Clinical Psychological Science
2019, Vol. 7(2) 283 –301
© The Author(s) 2018
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People with anxiety disorders encounter significant
challenges when pursuing goals. Goal pursuit is most
commonly studied in reference to two relatively inde-
pendent systems that guide motivation and behavior:
the approach system (i.e., behavioral activation) guid-
ing individuals toward potential rewards and the avoid-
ance system (i.e., behavioral inhibition) aiming to
prevent exposure to danger by warning of imminent
threat and signaling the need to escape (Carver &
Scheier, 1990; Strauman, 2017; Watson, Wiese, Vaidya,
& Tellegen, 1999). Approach motivation and avoidance
motivation represent the foundation of several basic
dimensions of personality (Elliot & Thrash, 2002), and
this framework is integral to understanding cognitive-
emotional and behavioral patterns that underlie anxiety
An emotion regulation framework can help delineate
why these motivational tendencies engender problem-
atic goal pursuit. Gross’s (1998, 2014, 2015) process
model (and updated extended process model) of emo-
tion regulation suggests that emotion generation typi-
cally occurs in five stages: situation selection, situation
modification, attentional deployment, cognitive change,
and response modulation. At each stage, people deploy
strategies to regulate emotions. People with anxiety
disorders display regulatory deficits throughout this
process, most commonly in the form of maladaptive
avoidance (for theoretical reviews, see Borkovec,
Alcaine, & Behar, 2004; Feldner, Zvolensky, & Leen-
Feldner, 2004; Jazaieri, Morrison, Goldin, & Gross, 2015;
Mennin, Heimberg, Turk, & Fresco, 2005). Avoidance
can be deployed at each stage of emotion regulation;
people with social anxiety disorder (SAD), in particular,
tend to avoid entering anxiety-provoking situations
(e.g., Werner, Goldin, Ball, Heimberg, & Gross, 2011),
engage in safety behaviors to minimize threat and avoid
fully engaging in a social encounter (e.g., averted eye
contact; Plasencia, Alden, & Taylor, 2011), divert atten-
tion inward in fearful social situations (Hope, Gansler,
804778CPXXXX10.1177/2167702618804778Goodman et al.Anxiety Disorders and Strivings
Todd B. Kashdan, Department of Psychology, Mail Stop 3F5, George
Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030
Personal Strivings to Understand Anxiety
Disorders: Social Anxiety as an Exemplar
Fallon R. Goodman, Todd B. Kashdan, Melissa C. Stiksma,
and Dan V. Blalock
Department of Psychology, George Mason University
People with anxiety disorders tend to make decisions on the basis of avoiding threat rather than obtaining rewards.
Despite a robust literature examining approach-avoidance motivation, less is known about goal pursuit. The present
study examined the content, motives, consequences, and daily correlates of strivings among adults diagnosed
with social anxiety disorder and healthy controls. Participants generated six strivings along with the motives and
consequences of their pursuit. Compared with controls, people with social anxiety disorder were less strongly driven
by autonomous motives and reported greater difficulty pursuing strivings. Coders analyzed strivings for the presence of
10 themes: achievement, affiliation, avoidance, emotion regulation, generativity, interpersonal, intimacy, power, self-
presentation, and self-sufficiency. People with social anxiety disorder constructed more emotion regulation strivings
than did controls, but they did not differ across other themes. This research illustrates how studying personality at
different levels of analysis (traits, strivings) can yield novel information for understanding anxiety disorders.
strivings, social anxiety, emotion regulation, personality
Received 3/16/18; Revision accepted 7/30/18
284 Goodman et al.
& Heimberg, 1989; Spurr & Stopa, 2002), and try to
control or get rid of anxious thoughts, feelings, and
physical sensations (Kashdan et al., 2013; Kashdan
etal., 2014). One potential explanation for why people
with anxiety disorders frequently deploy avoidance-
based emotion regulation strategies is that they display
high sensitivity to anxiety and other uncomfortable
emotions (Olatunji & Wolitzky-Taylor, 2009). Findings
from self-report and experimental research suggest that
people with anxiety disorders experience considerable
difficulty tolerating uncomfortable internal sensations,
thoughts, or feelings and, in response, exert consider-
able effort to avoid them (for reviews, see Chawla &
Ostafin, 2007; Goodman, Larrazabal, West, & Kashdan,
in press; Kashdan, Barrios, Forsyth, & Steger, 2006). The
energy invested into trying to avoid anxiety puts people
with anxiety disorders into prevention mode, whereby
avoiding threat takes precedence over pursuing impor-
tant goals and seeking rewards (Kashdan, Weeks, &
Savostyanova, 2011; Roemer & Orsillo, 2002).
Taken together, this research suggests that people
with anxiety disorders display maladaptive, avoidance-
based emotion regulation patterns that interfere with
successful, meaningful pursuits. Yet, despite this exten-
sive literature, comparatively less is known about the
actual goals that people with anxiety disorders choose
to pursue and how well they fare when they pursue
them. This is in part because research thus far on goal
pursuit has primarily examined behavioral dispositions
and tendencies (e.g., avoidance) without addressing
additional, higher levels of personality.
McAdams’s (1996) three-tiered model suggests that
personality exists at three levels of analysis. Level 1
consists of personality traits or general behavioral ten-
dencies (e.g., the Big Five traits of Openness to Experi-
ence, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness,
and Neuroticism), Level 2 consists of personal strivings
or life projects that guide a person’s daily behavior
(e.g., striving for strong family relationships), and Level
3 consists of overarching life narratives that are indica-
tive of how a person consolidates his or her life experi-
ences (e.g., pivotal turning points, moments of
redemption). The present study added to a small body
of work integrating Level 2 of personality—idiographic
strivings—into the study of anxiety disorders (Kashdan,
Breen, & Julian, 2010; Rodebaugh, 2007; Rodebaugh &
Shumaker, 2012). Personal strivings are important life
goals (Emmons, 1986, 1989). People devote consider-
able resources (e.g., time, money) toward planning and
pursuing their strivings. Strivings serve as a compass
that guides individuals toward behavior aligned with
core values. Strivings are idiographic and formed within
the context of a person’s unique life experiences, but
they may contain similar themes that allow for com-
parisons between groups of people. For instance, one
person might strive to “be an exceptional uncle to my
three nieces.” A different person might strive to “be
supportive to my wife.” Each striving is unique because
it refers to specific individuals in each person’s life
(nieces vs. wife), but both strivings contain themes
related to developing and maintaining interpersonal
relationships. In this way, strivings contain important
information about personality that is not captured in
assessments of one’s general behavioral tendencies
(e.g., personality traits).
Strivings are relevant to understanding people with
and without various mental health disorders (e.g.,
depression; Emmons & King, 1988). We focused on SAD
for several reasons. SAD can be distinguished from
other anxiety disorders by a lack of approach-oriented
behavior—even in neutral, nonthreatening situations—
and persistently low positive emotions (for a meta-
analysis, see Kashdan, 2007). People with SAD exhibit
positivity deficits, including disqualifying or rejecting
positive feedback and difficulty recalling positive mem-
ories (e.g., Moscovitch, Gavric, Merrifield, Bielak, &
Moscovitch, 2011; Weeks, Menatti, & Howell, 2015; for
a review, see Gilboa-Schechtman, Shachar, & Sahar,
2014) that likely interfere with strivings pursuit. Fortu-
nately, experimental and treatment research has shown
that motivation is malleable. Laboratory interventions
for people with SAD have been successful in increasing
approach behaviors during social interactions, which
in turn facilitate more positive and rewarding experi-
ences (Taylor & Alden, 2011; Taylor & Amir, 2012).
