Theories and research regarding cognitive and emotional processing during the experience of profound stressors suggest that the presence of intrusive thoughts and feelings predicts greater use of avoidance and that the use of avoidance paradoxically predicts more intrusions. However, empirical investigations of their purported bidirectional relationship are limited.Design.
This study presents a longitudinal investigation of the reciprocal relationship between intrusions and avoidance coping over a 6-month period in the year following breast cancer diagnosis.Methods.
Breast cancer patients (N = 460) completed measures of cancer-related intrusions and avoidance at study entry, 3 months, and 6 months later (i.e., an average of 2, 5, and 8 months after diagnosis, respectively).Results.
Cross-lagged panel analyses revealed that intrusive thoughts, feelings, and images at study entry predicted greater avoidance 3 months later, and avoidance coping at study entry predicted intrusions 3 months later, controlling for the stability of intrusions and avoidance as well as time since diagnosis. Findings were not statistically significant for avoidance predicting intrusions, or vice versa, between the 3-month and the 6-month assessment period, during which they declined.Conclusions.
These findings provide empirical support for the theoretical contention that avoidance and intrusive thoughts and emotions reciprocally influence one another following stressful events. Additionally, in the months shortly after breast cancer diagnosis, intrusions and avoidance are positively related. However, the relationships attenuate over time, which could indicate resolved cognitive and emotional processing of the cancer experience.