Friday, May 27, 2011

Anxiety, Mood/Affective, and Dissociative/Somatoform Disorders

Anxiety, mood, and dissociative and somatoform disorders have at least one thing in common - they take from individuals the capacity for normal social engagement and expected daily functioning. Their biological, emotional, behavioral and cognitive components vary, although each has symptoms and parts that overlap with the next. Abnormal psychology aims to identify all of these components in a continued effort toward better and more accurate therapeutic applications.

Anxiety Disorders Components


The biological component of anxiety disorders addresses the functioning of the autonomic nervous system, the limbic system, neural transmission, autoimmune processes, and inherited factors that predispose an individual to anxiety. Anxiety produces affective physical reactions in people. The biological perspective views the activation or stimulation of the nervous system and its excesses or deficiencies (National Institutes of Health, 2010). There may also be associated genetic predispositions, neuro-chemical and hormonal malfunctions (Schimelpfening, 2009).


The emotional components of anxiety disorders include underlying concerns or experiences that have not been openly addressed. Contemporary psychologists believe there may be unusual levels of pain and sadness as a result from early relations with parents. When anxiety begins later in life, it may be the result of a combination of factors including sadness or disappointment in oneself. Most psychologists consider underlying conditions as a prelude to anxiety disorders (Hansell & Damour, 2008).


Cognitive distortions and negative views of oneself and one's environment, and pessimism are typical in these disorders. Anxiety is often the result of maladaptive thought processes and dysfunctional cognitive schemas. Individuals often interpret situations incorrectly and focus on inappropriately perceived dangers that are merely average. They also underestimate their own emotional ability to manage challenges (Hansell & Damour, 2008).


The behavioral components of anxiety include both voluntary and involuntary actions based on the individual's anxiety. For example, if a specific situation provokes anxiety in an individual, typically the individual will avoid similar situations in the future, which has a tendency to perpetuate the anxiety. Unrelenting anxious thoughts lead to a variety of symptoms and may include ritualized, rigid, and patterned behaviors and inappropriate and unwarranted fear in average situations (Hansell & Damour, 2008).

Mood/Affective Disorders Components


The biological components of mood/affective disorders include genetic predispositions, neuro-chemical and hormonal excesses, deficiencies, and malfunctions that affect mood regulation (Schimelpfening, 2009). Anomalies in the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and cerebellum as well as genetic factors are involved in bipolar disorder. The endocrine system exerts great influence on mood and its dysfunction can lead to depression (Schimelpfening, 2009).


Mood/affective disorders promote low self-esteem, a low sense of self-efficacy based on negative experiences and inabilities, and feelings of hopelessness (Schimelpfening, 2009). Anxiety disorders often have underlying concerns that have not been appropriately addressed. Contemporary psychologists believe there may be unusual levels of pain and sadness resulting from early parent-child relationships (Hansell & Damour, 2008).


Individuals who suffer from depression often have an irrational negative perspective of themselves and their world, and such negative schemas promote automatic negative thoughts and a distorted awareness (Hansell & Damour, 2008). People with depression often see everything around them and within themselves as negative (Schimelpfening, 2007). Their thought processes are distorted and oppressive.


Lack of social skills, continued exposure to a critical, unresponsive, or an inappropriately responsive environment or one that is overly punishing contributes to and exacerbates depression and its associated behaviors. Often individuals with depressive symptoms have an attenuated capacity to enjoy positive events or an inappropriate sensitivity to negative ones. Behavioral factors contribute to depression and perpetuate a vicious cycle of thoughts provoking behavior and vice versa (Hansell & Damour, 2008).

Dissociative/Somatoform Disorders Components


People with dissociative and somatoform disorders often have family members who have had similar conditions which leads researchers to believe there is a genetic link to their development (, 2011). People who are hypervigilant to any transient physical or mental sensations are more apt to develop these disorders because. There tends to be a high rate of comorbidity with dissociative and somatoform disorders with anxiety, panic, and bipolar disorders, and depression (Hansell & Damour, 2008).


Individuals with these disorders report severe and multifaceted traumatization (Nijenhuis, Spinhoven, Van Dyck, Van der Hart, & Vanderlinden, 1998). The presence of physical and sexual trauma predicted somatoform dissociation, and sexual trauma predicted psychological dissociation as well. According to the memories of the dissociative disorder patients, the abuse took place in an inappropriate social context that was emotionally neglectful and abusive. Early onset of chronic and intense traumatization best predicted pathological dissociation (Nijenhuis et al., 1998), although not everyone has such abuse in their history.


In dissociative/somatoform disorders individuals experience a loss of memory, usually of certain time periods, or events and people. Individuals experience detachment from themselves and have a distorted and unreal perception of their environment. They do not have a lucid sense of their identity.


As medical science better understands the connection between the brain and the body, there is an apparent association between emotional well-being and the affects of physical pain and the behavior that accommodates and adapts to these circumstances. Chronic pain and traumatization affects behavior and lifestyle, and significantly interferes with normal functioning (Hansell & Damour, 2008).


Two of the themes central to these disorders are genetic predispositions and underlying and unaddressed emotional experiences or perspectives, yet all of these disorders have other biological components along with additional emotional, cognitive, and behavioral ones. By addressing each component, psychology gains a more accurate picture of each disorder, enabling the ability to gainfully manage individual suffering, and one day engaging in proactive intervention that limits the genesis of these mentally disfiguring and life-altering conditions.


Hansell, J., & Damour, L. (2008). Abnormal psychology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

National Institutes of Health. (2010). Phobias: MedlinePlus. National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. Retrieved May 12, 2011, from

Nijenhuis, E. S., Spinhoven, P., Van Dyck, R., Van der Hart, O., & Vanderlinden, J. (1998). Degree of somatoform and psychological dissociation in dissociative disorder is correlated with reported trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 11(4), 711-730. doi: 10.1023/A:1024493332751 (2011). Somatoform Disorders. PSYweb Complete Mental Health Site. Retrieved May 12, 2011, from

Schimelpfening, N. (2007). Bipolar disorder - definition of bipolar disorder. About Depression - Information and Support for Depression. Retrieved May 12, 2011, from

Schimelpfening, N. (2009). Major depressive disorder - DSM-IV criteria for major depressive disorder. About Depression - Information and Support for Depression. Retrieved May 12, 2011, from

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