Moreover, many benefits emerge when people with
SAD make productive strides toward important goals.
Experience-sampling research has shown that on days
when people with SAD devoted effort toward a striving
central to their purpose in life, they experienced a boost
in positive emotions, self-esteem, and meaning in life
(Kashdan & McKnight, 2013). For these reasons, we
recruited community adults diagnosed with SAD and a
healthy control group to draw comparisons. We used
a combination of qualitative and quantitative analyses
to examine the consequences (e.g., success, enjoy-
ment), motives, and content of each striving. We also
examined how different content themes and motives
predicted subjective well-being over the course of 14
days. Results offer insight into the factors that put peo-
ple with anxiety disorders at a disadvantage when they
pursue important goals.
People with SAD are more likely than healthy individuals
to encounter significant challenges when pursuing goals.
They are characterized by high levels of experiential
Anxiety Disorders and Strivings 285
avoidance or an unwillingness to experience uncomfort-
able thoughts, feelings, and sensations (Kashdan etal.,
2013; Kashdan etal., 2014; Panayiotou, Karekla, & Mete,
2014). An avoidant emotion regulation strategy is prob-
lematic for goal pursuit because important goals often
require a person to overcome discomfort and adversity.
Whereas these obstacles might motivate someone low
in anxiety to work harder to accommodate for setbacks
(e.g., Rothermund & Brandstädter, 2003), someone with
SAD is likely to view these experiences as impediments.
Goal pursuit becomes arduous, unpleasant, and ulti-
mately, less successful (Johnson, Carver, & Fulford, 2010).
Goal pursuit has traditionally been studied as an
intrapersonal process. There is emerging support, how-
ever, for interpersonal processes that influence how
people construct and obtain important goals (Fitzsimons
& Finkel, 2010). People often construct and pursue
goals with other people, and these interpersonal rela-
tionships influence the relative success of goal pursuit.
For instance, if a person is staying up late to work on
a report, a supportive relationship with his or her
spouse (e.g., offering words of encouragement, cooking
dinner) will likely facilitate a more positive influence
than a less supportive relationship (e.g., spouse making
him or her feel guilty for not spending quality time
together). When a person shares a goal with a col-
league, friend, or romantic partner, the goal pursuit is
intensified (Shteynberg & Galinsky, 2011). People with
SAD may lack these social support networks that facili-
tate successful goal pursuit.
The motives that underlie goal pursuit typically fall on
two continuums: autonomous motivation and con-
trolled motivation (Ryan & Connell, 1989; Shahar,
Henrich, Blatt, Ryan, & Little, 2003; Sheldon & Kasser,
1995). Autonomous motivation is characterized by the
pursuit of a goal because of inherent enjoyment or
congruence with one’s values or interests. Controlled
motivation is characterized by behavior that is governed
by external factors rather than the self; people feel
pressure to pursue a goal because of other people’s
expectations. Importantly, autonomous and controlled
motivations are not opposite ends of a single contin-
uum and can be measured as separate but related
motives (Ratelle, Guay, Vallerand, Larose, & Senécal,
2007). Regarding the source of motivation, people with
SAD disproportionately focus on social evaluation and
attempt to behave in ways that will garnish social
approval. They believe that other people have exces-
sively high social standards and often believe that they
are incapable of meeting them (Alden & Wallace, 1991,
1995; Wallace & Alden, 1991). Thus, they monitor and
alter their behavior in an attempt to meet perceived
expectations that other people hold (Clark & Wells,
1995). When they construct and pursue important goals,
they are likely motivated to please other people and
meet social standards in hopes of avoiding rejection
(forms of controlled motivation).
The types of strivings that individuals pursue offer
insight into their psychological functioning. Research
thus far on strivings and psychopathology is sparse, and
findings are mixed. Some research on anxiety and mood
symptoms suggests that a high percentage of avoidance
and/or a low percentage of approach strivings may be
a predictor of clinically significant symptoms. In one
study, adolescents high in anxiety generated similar fre-
quencies of avoidance goals (but fewer approach goals)
compared with less anxious peers (Dickson & MacLeod,
2004). In another study, adults who previously met diag-
nostic criteria for depression generated more avoidance
goals compared with never-depressed peers, although
the groups did not differ on approach goals (Vergara &
Roberts, 2011). Content analyses can be used to identify
themes in a person’s strivings and elucidate how people
prioritize their time.
Content analyses examining links with anxiety have
focused almost exclusively on approach/avoidance
themes. Although avoidance is a central diagnostic fea-
ture across anxiety disorders, there is heterogeneity in
the frequency and function of avoidance. For example,
there is evidence to suggest that at least a subset of
individuals with SAD engage in approach-oriented and
exploratory behavior (Kashdan & McKnight, 2010), a
profile that deviates from the prototypical inhibited
person with SAD. A host of other themes is potentially
relevant to the phenomenology of anxiety disorders,
and SAD in particular. In the current study, in addition
to analyzing approach/avoidance themes, we broad-
ened the focus to include nine additional themes
(Emmons, 1999; Kashdan etal., 2010) that are relevant
to anxiety disorders. We expand on each below and
describe their particular relevance to SAD.
Strivings may contain themes of power (establishing
impact, control, and/or influence) and achievement
(concern with success, accomplishment). Social rank
systems are organized around hierarchies in which
dominant people are situated at the top and possess
more resources, influence, and power. Evolutionary
theorists posit that all humans use social rank systems,
but people with SAD tend to overuse them and place
themselves lower on social rank systems (Trower &
Gilbert, 1989). To avoid offending more socially domi-
nant peers, they might default to submissive behavior
286 Goodman et al.
(e.g., averted eye contact; Weisman, Aderka, Marom,
Hermesh, & Gilboa-Schechtman, 2011) or abstain from
striving for goals that could signal that they are trying
to usurp more powerful others. This contributes, in
part, to a “fear of doing well,” because striving for a
particular goal might create conflict with other people
and/or unintentionally create higher social standards
(Gilbert, 2001; Weeks, Heimberg, & Rodebaugh, 2008).
Other people might expect more of them in future
situations—standards that people with SAD believe they
Themes related to one’s self-concept include self-
presentation (making a favorable impression) and self-
sufficiency (not relying on other people, being
autonomous). All individuals with SAD have the func-
tional goal of avoiding evaluation and preventing rejec-
tion. This is perhaps best described in Moscovitch’s
(2009) distillation of the core fear of SAD: “Individuals
with social phobia are uniquely and primarily con-
cerned about characteristics of self that they perceive
as being deficient or contrary to perceived societal
expectations or norms” (p. 3). In an effort to receive
social approval and prevent rejection, people with SAD
frequently search for cues about how other people are
evaluating them (Cougle etal., 2012; Heerey & Kring,
2007). Thus, people with SAD are uniquely concerned
about how they present themselves to other people and
tend to have negatively biased beliefs about their
Strivings may contain content related to emotion
regulation, which involves any attempts to monitor,
manage, and/or change the experience or expression
of emotion. Theorists have proposed that emotion dys-
regulation is central to the development and mainte-
nance of SAD (Kashdan etal., 2011; Turk, Heimberg,
Luterek, Mennin, & Fresco, 2005). In fact, frequency of
experiential avoidance is one of only two characteristics
(the other being low positive affect) that differentiate
people with SAD from healthy adults (Kashdan etal.,
2013). These findings suggest that people with SAD are
more distinguishable by excessive attempts to avoid
their emotional experiences than by the presence of
anxiety or other negative emotions.
