Anxiety Buffer Disruption Theory: A Terror Management Account of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, Vol. 24, pp. 3-26, 2011

44 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2011

See all articles by Tom Pyszczynski

Tom Pyszczynski

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

Pelin Kesebir

University of Wisconsin - Madison - Center for Investigating Healthy Minds

Date Written: March 6, 2011

Abstract

We present anxiety buffer disruption theory (ABDT) and provide a review of current evidence regarding the theory. ABDT is an application of terror management theory to explain diverse reactions to traumatic events and the onset and maintenance of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It posits that PTSD results from a disruption in one’s anxiety-buffering mechanisms, which normally provide protection against anxiety in general and death anxiety in particular. The disruption of these mechanisms leaves the individual defenseless in the face of overwhelming anxiety, which leads to the major symptom clusters of PTSD: re-experiencing, hyper-arousal, and avoidance. According to ABDT, because of the disruption in their anxiety-buffering mechanisms, individuals with PTSD symptoms do not respond to mortality reminders in the defensive ways that psychologically healthier individuals do. We review four sets of studies conducted in four different cultures and with people who have experienced different types of trauma, which reveal this atypical response pattern and lend support to ABDT.

Keywords: post-traumatic stress disorder, terror management theory, existential anxiety, anxiety buffer disruption theory

Suggested Citation

Pyszczynski, Tom and Kesebir, Pelin, Anxiety Buffer Disruption Theory: A Terror Management Account of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (March 6, 2011). Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, Vol. 24, pp. 3-26, 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1779524

Tom Pyszczynski

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs ( email )

1420 Austin Bluffs Parkway
Colorado Springs, CO 80918-7150
United States

Pelin Kesebir (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin - Madison - Center for Investigating Healthy Minds ( email )

1500 Highland Avenue, Suite S119
Waisman Center
Madison, WI 53705-2280
United States

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