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Is there a relationship between parents’ parenting styles and Separation Anxiety Disorder?

Separation Anxiety Disorder is characterised by intense anxiety in response to real or imagined separations from an attachment figure. Children with this disorder often become distressed when separated from their parents – for example when they leave home to go to school or attend school camp. In adults, people with Separation Anxiety Disorder may experience panic attacks and distressing ruminations when separated from their loved ones.


Until recently, Separation Anxiety Disorder was only diagnosed in young people. But research conducted in the last 20 years has indicated that adults can also suffer from Separation Anxiety Disorder with or without a history of childhood Separation Anxiety Disorder. Unfortunately, adults with Separation Anxiety who had previously been diagnosed with Separation Anxiety Disorder as a child continue to be misdiagnosed with other anxiety disorders such as Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia.


While Separation Anxiety tends to run in families, the nature of this association remains unclear. Genetic factors are thought to play a role but research has also suggested that ‘overprotective’ or ‘dismissive’ parenting styles may be risk factors. A study by researchers at the University of New South Wales sought to investigate whether parents’ parental styles were related to the development of Separation Anxiety Disorder. These researchers interviewed 71 individuals who were diagnosed with Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia or adult Separation Anxiety Disorder for this study. They enquired about their parents’ parental styles, whether they had symptoms of childhood Separation Anxiety Disorder and symptoms of other adult anxiety disorders. The results indicated that adult Separation Anxiety Disorder was most often associated with a history of parental overprotection in childhood.

In contrast, people who had been diagnosed with Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia did not report any distinct parental style including parental overprotection.


These findings strongly suggest that there is a likely link between a history of overprotective parenting and the development of Separation Anxiety Disorder.


If you are interested in finding out more about Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder, please head to or contact the clinic and we will be more than happy to discuss this with you.



Manicavasagar V, Silove D, Wagner R, Hadzi-Pavlovic D. Parental representations associated with adult separation anxiety and panic disorder-agoraphobia. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 1999 Jun; 33(3):422-8. doi: 10.1046/j.1440-1614.1999.00566.x. PMID: 10442800.

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