Strivings often involve goals related to other people
and may contain themes related to interpersonal rela-
tionships broadly and/or more specific references to
the quality of relationships through affiliation (concern
for or desire to establish, maintain, or repair friend-
ships) or intimacy (commitment to and concern for
personal relationships). People with SAD encounter
significant difficulty establishing, developing, and main-
taining relationships (Alden & Taylor, 2004). They
endorse high levels of functional impairment in nearly
every interpersonal domain—friends (Rodebaugh,
2009), family (Schneier etal., 1994), and romantic rela-
tionships (Sparrevohn & Rapee, 2009). Moreover, when
socially anxious individuals do establish close relation-
ships, they continue to experience interpersonal diffi-
culties, including diminished emotional expression,
self-disclosure, and intimacy (Sparrevohn & Rapee,
2009). These interpersonal deficits likely generalize to
Last, strivings may contain content related to genera-
tivity, which involves creating something to make a
lasting contribution, such as contributing to society
(particularly for the betterment of future generations)
and leaving a legacy (McAdams, 1985). Expressions of
generativity involve effort to create or maintain ideas,
things, and relationships that represent a person’s leg-
acy. Generative behaviors (e.g., volunteerism), concerns
(e.g., desire to be generative), and strivings are posi-
tively related to meaning in life and subjective well-
being (Emmons, 2005; Sheldon & Kasser, 2001).
Strivings and Subjective Well-Being
In addition to distinguishing between groups of people,
strivings provide information on broader psychological
functioning. Just as personality traits at Level 1 have
been extensively examined as predictors of subjective
well-being (e.g., Big Five traits; DeNeve & Cooper,
1998; Steel, Schmidt, & Shultz, 2008), researchers can
explore how constructs at higher levels of personality
offer insight into how a person fares in his or her daily
life (e.g., Brunstein, 1993; Diener & Fujita, 1995;
Emmons, 1986). In terms of strivings, meaningful life
goals are generally considered one prerequisite for sub-
jective well-being (for a comprehensive review of pre-
dictors and correlates of subjective well-being, see
Diener, Lucas, & Oishi, 2018). Moreover, research sug-
gests that the extent to which strivings are associated
with subjective well-being depends, in part, on the
content of and motives underlying the striving. For
example, strivings containing themes of intimacy, gen-
erativity, or affiliation have been positively associated
with well-being, whereas power strivings are negatively
associated with well-being (Ackerman, Zuroff, &
Moskowitz, 2000; Emmons, 1991). Similarly, motivation
theorists have long postulated that goals driven by
intrinsic/autonomous motives are typically associated
with greater subjective well-being than those pursued
for extrinsic/controlled motives (e.g., self-determination
theory; Ryan & Deci, 2000). The majority of studies on
strivings and well-being have been conducted with trait
measures of subjective well-being. Trait questionnaires
offer useful information about a person’s general ten-
dencies but do not capture variation across time and
contexts. Experience-sampling measures partially
Anxiety Disorders and Strivings 287
address this limitation by capturing processes as they
unfold in real time, thus minimizing recall biases (Reis &
Gable, 2000). In the present study, participants recorded
state assessments of subjective well-being dimensions
across a 14-day period.
The Present Study
The purpose of this study was to provide a framework
to examine personal strivings among people with anxi-
ety disorders. Using SAD as an exemplar, we examined
idiographic strivings among community adults diag-
nosed with SAD and a healthy control group. We tested
the following hypotheses about the consequences of
pursuing each striving (e.g., success, enjoyment),
motives that underlie pursuit, and content themes. Com-
pared with healthy adults, people with SAD would (a)
report greater difficulty and less effort, enjoyment, and
success in pursuit of their strivings; (b) report less social
support for their goals, encounter more conflict while
pursuing their goals, and be less willing to disclose
details of their goals with other people; (c) endorse
higher levels of controlled motives and lower levels of
autonomous motives; and (d) construct more strivings
related to avoidance, emotion regulation, self-
presentation, and self-sufficiency and fewer strivings
related to affiliation, interpersonal relationships, inti-
macy, power, and achievement. We did not have a priori
hypotheses for themes of generativity and considered
these analyses exploratory. On an exploratory basis, we
examined whether particular striving themes and motives
in conjunction with SAD operate together to predict
three indices of daily well-being: positive affect, nega-
tive affect, and meaning in life. As the first examination
of these moderation models (i.e., the presence of SAD
interacting with striving themes and motives), all tests
and results should be considered exploratory.1
Participants were 84 community adults recruited from
northern Virginia and the greater Washington, D.C.,
metropolitan area, including 41 individuals diagnosed
with SAD (generalized subtype) and 43 healthy controls
currently absent of psychiatric disorders. Participants
with SAD were excluded if they met criteria for current
psychotic or substance use disorders or criteria only for
the nongeneralized subtype. All participants were
native English speakers. Participants’ mean age was
28.68 years (SD = 8.54), and 61.9% were female. The
sample was ethnically diverse: 54.8% identified as Cau-
casian, 20.2% African American, 9.5% Latino/Hispanic,
4.8% Asian, 1.2% Middle Eastern, and 9.5% other. Par-
ticipants’ self-reported family income varied: 11.90%
reported a family income of less than $15,000, 3.57%
reported $15,000 to $24,999, 17.86% reported $25,000
to $34,999, 14.29% reported $35,000 to $49,999, 17.86%
reported $50,000 to $64,999, 4.76% reported $65,000 to
$79,000, 28.57% reported greater than $80,000, and 1
participant did not report income. The highest educa-
tional degree obtained varied: 46% received a high
school diploma, 29.8% completed some college, 7.2%
associate degree or professional school, 33.3% bache-
lor’s degree, 2.4% some graduate school, 14.3% master’s
degree, 4.8% doctoral degree, and 2 participants did
not report educational status. The two diagnostic groups
did not significantly differ on any aforementioned
demographics (ps = .66–.86). In terms of comorbid con-
ditions, 11 participants in the SAD group met criteria
for a specific phobia, 7 for major depressive disorder,
5 for dysthymia, 5 for posttraumatic stress disorder, 3
for generalized anxiety disorder, 2 for panic disorder,
2 for obsessive-compulsive disorder, and 1 for agora-
phobia. Ten participants were taking psychiatric medi-
cation and 8 received treatment. Self-reported estimated
age of SAD onset varied, from 5 to 18 years of age. Six
participants did not provide end-of-day reports and
were excluded from day-level analyses; these parti-
cipants did not differ from participants who completed
end-of-day reports on diagnoses or demographics
(ps > .10).
Participants were recruited from the community using
online advertisements (e.g., listservs) and fliers. Trained
research assistants conducted preliminary phone
screens with prospective participants to streamline
recruitment. After obtaining informed consent, research
assistants conducted semistructured interviews to assess
for symptoms of social anxiety, generalized anxiety,
depression, suicidality, and psychosis. If participants
endorsed evidence suggestive of social anxiety (SAD
group) or endorsed no psychological symptoms
(healthy control group), then research assistants sched-
uled an initial face-to-face assessment. During this
assessment, participants again took part in an informed
consent process and then completed a series of self-
report trait and demographic questionnaires and a striv-
ings assessment (see below for details). Clinical
psychology doctoral students then administered the
Structured Clinical Interview for DSM–IV Axis I Disor-
ders (First, Spitzer, Gibbon, & Williams, 2002) to assess
for mood, anxiety, eating, substance use, and psychotic
disorders. To gain further information about social anxi-
ety symptoms, doctoral students administered the SAD
288 Goodman et al.
module of the Anxiety Disorders Interview Schedule
for DSM–IV: Lifetime Version (Di Nardo, Brown, & Bar-
low, 1994). In addition to meeting the criteria for SAD
from the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–IV; American Psy-
chiatric Association, 1994), participants in the SAD
group had to endorse fear and avoidance of three or
more social situations (beyond performance settings).
