Personality and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Methodological and conceptual issues

Journal: Clinical Psychology Review. 2007 Jan 27; [E-publication ahead of print]

Authors and affiliation: Van Geelen SM, Sinnema G, Hermans HJ, Kuis W. Department of Psychology, Wilhelmina Children's Hospital, University Medical Center Utrecht, The Netherlands.

PMID: 17350740

Among clinical psychologists, consulting physicians, scientific researchers, and society in general an image has emerged of patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) as perfectionist, conscientious, hardworking, somewhat neurotic and introverted individuals with high personal standards, a great desire to be socially accepted and with a history of continuously pushing themselves past their limits.

The aim of this article is to:
(a) Give a concise review of the main recent studies on personality and CFS,
(b) Address the major methodological problems in the study of personality in CFS, and
(c) Discuss some of the conceptual assumptions that seem to limit the research on personality and CFS.

The results of the reviewed studies range from no evidence of major differences between the personalities of patients with CFS and controls, to evidence of severe psychopathology and personality disorder in patients with CFS. Although personality seems to play a role in CFS, it is difficult to draw general conclusions on the relation between personality and CFS.

It is argued that this is partially due to the diversity and heterogeneity in study methods, patient populations, control groups and CFS case definitions.

Personality should be regarded as an important factor to be studied in CFS. However, additional studies are needed, not focusing exclusively on personality disorder, or personality considered on a general trait level.

In recent developments in personality research, the continually evolving life narrative that makes sense of, and gives direction to, an individual's life is also regarded as an important aspect of personality.

New insights into personality and CFS might be gained by systematically studying the self-narratives of patients with the syndrome.

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