The relationship between attachment and social anxiety, focusing on self-esteem and locus of control as possible mediators
Social anxiety is an excessive fear of social situations characterised by negative beliefs about one's performance in social situations and an exaggerated perception of the potential for catastrophic outcomes, e.g. negative judgements by others, humiliation, and loss of self-worth (Clark & Wells, 1995). People with social anxiety report experiencing their parents as emotionally cold, controlling or intrusive, and as using criticism or shame when disciplining them (Harvey, Ehlers & Clark, 2005; Leung, Heimberg, Holt & Bruch, 1994; Rapee & Melville, 1997). Social anxiety may be conceptualised from an attachment perspective particularly as interpersonal relationships are fundamental to both, and the experiences of being parented reported by people with social anxiety, may predispose individuals to developing an insecure attachment style. Self-esteem and locus of control are related to both social anxiety and attachment, and therefore may be important to both of these. The following study was conducted to examine the relationship between adult attachment and social anxiety, using an interview measure of attachment (ASI; Bifulco, Lillie, Ball & Moran, 1998). Thirty adults, recruited from a university and social anxiety support groups were screened for a high threshold of symptoms, of social anxiety. Participants completed self-report questionnaires for anxiety, self-esteem and locus of control, and were interviewed. The study found that this socially anxious group had a predominately insecure attachment style, and more specifically fearful and anxious classifications. Individuals with an insecure attachment style were not found to be significantly more socially anxious, though those with a fearful style and an anxious attachment classification were significantly more socially anxious. Social anxiety was significantly related to low self-esteem but not to locus of control. Finally individuals with an insecure attachment style did not report significantly lower self-esteem or external locus of control. The results are discussed in the context of attachment theory and cognitive models of social anxiety. Suggestions are made with regards to the development of existing treatment approaches for social anxiety, incorporating attachment components.