Participants with comorbid disorders were included in
the SAD group if SAD was the primary or most severe
diagnosis. To ensure an accurate diagnosis of SAD, 45
recorded interviews were randomly chosen and rated
by multiple researchers. To determine interrater reli-
ability of diagnoses, two clinical psychology doctoral
students with multiple years of training in diagnostic
assessment served as raters. Each individual watched
videotaped interviews of research participants. Predis-
cussion interrater reliability for generalized SAD diag-
noses had excellent agreement (κ = .87). Any diagnostic
discrepancies were discussed until a consensus was
reached. Participants were then matched to healthy
community participants via targeted advertisements on
age, sex, and ethnicity.
After completing the baseline questionnaires and
diagnostic interview, eligible participants completed a
90-min training session to receive instructions on the
experience-sampling portion of the study. Each partici-
pant received a handheld computer (Palm Pilot X22)
preprogrammed with the Purdue Momentary Assess-
ment Tool (PMAT; Weiss, Beal, Lucy, & MacDermid,
2004). Research assistants explained how to use the
software. Participants completed three types of daily
recordings: self-initiated surveys of social interactions,
random prompts, and end-of-day surveys. For the pres-
ent study, we used only end-of-day data. All entries
were automatically time stamped.
Two days after participants began recording
experience-sampling data, we contacted participants to
troubleshoot and resolve any problems that arose. We
sent multiple emails throughout the 2-week diary data
collection period to emphasize compliance with diary
entries. We intentionally created brief measures to
maintain participant engagement and motivation to
maximize compliance without sacrificing data reliability
or validity (see Nezlek, 2012). Financial compensation
was structured to maximize compliance, such that par-
ticipants could earn up to $50 in bonus compensation
(50 cents for each diary prompt and a $10 bonus for 1
week of uninterrupted completed reports). Participants
earned a minimum of $165 by participating in the study,
thereby earning a maximum payment of $215. This
study was approved by the university institutional
review board and carried out in accordance with the
provisions of the World Medical Association Declaration
Strivings assessment. Participants generated a list of
six strivings using an open-ended format (Emmons,
1999). Strivings were defined as “an objective that you
are typically trying to accomplish or attain” and “goals or
purposes that motivate [you]”). Examples of strivings
were presented, such as “trying to be a good role model
to others” and “trying to avoid feeling inferior to others.”
Participants were informed that strivings could be nega-
tive/avoidance oriented or positive/approach oriented.
After participants generated their strivings, they provided
retrospective reports about their subjective experience
and behavior toward each striving (i.e., consequences)
over the past month on seven dimensions. These dimen-
sions are from Emmons’s (1986) personal strivings assess-
ment and demonstrated adequate validity in a range of
populations including college undergraduates (Coats,
Janoff-Bulman, & Alpert, 1996; Romero, Villar, Luengo, &
Gómez-Fraguela, 2009), athletes (Smith, Ntoumanis, &
Duda, 2007), and individuals diagnosed with anxiety dis-
orders (Kashdan etal., 2010; Kashdan & McKnight, 2013).
Four dimensions were related to intrapersonal goal pur-
suit (difficulty, effort, enjoyment, past success) and three
dimensions were related to interpersonal goal pursuit
(interpersonal conflict, social disclosure, social support).
Participants also rated the degree to which they pur-
sued their strivings for four different motives. Two
motives measured autonomous strivings: internal
importance (“because you believe that it is important”)
and internal desire (“enjoyment or stimulation”). Two
motives measured controlled strivings: external pres-
sure (“because someone else wants you to”) and guilt
(“because you would feel guilty if you didn’t”). These
items are from Sheldon and Kasser’s (1995, 1998)
method of measuring self-concordance of people’s rea-
sons for pursuing their goals. They are rooted in self-
determination theory and self-regulation (Deci & Ryan,
1985, 2000) and broader frameworks of motivation
(e.g., Shahar etal., 2003). These four items represent
the four dimensions outlined in Ryan and Connell’s
perceived locus of causality, a theory of motivation that
outlines reasons that people pursue goals. These scales
have demonstrated to be psychometrically sound in
previous research (Koestner, Lekes, Powers, & Chicoine,
2002; Sheldon & Houser-Marko, 2001). All items
(motives and consequences) were rated on a 7-point
Likert-type scale from 1 (not at all) to 7 (extremely).
Because they are single-item measures, reliability analy-
ses were not conducted.
Daily subjective well-being.2 At the end of each day,
participants answered questions about their day. For pos-
itive and negative affect items, they were instructed, “Use
the scale provided to indicate how well each adjective or
Anxiety Disorders and Strivings 289
phrase describes your mood today.” They provided rat-
ings on 12 adjectives using a Likert-type scale from 1 (very
slightly/not at all) to 5 (extremely). Six items measured
positive affect (content, relaxed, enthusiastic, joyful, proud,
and interested) and six items measured negative affect
(anxious, angry, sluggish, sad, irritable, distressed). These
emotion adjectives reflect items from the PANAS (Watson,
Clark, & Tellegen, 1988) and include each dimension of
high/low positive/negative arousal (circumplex model of
emotions; Barrett, 1998). Daily meaning in life was mea-
sured with two items (“How meaningful did you feel your
life was today?” and “How much did you feel your life had
purpose today?”) rated from 1 (very uncharacteristic of
me) to 7 (very characteristic of me). These items have been
validated in prior daily diary studies (Kashdan & Steger,
2007; Machell, Goodman, & Kashdan, 2015; Steger, Kashdan,
& Oishi, 2008). Reliability estimates for daily measures were
calculated using unconditional three-level models with
items nested within days within people (Nezlek, 2012).
Reliability for positive affect (.64), negative affect (.60),
and meaning in life (.88) was acceptable.
We examined how people diagnosed with SAD and
healthy controls differed in the consequences, motives,
and content of their strivings. Group differences in striv-
ings consequences and motives were analyzed with
independent-samples t tests. Joint probabilities of endors-
ing specific content in a striving with diagnostic status
were analyzed with chi-square tests. A series of multilevel
models was used for well-being day-level outcomes, in
which days (Level 1) were nested within people (Level
2). For each model, a strivings frequency or motive was
entered grand-mean centered at Level 2 with daily well-
being as the outcome. We examined main effects across
groups and then examined group differences by entering
the SAD diagnostic group (SAD or healthy control)
uncentered as a Level 2 moderator. Significant modera-
tions were probed by examining simple slopes.
Strivings were categorized by trained coders for the
presence or absence of 10 themes. Nine themes were
derived from Emmons’s (1999) coding manual, and one
theme (emotion regulation) was derived from a prior
study of strivings among military veterans (Kashdan
etal., 2010). For a given category, each striving was
given a score of 1 if the theme was present (e.g., if the
striving indicated a desire for power) and a score of 0
if the theme was absent. Thematic categories were not
mutually exclusive. A single striving could, for example,
contain themes of power, affiliation, and generativity.
