Entropy Rules

Mindfulness Meditation Training:

Attachment Trauma And Healing

    As discussed previously in this paper, to fully understand how and why child maltreatment has devastating effects on development, it is necessary to understand maltreatment within the context of attachment, the biobehavioral system that drives the child to seek comfort from a primary caregiver in times of distress. In the case of maltreatment, attachment is disrupted when the parent becomes simultaneously the source of distress as well as the person the child would typically turn to for comfort. With this in mind, we turn next to a brief review of the literature on mindfulness and attachment. References for attachment and mindfulness constructs can be found in Appendix A and Appendix B, respectively.

    The association between mindfulness and attachment has been demonstrated by multiple researchers (e.g., Goodall, Trejnowska, & Darling, 2012; Pepping, Davis, & O'Donovan, 2015; Pepping, O'Donovan, & Davis, 2014; Walsh, Balint, Smolira, Frederickson, & Madsen, 2009). Goodall and colleagues (2012) explored the conceptual overlap between mindfulness and attachment by considering their shared factor structure. They analyzed this in a sample of meditation-naïve participants who completed self-report measures of trait mindfulness, adult attachment, and difficulties in emotion regulation. Exploratory factor analysis identified two factors that explain 52% of the variance in both attachment and mindfulness: (1) emotional awareness, and (2) metacognition regarding emotions.

This suggests that parenting capacities related to these factors, such as reflective functioning, or mind-mindedness (e.g., Siegel, 2011), could potentially be developed through mindfulness practice, although more evidence based on behavioral measures is needed to make stronger assertions about the connections between people's perceived capacities and actual behavior. Although Goodall et al. (2012) relied on self-report measures among meditation-naïve individuals, similar research among long-term meditators has found similar overlap in the constructs of mindfulness and attachment. Sahdra and colleagues (2007) measured self-reported adult attachment and mindfulness in the Shamatha Project sample, which examined the impact of a 3-month full time meditation retreat on a sample of experienced meditators. In that sample, adult attachment predicted 42% of the variance in the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ; Baer, Smith, Hopkins, Krietemeyer, & Toney, 2006), a measure of trait mindfulness (Shaver et al., 2007). Siegel (2007) has asserted that mindfulness meditation may even develop the structure and function of brain circuitry implicated in better socio-emotional functioning in ways similar to secure attachment interactions.

    A lack of emotional awareness and metacognition increases the risk of maltreatment because without an appreciation for intentions underlying child behavior, maltreatment is more likely to occur (Kelly, Slade, & Grienenberger, 2005; Lyons-Ruth et al., 1999). Snyder, Shapiro, and Treleaven (2012), in a review of attachment theory and mindfulness, also emphasized the importance of self-awareness in parenting. Self-awareness and recognition of needs supports the caregiver's ability to engage in a healthy relationship with their offspring. Mindfulness may be especially key in so far as it assists in helping the caregiver to notice, "reperceive", and respond differently to experiences that could trigger habitual posttraumatic reactions that are driven by developmental differences influenced by a history of child maltreatment. Mindfulness may facilitate two key factors that support "earned" security (i.e., the disruption of intergenerational transmission): a capacity towards self-understanding, and supportive relationships (Snyder et al., 2012). Mindfulness allows a person to just observe experience, bringing awareness to the experience as it is occurring, introducing an element of choice about behavioral responses, increasing intentional control of behavior and reducing impulsivity (e.g., Linehan, 1993; Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2002).

    Another way in which the research suggests mindfulness and secure attachment may be related is that they both support positive self-schemata (e.g., Pepping, Davis, & O'Donovan, 2015). For insecurely attached individuals, who may not have developed positive self-, other-, or world-schemata, Ryan, Brown, and Creswell (2007) suggested that, rather than directly altering internal working models based on attachment, mindfulness might allow one to circumvent those models entirely. They suggested mindfulness allows for this, first, by promoting insight into the constantly changing nature of reality in this present moment. The greater the salience of impermanence, perhaps the less upsetting an attachment disruption, or any distressing emotion, would be. Secondly, when one is engaged in experiential processing, it inhibits schema-driven processing of social interactions, decreasing the extent to which a current exchange with an attachment partner is distorted through biased tendencies based in past experience (e.g., Yang et al, 2016). This shift in beliefs and processing style involved in the practice of mindfulness would be especially relevant for adult survivors of child maltreatment who would be most in need of a strategy allowing the possibility of warmth, vulnerability, and intimacy in a relationship (e.g., parent-child relationship), even though their own attachment history may not have included such qualities (Ryan, Brown, & Creswell, 2007).


⇲ About The Author

Robin Hertz, MA is currently in the process of completing a PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University of Oregon.

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