in particular their capacity to support each other, directly affect the quality of the relationship that each parent then establishes with their child and this affects the child in terms of increased sense of security gained; This sense of security is a major protective factor for the development of future psychopathology in children. But what aspects of the operation and the family structure are specific for anxiety in children? Some studies have actually found an association between specific quality of the couple relationship between parents and anxiety in children but the results are still limited. In connection with child anxiety aspects of the family, the structure has also been studied as birth order, a large number of families and the relationship with the brothers. Unfortunately, also, in this case, the results obtained are limited and sometimes discordant and consequently do not permit a clear understanding of the phenomenon.

In particular, for example, according to some studies would be the firstborn and only children at increased risk of developing shyness and anxiety to the high expectations of success placed in them by their parents, while according to other studies would be the younger brothers those most at risk as potentially more exposed to situations of bullying and negative dominance by the big brothers. Although the association between anxiety disorders and size of the family is not well defined, in fact in some cases a large family is a protective factor against the negative consequences of conflicting relationships between the parents, while in other cases is an aggravating because of potentially more chaotic and confrontational atmosphere. Therefore, to date, the specific association between family structure and functioning and childhood anxiety remains to be clarified; However, it can be said that, in general, a poor quality of the relationship between the parents, poor mutual support among parents, interfamily conflict, and a general interfamily malfunction are significant factors in the development and maintenance of anxiety.

As for educational and parenting behavior styles, literature has already provided sufficient evidence to confirm how styles and rejecting parenting behaviors are primarily responsible for the development and maintenance of anxiety in children. Educational style defined parental over-control is characterized by excessive regulation and / or limit on the autonomy of the child in the activities and daily routines, with a high level of vigilance and intrusiveness. This type of parental attitudes tends to severely limit a child’s development in terms of autonomy and independence and helps to infuse a low sense of self-efficacy as well as a sense of insecurity and uncontrollability of the outside world. Also, one parenting style characterized by parental negativity, or by the lack of warmth and approval, it helps create in the child negative and distorted ideas about the world, about themselves and about the future. Research has also found that the parents suffering from anxiety disorders take more educational and intrusive behavior styles, overprotective and compared with healthy parents, contributing largely to develop and maintain the anxiety in their children. In addition, as noted with regard to the attachment bond, even in this case the mother and father appear to play different roles, in particular, it seems that the relational style and behavior of fathers is specifically associated with the level of social anxiety in children.

But what brings the parent to act in a certain way? In this sense cognitive factors such as beliefs and parenting responsibilities have an important role in the intergenerational transmission of anxiety: on one side directly affect the parent’s overt behavior, the other indirectly affecting more or less effective interpersonal styles. Through a learning-type vicar, defined parental modeling, the child, directly observing the adult behavioral responses, learns his own response template and then tends to reuse in future similar situations. It is clear then as an anxious parent, which tends to react to situations in an overly apprehensive and scared, walk to his son a similar behavioral response model, favoring the latter in the development and / or reinforcement of traits anxious.

Other categories of beliefs and parenting responsibilities rather indirectly affect the educational style adopted by the parent. In particular, the perception that the parent has the temperament of their child’s behavior strongly influences the expectations of the parent itself and therefore influences the relational style he subsequently adopted. In this sense, then there is reciprocity between childhood temperament and parental response: a child with a temperament characterized by high levels of arousal and emotion contributes to the parent relational expectations that necessarily affect the way a parent acts; such behavior, in turn, influences the emotional response of the child and soon in a relationship of mutual influence. It seems to mediate this report will contribute also the sense of control and perceived effectiveness of the parent in the caregiving situations. Some research has shown that parents suffering from anxiety disorders, with negative expectations about their child’s reactions and poor sense of self-efficacy in the caregiving situations behave with greater intrusiveness, overprotection, anxiety, and control Other research has finally been focusing on a particular mode of thought defined negative interpretation bias, or the tendency to negatively interpret ambiguous situations, considering also responsible for the development and maintenance of disturbances the anxiety in children.

The idea that anxiety disorders are high-prevalence disorders and who have a serious psychological impact, social and economic development is now well established. One of the most interesting aspects of this heterogeneous group of disorders is the fact that recourse frequently between the generations. Numerous studies have identified factors and the specific mechanisms involved in anxiety intergenerational transmission. Currently, the most common model states that the greatest contribution to the development and maintenance of anxiety across generations is given by environmental factors such as the attachment bond, operation and family structure, educational and behavioral style of the parent and beliefs and parenting responsibilities.

The complexity of the results obtained in the field, also appears to suggest that the relationship between parental anxiety and child is two-way and mutual influence: as a parent anxious, led by his own beliefs and attributions influence cognitive and behavioral responses of their child imparting their anxiety, just as a child with a particular temperament may affect the behavioral response of the parent, reinforcing a vicious circle difficult to break. Among the key mechanism identified in the intergenerational transmission of anxiety, parental modeling assumes a special role as it is responsible for learning vicar of anxiety-inducing responses in children by observing their parents.

Also, play a key role in the knowledge and parental responsibilities, which, if distorted, tend to adversely affect the educational strategies adopted by them. Lastly, it seems that having fathers and mothers roles in raising children, they contribute differently to the transmission of anxiety disorders, and in particular it seems that the paternal contribution is predominant in social anxiety transmission.

Related posts