See Table 1 for the definition and examples of each
Prior to completing coder training, the authors of
this article coded a practice data set of 600 strivings
Table 1. Strivings Type, Definition, and Representative Examples
Type Definition Example
Achievement Accomplishing a goal, concern with success or
“Try to be a success in my field”; “Quitting
Affiliation Concern for or desire to establish, maintain, or
“Trying to maintain a good group of friends”;
“Trying to keep in touch with friends”
Avoidance Trying not to do something or avoid, prevent, or
get rid of objective of striving
“Trying to avoid feeling inferior to others”; “Try
not to offend others”
Emotion regulation Concern for emotion and reference to monitoring,
managing, or attempting to change it
“Trying to be comfortable at parties”; “Not get
embarrassed so easily”
Generativity Providing for the next generation, creating
something, giving oneself, a lasting contribution
“Spend more time w/ my son”; “To leave a good
mark in life”
Interpersonal An objective or goal focused on others “Trying to help others”; “Let people know I am
angry with them”
Intimacy Commitment and concern for another person,
quality of relationships rather than quantity
“Trying to have a successful marriage”; “Have
Power Establishing, maintaining, or restoring power
(impact, control, influence)
“Seek public office”; “Trying to be more assertive”
Self-presentation Making a favorable impression on others “Role model for others to see”; “Trying to make
others like me”
Self-sufficiency Being an individual, not having to depend on
“Work on starting own business”; “Trying to be
290 Goodman et al.
from an archival data set not used in the present study.
The authors coded each striving according to the cod-
ing manual (see Appendix) and resolved all discrepan-
cies through discussion until a consensus was reached.
After a consensus data set of coded strivings was final-
ized, coders began training using this practice data set.
Each coder independently read and coded the striv-
ings. Coders worked in quiet locations without distrac-
tion and set a timer to reread the coding manual of the
theme they were coding every 10 min. They were also
unaware of participant details, and none of the strivings
revealed information about diagnostic status. Coders
did not have access to the ratings that participants made
about their strivings. Coding training occurred in
batches of three thematic categories at one time (e.g.,
self-presentation, achievement, and intimacy). Each
batch comprised three practice coding rounds and a
subsequent round of coding the data from the present
study. To determine accuracy, when coders completed
one practice round (approximately 200 individual striv-
ings), their ratings were compared against the master
coded data set to calculate a match percentage. Meet-
ings were held between study authors and coders to
provide feedback (e.g., address common mistakes),
discuss coding issues, and resolve ambiguities. Coders
were required to achieve at least an 80% match by the
third round of coding practice data before coding data
used in the present study.
Each participant (N = 84) generated 6 unique striv-
ings, totaling 504 strivings. Reliability was calculated
between the coders for each of the categories (see
Table 2). The value reported is the average of the three
Cohen’s kappa calculated between two of the three
raters (.73). According to benchmarks in the literature
(Landis & Koch, 1977), seven categories (achievement,
affiliation, avoidance, emotion regulation, generativity,
interpersonal, and intimacy) demonstrated substantial
agreement (.61–.89), and three categories (power, self-
presentation, and self-sufficiency) demonstrated moder-
ate agreement (.45–.52).
We examined how people with SAD differed from
healthy controls in consequences of pursuing strivings
(see Table 3). Compared with healthy controls, people
with SAD reported more difficulty (t = −4.11, p < .001)
and less past success (t = 4.49, p < .001). People with
and without SAD did not differ on effort exerted (t =
1.99, p = .05), although results were just below signifi-
cance with trends suggesting that people with SAD
exert less effort. The two diagnostic groups reported
similar levels of pleasure while pursuing strivings (t =
0.62, p = .44).
People with SAD also demonstrated interpersonal
difficulties during their pursuits. They reported greater
interpersonal conflict (t = −3.08, p = .003) and were less
likely to share their strivings with other people (t =
2.30, p = .02). Contrary to the hypotheses, people with
SAD and healthy controls reported similar levels of
social support (t = 1.55, p = .13).
We examined participants’ motives for pursuing each
striving (see Table 3). Compared with healthy adults,
people with SAD endorsed a greater degree of con-
trolled motivation; they reported more external pres-
sure to pursue their strivings (t = −2.48, p = .02) and
anticipated more guilt if they did not pursue them (t =
Table 2. Strivings Descriptive Statistics and Chi-Square Tests
Achievement .61 16.3 19.4 0.83 .36
Affiliation .72 17.9 15.1 0.74 .39
Avoidance .89 12.7 9.9 0.97 .33
Emotion regulation .79 17.1 6.7 12.79 < .001
Generativity .69 8.0 8.7 0.10 .79
Interpersonal .80 26.6 28.6 0.25 .62
Intimacy .68 11.1 15.1 1.70 .19
Power .52 2.8 6.3 3.69 .06
Self-presentation .49 10.7 11.1 0.16 .36
Self-sufficiency .45 4.0 2.0 1.72 .19
Note: Frequencies were calculated within group. SAD = social anxiety disorder.
Anxiety Disorders and Strivings 291
−2.93, p = .004). People with SAD also endorsed a lesser
degree of autonomous motivation than healthy adults;
they reported less internal importance (t = 2.42, p =
.04) and enjoyment (t = 2.66, p = .045) as motivations
for pursuing their strivings.
After coding was finalized, frequency scores were calcu-
lated for each theme for each participant. Using chi-
square tests of independence, we found that diagnostic
status was unrelated to 9 of 10 strivings themes (ps > .06;
see Table 2 for full results). The exception was for emo-
tion regulation; people with SAD generated significantly
more strivings focused on emotion regulation compared
with healthy adults (p < .001). For strivings related to
power, there was a trend to suggest that people with SAD
recorded fewer power strivings than healthy adults, but
this effect failed to reach statistical significance (p = .06).
Strivings predicting daily well-being
We examined how strivings content and motives pre-
dicted daily well-being across a 2-week period. Results
suggest that the type of strivings constructed were
largely unrelated to daily well-being (full results are
presented in Table 4). There were two exceptions:
Greater frequency of interpersonal strivings predicted
greater daily positive affect (b = 1.02, t = 2.14, p < .05),
and frequency of emotion regulation strivings predicted
greater daily negative affect (b = 0.65, t = 2.20, p < .05).
In addition to main effects, we examined group differ-
ences in cross-level effects (i.e., to what extent does the
relationship between strivings content/motives differ for
people with SAD compared with healthy controls?). Simi-
lar to main effects, the two diagnostic groups largely did
not differ (see Table 4). There were four exceptions. SAD
diagnosis moderated the relationship between frequency
of affiliation strivings on daily positive affect (b = 0.91,
t= 2.24, p < .05) and on daily meaning in life (b = 0.68,
t = 2.35, p < .05). Analyses of simple slopes suggest that
for people with SAD, greater frequency of affiliation
strivings was associated with greater daily positive affect
(β = 1.29, z = 3.37, p < .05) and meaning (β = 1.01, z =
2.40, p < .05); for healthy controls, however, greater
frequency of affiliation strivings was unrelated to daily
positive affect (β = −0.53, z = −0.88, p = .38) and mean-
ing in life (β = −0.35, z = −0.88, p = .38). Similarly, SAD
diagnosis moderated the relationship between frequency
of intimacy strivings on daily meaning in life (b = 0.70,
t = 2.06, p < .05) and frequency of interpersonal strivings
on daily positive affect (b = 0.69, t = 2.03, p < .05).
