The Personality Traits that can lead to Excessive Worry.

Psychologists report that psychological research into the personality traits of those people who suffer from anxiety disorders has had mixed results. According to psychological research there is no well-defined set of personality traits that results in a particular anxiety disorder. Instead, psychologists report that there are a variety of ways in which people may develop a wide range of nervous disorders. For example, in the case of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), physiological and physical aspects of the brain are thought to be more important than childhood factors or personality.

The triggering of specific phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also seems to be much more dependent upon outside factors and influences than on personality traits. It is thought that childhood factors and personality play a more important role in the development of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) panic disorder and social phobia. It is also thought that when the personality traits noted below, occur in a person with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and specific phobia, these traits can result in an increase and intensification of symptoms. Thus making the anxiety disorder more severe and difficult to treat.

Several personality traits that may complicate anxiety problems are listed below. If you suffer from an anxiety problem, as you read the list, you may find that many of these do not apply to you or that they tend to describe people you know who do not suffer from anxiety symptoms. The reason for this is that the personality traits described below are fairly common personality traits. However, it is quite likely that you will find that some do describe you. If this is the case then make a note of this, either mentally or in writing, as this may be an area that you need to work in order to treat your anxiety.

High anxiety personality (HAP) traits

High level of creativity or imagination.

Having a a vivid imagination or high level of creativity is thought to increase the risk of worry. Psychiatrists and psychologists often find that those individuals who suffer from severe anxiety are often extremely creative with a very vivid imagination. Unfortunately, this highly developed creativity can become a powerful force behind “what-if” thinking and on negative anticipation. Psychologists find that the more creative person is, the easier it is for him or her to dream up a host of scary or frightening things that may happen in a particular situation. A creative mind also results in a person imagining these scary possibilities in extreme detail.

Excessive need for approval.

The excessive need for approval from other people is often referred to as a fear of rejection. An individual who has this personality trait relies on other individuals for a sense of self-worth. A person with this personality trait tends to have a heightened sensitivity to criticism, and often finds it difficult to say “no” to the requests and demands of other people. An excessive requirement for approval may also lead to the tendency to take responsibility for the feelings of other people and be excessively sensitive to their needs. An individual with this trait often makes it his or her responsibility to keep family members, work colleagues and friends happy.

Rigid thinking.

Rigid thinking is described by psychologists as the tendency to perceive life as a series of either-or alternatives. Events that happen are either “right or wrong”, “fair or unfair” “good or bad” etc. Another typical characteristic of this type of black-and-white thinking is the existence of many rigid rules which affect a person’s thinking. Psychologists find that people who exhibit rigid thinking usually have a “correct” way to do things, and that these people become upset when things are not done in that “correct” way. In addition, there are often many things that “must”, “should” “can’t” be done by others or oneself.

Extremely high expectations of oneself.

This means, that there is often the expectation of a much greater level of performance and accomplishment from oneself than one would ever expect from other people. This leads to increased pressure and demand on the individual which results in stress and worry.


Perfectionism is thought by psychologists to be a combination of three things: the excessively high expectations of oneself as described above; the tendency to use “all or nothing” thinking when making an assessment of one’s own actions; and a tendency to focus on minute errors and mistakes, rather than on the general progress or overall achievement. This may lead the perfectionist to consider any less-than-perfect achievement or result to be a failure. He she then tends to internalise and personalise the poor achievement, so that both the task and the person become failures. A common way in which this is expressed by psychologists is the “but” habit. A person with a perfectionist personality trait often finds themselves saying things such as: “Overall this project is being carried out well, but…” The perfectionist will then dwell on what was wrong.

Competent, dependable doer.

The interaction of all the so far listed above factors often results in an individual who is not only capable, competent and dependable, but also a real doer who is skilled at getting projects and jobs completed, and completed very well.

Excessive need to be in control

Someone who has a desire or excessive need to be in control, will place a high value on being calm and being in control. Therefore, there is often a need also, for events to be predictable. Changes which are unexpected in a predetermined schedule will then cause emotional distress, because it is much harder to be in control when one is uncertain what will happen. People who have an excessive need to be in control may also have a tendency to attempt to control the behaviour and feelings of other people. They do this, not with the intention of hurting other people, but out of a fear of losing control.

A person with the need to be in control, can experience quite intense symptoms of anxiety but appear normal to the casual observer. Because a person who is like this usually tries to and does present a proper image to the world, even when there is tremendous internal self-doubt and turmoil, he or she may be considered to be very strong emotionally by relatives, friends and work colleagues.

Suppression of some or all negative emotional feelings

A person who tends to suppress their internal negative feelings, often suppresses these feelings that they believe shouldn’t be felt, because they may result in loss of control or result in disapproval from other people. Sadness and anger are two common examples of negative feelings that may be suppressed in this way.

A tendency to ignore the body’s physical needs

This personality trait is often reflected in a person’s attitude that the physical body is not important. Therefore, signs that the body is in pain, fatigued, tired in need of rest, care or attention are given a low priority or are ignored. An individual with this personality tray is therefore frequently only aware of the fatigue when the symptoms of exhaustion develop.

It is important to emphasise that the above personality traits are not necessarily undesirable. It is easiest to see this, if you consider the opposites of each of the above personality traits. To give some examples: when it is used in a positive fashion, creativity is an excellent source of effective problem-solving. The opposite of a creative person would be some one who is unimaginative, uncreative and dull. The requirement for approval is essential for healthy inter-personal relationships. A person with the opposite to, a need approval, is a person who has no feelings about others. A moderate degree of perfectionism, dependability and high personal expectations results in a person who is an extremely useful and valuable member of society. The opposite would be a person who has little or no concern about how well a job is completed. The ability to maintain self-control of emotions and oneself enables a person to function well during chaos and in emergencies. The opposite would be someone who is excessively emotional and does not cope well with chaos and emergency situations.

There is a healthy range for the degree of personality traits that a person can possess. For each personality trait, there will be some who are at the low end of the range, some who are in the middle and some who are at the high end. A particular personality trait only creates problems and leads to anxiety, when it is exaggerated and falls outside the healthy range.

One important factor to success in life, is learning how to moderate these personality traits so that they fall within the normal range and to tap into them only when it is appropriate to do so. Learning to use personality traits in this way and minimising them during the times when they interfere with your life, will result in transforming these personality traits into valuable assets. A person who is able to do this has a highly developed level of emotional intelligence and is less likely to develop anxiety. To treat anxiety successfully it is important to aim to develop this form of emotional intelligence and to moderate excessive personality traits which may lead to worry.

The best way to treat anxiety, if you believe that your worry results from your personality, is to consult a clinical psychologist. Clinical psychologists are best placed to treat nervousness in those with certain personalty traits.


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