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Unformatted text preview: velop generalized anxiety disorder. Psychodynamic Explanations: When Childhood Anxiety Goes Unresolved According to Freud, when a child is overrun by neurotic or moral anxiety, the
stage is set for generalized anxiety disorder. Early developmental experiences may produce an unusually high level of anxiety in such a child. Say that a boy is spanked every
time he cries for milk as an infant, messes his pants as a 2-year-old, and explores his
genitals as a toddler. He may eventually come to believe that his various id impulses are
very dangerous, and he may experience overwhelming anxiety whenever he has such
Alternatively, a child’s ego defense mechanisms may be too weak to cope with even
normal levels of anxiety. Overprotected children, shielded by their parents from all
frustrations and threats, have little opportunity to develop effective defense mechanisms.
When they face the pressures of adult life, their defense mechanisms may be too weak
to cope with the resulting anxieties.
Today’s psychodynamic theorists often disagree with specific aspects of Freud’s explanation for generalized anxiety disorder. Most continue to believe, however, that the
disorder can be traced to inadequacies in the early relationships between children and
their parents (Sharf, 2008). Researchers have tested the psychodynamic explanations
in various ways. In one strategy, they have tried to show that people with generalized
anxiety disorder are particularly likely to use defense mechanisms. For example, one
team of investigators examined the early therapy transcripts of patients with this diagnosis and found that the patients often reacted defensively. When asked by therapists
to discuss upsetting experiences, they would quickly forget (repress) what they had just
been talking about, change the direction of the discussion, or deny having negative
feelings (Luborsky, 1973).
In another line of research, investigators have studied people who as children suffered extreme punishment for id impulses. As psychodynamic theorists would predict,
these people have higher levels of anxiety later in life (Burijon, 2007; Chiu, 1971). In
addition, several studies have supported the psychodynamic position that extreme protectiveness by parents may often lead to high levels of anxiety in their children (Hudson
& Rapee, 2004; Jenkins, 1968).
Although these studies are consistent with psychodynamic explanations, some scientists question whether they show what they claim to show. When people have difficulty
talking about upsetting events early in therapy, for example, they are not necessarily 12/10/09 11:16:05 AM Anxiety Disorders :// 99 © The New Yorker Collection 2003 Alex Gregory from Cartoonbank.com. All rights reserved repressing those events. They may be focusing purposely on the positive aspects of
their lives, or they may be too embarrassed to share personal negative events until they
develop trust in the therapist. Psychodynamic Therapies Psychodynamic therapists use the same general techniques to treat all psychological problems: free association and the therapist’s i...
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