Analysis of simple slopes suggests that greater frequency
of interpersonal strivings was associated with greater
positive affect for people with SAD (β = 1.46, z = 3.34,
p < .001) but not for healthy controls (β = 11, z = 0.22,
p = .83). Similarly, greater frequency of intimacy strivings
was positively associated with meaning in life for people
with SAD, although this was just below statistical signifi-
cance (β = 1.16, z = 1.95, p = .05); greater frequency of
intimacy strivings was unrelated to meaning in life for
healthy controls (β = −0.25, z = −0.74, p = .46).
Table 3. Strivings Consequences and Motives
Item SAD group Control group t d
Difficulty 5.38 (0.97) 4.50 (0.99) −4.11*** 0.90
Effort made 4.59 (1.02) 4.96 (0.67) 1.99 0.43
Enjoyment 5.90 (1.02) 6.06 (0.76) 0.79 0.17
Past success 3.77 (1.03) 4.65 (0.74) 4.49*** 0.98
Interpersonal conflict 2.30 (0.96) 1.68 (0.86) −3.08** 0.67
Disclosure to others 4.24 (1.27) 4.92 (1.45) 2.30* 0.50
Social support 3.91 (1.43) 4.40 (1.44) 1.55 0.34
External pressure 3.45 (1.52) 2.68 (1.31) −2.49* 0.54
Guilt 4.51 (1.46) 3.57 (1.47) −2.93** 0.64
Internal importance 6.07 (0.73) 6.39 (0.49) 2.42* 0.53
Internal desire 5.13 (1.15) 5.71 (0.83) 2.66** 0.58
Note: SAD = social anxiety disorder.
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
Table 4. Strivings Content and Motives Predicting Daily Well-Being
Positive affect Negative affect Meaning in life
Main effect SAD moderation Main effect SAD moderation Main effect SAD moderation
Item b t b t b t b t b t b t
Achievement −0.10 −0.26 −0.59 −1.63 −0.14 −0.67 −0.02 −0.10 −0.13 −0.37 −0.63 −1.84
Affiliation −0.05 −0.09 0.91 2.24* 0.08 0.23 −0.20 −0.71 0.09 0.25 0.68 2.35*
Avoidance −0.84 −1.81 0.28 0.69 −0.04 −0.13 −0.07 −0.27 −0.12 −0.32 0.42 1.33
Emotion regulation −0.50 −1.09 −0.21 −0.41 0.65 2.20* 0.31 1.18 −0.07 −0.20 −0.08 −0.25
Generativity 0.59 0.81 −0.41 −0.75 0.61 1.31 0.20 0.59 0.25 0.55 −0.49 −1.41
Interpersonal 1.02 2.14* 0.69 2.03* 0.40 1.15 −0.09 −0.32 0.57 1.64 0.27 1.07
Intimacy 1.01 1.93 0.69 1.41 −0.09 −0.26 0.08 0.25 0.69 1.76 0.70 2.06*
Power 1.6 1.56 −0.03 −0.04 −0.50 −1.00 −0.21 −0.47 1.21 1.78 −0.14 −0.27
Self-presentation −0.003 −0.01 −0.30 −0.75 0.36 1.15 0.25 0.97 0.29 0.76 0.05 0.16
Self-sufficiency −0.74 −1.15 0.64 0.96 0.84 1.57 −0.54 −1.13 −0.60 −0.94 1.11 1.98
External pressure −1.11 −4.07*** 0.41 1.92 0.51 2.72** 0.41 1.92 −0.68 −2.97** 0.13 0.67
Guilt −0.77 −3.1** 0.57 2.27* 0.56 3.88*** 0.19 1.30 0.38 1.70 0.38 1.70
Internal importance 2.02 3.82*** 0.32 0.61 −0.99 −2.92** 0.31 0.86 1.44 3.81*** 0.30 0.79
Internal desire 1.56 5.28*** −0.22 −0.87 −0.72 −2.98** 0.15 0.66 1.21 5.78*** 0.01 0.05
Note: SAD = social anxiety disorder.
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
Anxiety Disorders and Strivings 293
In comparison with strivings content, the motives for
why people pursue different strivings were strongly
associated with daily well-being. Specifically, motives
characterized by internal importance and desire were
positively associated with positive affect (b = 2.02, t =
3.82, p < .001; b = 1.56, t = 5.28, p < .001) and meaning
in life (b = 1.44, t = 3.81, p < .001; b = 1.21, t = 5.78,
p < .001) and inversely associated with negative affect
(b = −0.99, t = −2.92, p < .01; b = −0.72, t = −2.99, p <
.01), respectively. In contrast, motives characterized by
external pressure and guilt were inversely associated
with positive affect (b = −1.11, t = −4.07, p < .001; b =
−0.77, t = −3.10, p < .01) and positively associated with
negative affect (b = 0.51, t = 2.72, p < .01; b = 0.56, t =
3.88, p < .001), respectively. External pressure motives
were inversely associated with daily meaning in life
(b = −0.68, t = −2.97, p < .01); guilt motives were unre-
lated to daily meaning in life (b = 0.38, t = 1.70, p =
.09). As for differences between diagnostic groups, SAD
diagnosis moderated the relationship between guilt
motives and positive affect (b = 0.57, t = 2.27, p < .05);
such guilt motives were unrelated to positive affect for
people with SAD (β = 0.42, z = 1.01, p = .31) and
inversely associated with positive affect for healthy con-
trols (β = −0.71, z = −2.61, p < .01).
The present study illustrated an idiographic approach
to examining aspects of personality relevant to the pres-
ence of anxiety disorders. We used qualitative and
quantitative analyses to examine the strivings that indi-
viduals with SAD and healthy adults constructed. Peo-
ple with and without SAD could be differentiated by a
single category—emotion regulation. More so than
healthy adults, people with SAD constructed strivings
around attempts to control, manage, or get rid of emo-
tions. Contrary to the hypotheses, people with and
without SAD constructed similar frequencies of strivings
across the other nine thematic categories. This held true
for social themes related to intimacy, affiliation, and
interpersonal relationships. To the extent that people
with SAD constructed strivings with these themes, how-
ever, they also reported increased daily well-being, a
relationship not found in healthy adults. Although peo-
ple with SAD constructed similar strivings to healthy
peers, difficulties arose in the pursuit of their strivings.
People with SAD were relatively less successful, expe-
rienced more difficulty in their goal pursuits, and
encountered greater interpersonal conflict than healthy
adults. Moreover, people with SAD construct strivings
more so out of guilt and external pressure than because
of intrinsic desire or enjoyment. Taken together, results
suggest that people with SAD construct strivings around
attempts to manage their emotions. But more so than
what they strive for, people with SAD differ from healthy
peers in why and how they strive for important goals.
The what, why, and how of goal
pursuit for people with SAD
Compared with healthy adults, people with SAD
endorsed more difficulty and less success pursuing their
strivings. These results fit with findings that people with
SAD demonstrate significant functional impairment
(Aderka et al., 2012; McKnight, Monfort, Kashdan,
Blalock, & Calton, 2016), suggesting that symptoms of
social anxiety interfere with their ability to be success-
ful across work and interpersonal domains. Moreover,
findings of the present study extend prior research
demonstrating that people with SAD tend to have dif-
ficulty achieving adaptive goals in social situations
(Hiemisch, Ehlers, & Westermann, 2002). In addition to
objective impairment, people with SAD also tend to
have overly negative perceptions of their performance.
Thus, they are likely to underestimate how successful
they were at achieving a goal, regardless of their objec-
tive achievement. This cycle maintains social anxiety
and leads to perceptions of poor social performance,
which induces exhaustive avoidance efforts that limit
reward-seeking behavior and reduce positive experi-
ences (Kashdan & Collins, 2010; Kashdan etal., 2011).
