Author(s): Waller E, Scheidt CE
This paper considers the role of disturbances in affect regulation in the development and course of somatoform disorders. We first give an overview of contemporary theories in the field of psychosomatic medicine that links deficits in emotion regulation to the process of somatization, and then review recent empirical research that focuses on the association between affect regulation and somatoform disorders, with an emphasis on studies investigating the alexithymia construct. Overall, the findings suggest that somatoform disorders are linked to a diminished capacity to consciously experience and differentiate affects and express them in an adequate or healthy way. It must be noted, however, that this result has not been obtained exclusively for somatoform disorders. A promising approach to further our understanding of the developmental roots of impaired affect regulation in somatoform disorders is attachment research. The attachment research reviewed in this paper indicates that a dismissing status of attachment is linked to defensive forms of processing and expressing emotions. We present some new data that not only provide empirical support of a high proportion of dismissing attachment in somatoform disorders but also suggest that the degree to which somatoform disorder patients employ dismissing attachment strategies is strongly related to affect dysregulation. Finally, some implications for psychotherapeutic interventions in patients with somatoform disorders are considered.