How Your Personality Relates to Your Headaches

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Do you ever wonder if your personality is related to your headache or migraine health?

In other words, does the burden and pain of your headache or migraine attacks influence who you are as a person? (Or vice versa) Does your personality influence the type, severity, or intensity of your attacks?

The answer, according to evolving scientific research, is that yes, certain personality traits may be associated with primary headache disorders.

That being said, this link simply implies an association. Experts have not yet teased out how personality traits and headaches are tied together, as it's likely a complex relationship.

Personality Traits and Cluster Headaches

In a study in The Journal of Headache and Pain, 80 participants with cluster headaches were assessed for personality traits using the Salamanca test.

The Salamanca test is a simple, straightforward questionnaire used to screen for eleven personality traits classified into three clusters. The three clusters are:

  • Cluster A (paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal) — overall odd or eccentric
  • Cluster B (histrionic, narcissistic, impulsive, borderline) — overall emotional or dramatic
  • Cluster C (anankastic, dependent, anxious) — overall anxious or fearful

Example statements on the Salamanca test include:

  • "I'm too emotional" or "I care a lot about my image." (high scores on these statements suggest a histrionic personality trait).
  • "Do people think you are a perfectionist, obstinate or rigid?" or "I am meticulous, thorough and  too much of a hard-worker." (high scores on these statements suggest an anankastic personality trait, which is an obsessive-compulsive tendency).

Results of the study revealed that of the participants with cluster headaches, the most common personality traits were anankastic, anxious, histrionic, schizoid, and to a lesser degree impulsive and paranoid.

Personality Traits and Migraines

The results of the above study were compared to a prior study that had examined the personality traits of 164 migraineurs.

When the two populations were compared (participants with cluster headaches versus participants with migraines), only paranoid and schizoid personality traits were found to be significantly more common in people with cluster headaches.

While anxious and dependent personality traits were more common in migraine participants than cluster headache participants, the results were not significant.

Due to the fact that cluster headaches are more common in men and migraines are more common in women (which was also evident in the study populations), the researchers sought to determine whether the personality traits found among those with cluster headaches versus migraines could be explained by gender.

This was not the case, though, meaning the personality traits appeared linked to the type of headache disorder (or some other unknown factor) and not whether the participants were male or female.

Personality Traits and Tension-Type Headaches

In another study that examined over 300 participants with chronic tension-type headaches, a test called the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ) was used to assess personality traits.

The researchers in the study used two of the four EPQ scales:

  • a twenty-three question scale that evaluated neuroticism: called the N-scale
  • a twenty-one question scale that evaluated whether participants were trying to "lie" or control their scores: called the L-scale

The neuroticism scale examined personality traits related to being anxious, depressed, moody, guilt-ridden, easily irritated, and having a lack of endurance.

Results revealed that when comparing the participants with chronic tension-type headaches to the general population, there was a higher degree of neuroticism. The L-scale scores did not differ between the general population and those with chronic tension-type headaches—a good and reassuring check in this study.

What Do These Results Mean?

The results of these studies suggest that certain personality traits may be more common in those who have certain primary headache disorders.

That being said, it's not a slam dunk fact that because you have a particular headache disorder, you will have a certain personality profile. The same is true for the reverse—having certain personality traits does not predispose you to developing a specific headache disorder. It's simply a link or an association, so we do not know how they are linked or which came first—like the chicken and egg theory.

It may be that certain personality traits reflected in the tests are how people cope with their chronic pain—an argument that can be best teased out with further research.

A Personality Trait Is Different From a Personality Disorder

Remember, having a personality trait does not mean you have a personality disorder. A trait is a personality characteristic or feature that describes a person's way of thinking and acting. In fact, many of us can identify with a number of personality traits across the range of personality disorders (there are currently 10).

On the other hand, a personality disorder is a chronic, inflexible pattern of thought and behavior that begins in childhood or early adulthood. An individual with a personality disorder generally exhibits all of the traits associated with that disorder, and their disorder leads to distress and/or a significant impairment in daily functioning and in relationships.

In other words, having a personality trait (like being more anxious or being a perfectionist) just means you act or think a certain way—and it may actually allow you to be more functional in your life. It's all a delicate balance. A personality disorder occurs when that balance is off, leading to dysfunction.

Should You Take a Personality Test?

The purpose of this article is not to imply that you need to take a personality test before seeing your headache specialist or neurologist. But, for those interested, it may be worth taking a few minutes to mull over which personality traits you identify more with.

In fact, a closer peek into your temperament may help you cope better with your headache or migraine disorder. For example, if you notice you are anxious or a perfectionist, engaging in relaxing behaviors like meditation or yoga may ease your pain, in addition to reducing your natural tendencies to worry or obsess about details.

Doctors and Personality Traits in Their Patients

Some experts may argue that these study results are more interesting and thought-provoking than medically valuable (and that is OK). Others may argue that the results of these studies can prompt headache specialists to consider a person's deeper being when recommending headache or migraine treatments.

Inspiring a doctor to look more closely at the whole patient and their personal thoughts and behaviors, than just at the painful disease they are enduring, can only be a good thing—an overall more holistic approach to medical care.

For example, if we know that people with chronic tension-type headaches are more neurotic (meaning they are more vulnerable to stress and prone to nervousness and worry) a doctor may be more forthcoming in screening his or her patient with chronic tension-type headaches for anxiety and depression.

A Word From Verywell

Remain assured that you are much more than your headache disorder or a series of personality traits. There is a depth to you as an individual that makes you unique and special. That being said, it could be that certain personality traits you possess influence your physical health, including your headache or migraine health.

Sources:

Aaseth K, Grande RB, Leiknes KA, Benth JS, Lundqvist C, Russell MB. Personality traits and psychological distress in persons with chronic tension-type headache. The Akershus study of chronic headache. Acta Neurol Scand.2011 Dec;124(6):375-82.

Muñoz I. et al. Personality traits in patients with cluster headache: a comparison with migraine patients. J Headache Pain. 2016;17:25.

Muñoz I. et al. Personality traits in patients with chronic migraine: a categorical and dimensional study in a series of 30 patients. Rev Neurol. 2015 Jul 16;61(2):49-56.

Muñoz I et al. Personality traits in patients with migraine: a multi-centre study using the Salamanca screening questionnaire.Rev Neurol.2013;57(12):529–34.

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