Subjective appraisals do not always relate to other,
objective measures of skilled performance (Hopko,
McNeil, Zvolensky, & Eifert, 2001). It is likely that dif-
ferences in goal pursuit are a combination of explicit
impairment and negatively biased subjective appraisals
A similar pattern of results emerged for interpersonal
consequences of goal pursuit. In the present study,
people with SAD endorsed greater interpersonal con-
flict and were less likely to share their strivings with
other people. Self-disclosure is generally an adaptive
way to establish positive interactions and build intimacy
with other people (Laurenceau, Barrett, & Pietromon-
aco, 1998). For people with SAD, the idea of revealing
personal details about their life can be daunting. They
worry that if someone sees their “real self,” which they
believe is flawed and deficient, other people will view
them poorly and ultimately reject them (Moscovitch,
2009). To ward off negative evaluation, they tend to
spend less time talking in social interactions, avoid
intimate topics, and fail to match other people’s level
of disclosure (Meleshko & Alden, 1993; Papsdorf &
Alden, 1998; Voncken & Dijk, 2013). Interestingly, how-
ever, there were no differences in social support
between individuals with SAD and healthy controls.
Although people with SAD tend to have fewer close
294 Goodman et al.
relationships than nonanxious adults, it is possible that
they are able to obtain social support from the small
number of close others in their life; the number of close
relationships does not necessarily correspond with per-
ceived social support (Cohen & Syme, 1985). Perhaps
the presence of one close friend or partner is sufficient
to feel supported. Nonetheless, this conclusion is spec-
ulative, as quantity and quality of social relationships
were not measured in the present study. Future research
is needed to examine the dynamics of interpersonal
relationships and goal pursuit for people with SAD.
To understand why people construct their goals, we
explored the motives that propelled participants to con-
struct strivings. Compared with healthy adults, people
with SAD were less driven by intrinsic desire and enjoy-
ment (i.e., autonomous motivation) and more driven
by guilt and pressure (i.e., controlled motivation).
These findings fit with theoretical models of self-
presentation that suggest that social anxiety arises out
of a desire to make a favorable impression and please
other people (Schlenker & Leary, 1982). They are moti-
vated to receive social approval and frequently search
for cues about how other people are evaluating them.
If they believe that they are not living up to social
standards, they are likely to feel pressure to pursue
certain goals because they believe that other people
expect them to, not because they inherently want to.
Although people with SAD differed from healthy
adults in their motives for and consequences of pursu-
ing strivings, the types of strivings they constructed
were remarkably similar. People with SAD and healthy
adults endorsed a similar frequency of strivings across
nine of 10 thematic categories (emotion regulation
being the exception). Even in categories related to
interpersonal relationships (i.e., affiliation, intimacy,
and interpersonal), people with SAD did not differ from
their healthy peers. This finding may seem counterintui-
tive given that people with SAD often try to avoid
interpersonal situations that increase the potential for
scrutiny. Yet, simply fearing or avoiding interpersonal
connection does not mean that one lacks desire. One
could hypothesize that because of an inadequate social
network, people with SAD strive for interpersonal con-
nection even more so than nonanxious peers. The
presence of pathology does not rule out basic psycho-
logical human needs; humans have a fundamental
desire to connect with other people (Ryan & Deci,
2000). Results of the present study suggest that even
in the face of excessive and often debilitating fear of
negative evaluation, people with SAD strive for human
connection to the same degree as their nonanxious
A finding that also runs contrary to study hypotheses
is that people with SAD did not endorse a greater fre-
quency of avoidance strivings than healthy adults. We
offer three explanations for this finding. First, although
the prototypical person with SAD is characterized by
avoidance and inhibited behavior, emerging research
suggests that not all people with SAD engage in avoid-
ance to manage their anxiety (Kachin, Newman, &
Pincus, 2001; Kashdan, Elhai, & Breen, 2008; Kashdan
& Hofmann, 2008). At least a subset of individuals with
SAD, with some estimates as high as approximately 1
in 5, engage in approach-oriented behavior (Kashdan,
McKnight, Richey, & Hofmann, 2009). Rather than avoid
social situations, people in this subgroup may approach
them with aggression or impulsivity. Second, it is pos-
sible that categorization of avoidance did not differenti-
ate the two groups because avoidance was measured
broadly, rather than in social or performance situations
(e.g., Rodebaugh, 2007; Trew & Alden, 2012). Third, it
is possible that the strivings assessment used in the
present study is insufficient to capture the subtle avoid-
ance that people with SAD typically engage in. Partici-
pants were asked to think about broader overarching
life goals, an approach that may overlook everyday
avoidance behaviors. For instance, people with SAD
frequently use safety behaviors to manage or conceal
their anxiety. These behaviors vary from more subtle
behaviors (e.g., averted eye contact) to more conscious
attempts to conceal signs of anxiety (e.g., wearing
excessive makeup to hide blushing). Moreover, the
avoidance central to SAD may be cognitive-emotional
rather than behavioral; people with SAD are character-
ized by experiential avoidance, an unwillingness to
experience negative emotions, thoughts, and feelings
(Kashdan etal., 2013). This internal avoidance, such as
trying to get rid of anxiety-provoking thoughts during
a job interview, is unlikely to be captured with a broad
strivings assessment. Similarly, it is possible that people
with SAD differ on goals explicitly focused on manag-
ing social anxiety and related emotions (e.g., Krans, de
Bree, & Bryant, 2014; Krans etal., 2017).
The only strivings category that differentiated people
with SAD from healthy controls was emotion regulation.
This finding adds to growing literature that suggests that
people with SAD exert considerable effort to try to alter
their emotional experiences (for a review, see Jazaieri
etal., 2015). Beyond daily tendencies to regulate emo-
tions (e.g., Kashdan & Steger, 2006), findings from the
present study suggest that people with SAD explicitly
construct their lives around attempts to regulate their
emotions. Thus, people with SAD demonstrate some
degree of awareness that they want to manage their
emotion and put forth considerable effort to do so. Of
course, the focus on emotion regulation is not inherently
problematic, as some emotion regulation strategies are
adaptive and inversely related to psychopathology
(Aldao, Nolen-Hoeksema, & Schweizer, 2010). However,
when one of someone’s most important goals is to
Anxiety Disorders and Strivings 295
control their emotions, it likely comes at the expense
of pursuing, achieving, and enjoying other, more reward-
Strivings and subjective well-being
As with personality traits such as the Big Five, strivings
can provide information about subjective well-being.
Results suggest that the motives for pursuing strivings
were associated with all measured types of subjective
well-being, whereas the thematic content of a striving
was less informative. Specifically, autonomous motives
were associated with greater positive affect and mean-
ing in life and less negative affect, whereas controlled
motives were associated with less positive affect and
meaning in life (although not for guilt) and greater
negative affect. This finding fits with a large body of
work on self-determination theory, suggesting that
autonomous goal pursuit is generally more adaptive
than controlled goal pursuit (Deci & Ryan, 2000). As
for content, with only two exceptions (emotion regula-
tion, interpersonal strivings), thematic content of a per-
son’s strivings was unrelated to daily well-being across
diagnostic groups. Interestingly, however, upon consid-
ering group differences (i.e., SAD diagnostic group as
a moderator), results suggest that strivings concerning
other people (interpersonal, intimacy, affiliation) are
associated with daily subjective well-being for people
with SAD but not healthy controls. Writing down goals
about establishing relationships with people might
facilitate more social behavior that moves people closer
to interpersonal goals and reduces social avoidance,
thus increasing subjective well-being. This might be
particularly beneficial for people with SAD, who tend
to have a dearth of positive social experiences. Alter-
natively, it is equally plausible that participants who
had greater subjective well-being at baseline were more
likely to endorse strivings related to developing inter-
personal relationships. Although the study was prospec-
tive in that participants completed strivings assessment
at baseline and then subsequently provided daily
reports of subjective well-being, findings are insufficient
to establish causality (i.e., greater strivings frequency
causing greater well-being). Nonetheless, given that
these analyses were exploratory, these interpretations
should be considered tentative, and future research,
including replication of study findings, is warranted.
