Background and aims
Pain catastrophizing has consistently been related to a variety of negative outcomes within chronic pain conditions, but competing models exist explaining the role of catastrophizing. According to the fear-avoidance model (FAM), catastrophizing is primarily related to the appraisal of pain (i.e. “intrapersonal”), whereas the communal coping model (CCM) suggests that catastrophizing is a strategy to elicit support (i.e. “interpersonal”). In order to examine the interpersonal nature of catastrophizing, this cross-sectional study examined interpersonal problems as a predictor of pain catastrophizing in a sample of patients (n = 97) with chronic pain.
Self-report data was taken from patients entering a multidisciplinary, inpatient rehabilitation program. The four quadrants of the Inventory of Interpersonal Problems circumplex model (Hostile-Dominant, Hostile-Submissive, Friendly-Submissive, Friendly-Dominant) were used as predictors of pain catastrophizing in a series of separate, hierarchical regression analyses.
After controlling for relevant confounding variables such as demographics (gender, age), pain severity, psychiatric symptoms (anxiety/depression, fatigue, insomnia), adverse life experiences and perceived social support, higher levels of Hostile-Dominant interpersonal problems predicted higher levels of pain catastrophizing (p ≤ 0.01, d = 0.56).
The results add support to the notion that pain catastrophizing may serve a communicative functioning, as predicted by the CCM, with cold, dominant and controlling behaviors as a maladaptive interpersonal strategy to elicit support. It may thus be useful to consider the broader interpersonal context of the individual, and not only the patient’s appraisal of pain, when conceptualizing the role of pain catastrophizing in patients with chronic pain.
Future psychosocial research and treatment of chronic pain could be informed by including interpersonal theory as a useful theoretical framework, which may help shed more light on how interpersonal problems relates to pain catastrophizing.