Attachment and medically unexplained somatic symptoms: The role of mentalization

M.M.E. Riem*, E.N.E.M. Doedee, S.C. Broekhuizen-Dijksman, E. Beijer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Previous research has found an association between insecure attachment and increased somatization in adults. However, the mechanisms underlying this association are unknown. In the present study, we examined whether the association between attachment insecurity and somatization in psychiatric patients diagnosed with medically unexplained somatic symptoms (MUSS) is mediated by mentalization deficits. Attachment security of 58 outpatients diagnosed with MUSS was measured with the Experiences in Social Relationships Questionnaire (ECR). Difficulty with understanding own emotions was measured with the Toronto Alexithymia Scale-20. In addition, others’ mental state comprehension was measured with the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET). Somatic symptom severity experienced by MUSS patients was related to attachment anxiety and alexithymia. These associations remained significant after controlling for sex, age, medication use, and depressive symptoms. Moreover, alexithymia mediated the association between anxious attachment and severity of somatic symptoms. Somatic symptom severity was also related to better RMET performance, although this association was not significant after controlling for sex, age, medication use, and depressive symptoms. Our findings may indicate that individuals with an anxious attachment style have difficulties in clarifying own emotions. This may in turn result in somatic experience of emotional distress and risk for development of MUSS.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-113
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
Volume268
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Keywords

  • ADULT ATTACHMENT
  • ALEXITHYMIA
  • ASPERGER-SYNDROME
  • Alexithymia
  • Anxious attachment
  • CHILDHOOD
  • CHRONIC-FATIGUE-SYNDROME
  • Childhood trauma
  • EYES TEST
  • MIND
  • Mentalization
  • Muss
  • PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS
  • PRIMARY-CARE
  • Reading the mind in the eyes test
  • SOMATIZATION

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