Findings from the present study can be interpreted in
the context of a growing body of work on acceptance-
and mindfulness-based therapies for SAD (Brady &
Whitman, 2012; Dalrymple & Herbert, 2007; Kocovski,
Fleming, Hawley, Huta, & Antony, 2013; Kocovski,
Fleming, & Rector, 2009; Niles etal., 2014). These treat-
ment approaches use techniques that encourage clients
to take values-driven action. Therapists walk clients
through exercises that help them to pursue important
life aims despite the presence of adversity, discomfort,
or pain. During this process, clients work to identify
and clarify what they value (Wilson & Murrell, 2004).
Results of the current study demonstrate that people
with SAD value life aims that are similar to those of
nonanxious adults, but they encounter greater difficulty
and are less successful in their pursuit. One consider-
ation when encouraging clients to think about life aspi-
rations is that although they might readily identify
strivings that appear adaptive (e.g., low preponderance
of avoidance strivings), results from the present study
suggest that they are likely to experience significant
difficulty pursuing them. Clinicians can strategically work
with clients to identify barriers impeding their goals,
develop strategies to overcome them, and ultimately
facilitate values-driven behavior that fosters meaning.
They are also more likely to encounter interpersonal
difficulties while pursuing them. Clinicians can work
with socially anxious clients to identify ways to harness
existing social resources and/or explore ways to build
their support network, possibly in the context of social
exposure. In addition to clinicians offering resources to
be successful, positive social experiences may even
modify the goals that people with SAD construct to be
more adaptive (Trew & Alden, 2015).
Limitations and future directions
Despite using a clinical sample of community adults
diagnosed with SAD and a healthy comparison group,
our findings should be interpreted in light of study
limitations. Subjective assessments of strivings were col-
lected at a single point in time, which prevents us from
drawing conclusions about causal direction. Future
studies can make use of longitudinal methodologies to
test competing hypotheses. For instance, when people
with SAD perceive a lack of social support for their
strivings, do they exert less effort because they do not
feel supported by close others, or alternatively, do they
exert less effort and, as a result, are less likely to recruit
help from close friends? In terms of strivings content,
although we conducted comprehensive coding of 10
previously validated categories, this list is not exhaus-
tive. There are likely additional categories that relate
to the phenomenology of SAD or anxiety disorders
more broadly (e.g., goal specificity; Rodebaugh, 2007).
Additionally, we conceptualized and measured strivings
as overarching life aims outside of a specific context.
Given the dearth of research on goal pursuit for people
296 Goodman et al.
with SAD, there is much to be gained from exploring
goal pursuit across unique situations (e.g., stressful
social situation; Rodebaugh & Shumaker, 2012). Related
to emotion regulation, although theoretical models
emphasize the role of emotion dysregulation in the
phenomenology of SAD (Jazaieri etal., 2015; Kashdan
etal., 2011), most existing research (including the pres-
ent study) has been conducted with self-report ques-
tionnaires. Self-reported strategy use might insufficiently
predict real-world behavior. In a recent study, partici-
pants with SAD reported strong deficits in emotion
regulation on subjective questionnaires, but evidence
for such deficits was less conclusive in psychophysio-
logical measures (i.e., event-related potentials) follow-
ing lab-based tasks (Kivity & Huppert, 2018). It will be
important for future research to simultaneously com-
pare different measurements of emotion regulation
(especially in light of research suggesting that even trait
versus state self-reports of emotion regulation differen-
tially predict emotional experiences in SAD; Blalock,
Kashdan, & Farmer, 2016).
Future research is needed to examine strivings
among people with other anxiety disorders. On the one
hand, there is considerable heterogeneity among anxi-
ety disorders, and examinations of strivings within dif-
ferent clinical samples (e.g., generalized anxiety
disorder) might yield disparate conclusions. To illus-
trate one of several possible future research questions,
do people with other anxiety disorders construct striv-
ings less driven by controlled motives than people with
SAD? SAD is distinct among anxiety disorders in its
central feature of negative evaluation fears (although it
overlaps with related disorders such as body dysmor-
phic disorder; Fang & Hofmann, 2010). People with
SAD are inclined to behave in ways they believe others
want or expect them to act in order to garner social
approval and avoid rejection. This might mean con-
structing goals out of perceived pressure or guilt, as
results of the present study suggest. Given that social
evaluative fears are not characteristic of other anxiety
disorders (although they may still be present), it is pos-
sible that people with other anxiety disorders display
a different profile of motives. On the other hand, anxi-
ety disorders share common underlying features. For
example, emotion dysregulation has been postulated
to be central to the phenomenology of anxiety disor-
ders (e.g., Amstadter, 2008; Cisler & Olatunji, 2012;
Cisler, Olatunji, Feldner, & Forsyth, 2010). Accordingly,
it is possible that, similar to those with SAD, people
with other anxiety disorders will demonstrate a dispro-
portionate number of emotion regulation strivings rela-
tive to healthy controls. There are many questions that
remain unanswered about anxiety disorders, and per-
sonal strivings offer an idiographic approach to under-
standing their complexity.
Our findings illustrate that the diagnosis of SAD does
not necessarily correspond with overtly maladaptive
goals. The strivings that people with SAD construct are
distinguishable by their explicit attempts to regulate
their emotions but largely resemble the strivings of
healthy adults. Had we examined only goal content,
our conclusions would suggest that goal pursuit is rela-
tively normative for people with SAD. By exploring why
individuals construct these goals and how they fare in
their pursuits, we uncovered significant dysfunction
relative to healthy peers. The findings of this study raise
interesting implications for researchers aiming to under-
stand anxiety disorders at higher levels of personality
beyond behavioral tendencies and for clinicians wish-
ing to help clients pursue their most valued life aims.
Erin B. Tone served as action editor for this article.
T. B. Kashdan developed the study design and collected study
data. All the authors contributed to qualitative coding and
data cleaning. F. R. Goodman analyzed the data and drafted
the manuscript. All the authors provided critical revisions and
approved the final manuscript for submission.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared that there were no conflicts of interest
with respect to the authorship or the publication of this
The Center for the Advancement of Well-Being funded F. R.
Goodman and M. C. Stiksma as research fellows and T. B.
Kashdan as senior scientist. F. R. Goodman was also sup-
ported by a National Research Service Award (F31) predoc-
1. These analyses were included on the basis of the sugges-
tion of an anonymous reviewer and should be considered
2. The term well-being is often used in psychological science
and the general public to capture a range of dimensions of
positive psychological functioning. In this research, the term
subjective well-being is used to refer to Diener and colleagues’
(2018) definition of “an overall evaluation of the quality of a
person’s life from her or his own perspective” (p. 1). Research
on subjective well-being typically incorporates assessments of
both affective and cognitive components, although there is con-
siderable debate as to what constitutes subjective well-being.
For the affective component, measures of the widely accepted
positive and negative affect were used; for the cognitive com-
ponent, a measure of meaning in life was used.
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