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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter September 27, 2019

Interpersonal problems as a predictor of pain catastrophizing in patients with chronic pain

Truls Ryum, Henrik Børsting Jacobsen, Petter Christian Borchgrevink, Nils Inge Landrø and Tore Charles Stiles


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.

Corresponding author: Truls Ryum, PhD, Department of Psychology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Faculty of Social and Educational Sciences, NO-7491 Trondheim, Norway; and Hysnes Rehabilitation Center, St. Olav’s University Hospital, Trondheim, Norway, Phone: (+47)41 60 87 35


The authors would like to thank the clinicians at Hysnes Rehabilitation Center for help with collecting data to this study.

  1. Author’s statements

  2. Research funding: No funding sources were provided for this particular study. However, data to this study was taken from an original trial which received earmarked funding from the national budget over a five-year period (2010–2014) to establish and run the rehabilitation programs, including funding for scientific evaluation.

  3. Conflict of interest: The authors state no conflict of interest.

  4. Informed consent: Informed consent has been obtained from all individuals included in this study.

  5. Ethical approval: The research related to human use complies with all the relevant national regulations, institutional policies and was performed in accordance with the tenets of the Helsinki Declaration, and approved by the Regional Committee for Medical and Health Research Ethics in Central Norway (No: 2010/2404).


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Received: 2019-04-23
Revised: 2019-07-15
Accepted: 2019-07-30
Published Online: 2019-09-27
Published in Print: 2019-12-18

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