Lower Aggression with Mindfulness

“There is no life to be found in violence. Every act of violence brings us closer to death. Whether it’s the mundane violence we do to our bodies by overeating toxic food or drink or the extreme violence of child abuse, domestic warfare, life-threatening poverty, addiction, or state terrorism.” – bell hooks
Aggression and violence are highly linked to substance abuse particularly alcohol. It is estimated that the proportion of violent offenders who are likely to be drinking at the time of the offense is up to 86 percent for homicide offenders, 37 percent for assault offenders, 60 percent for sexual offenders, up to 57 percent of men and 27 percent of women involved in marital violence, and 13 percent of child abusers. This relationship appears to have a causal connection to the effect of these substances on the nervous system with many drugs of abuse affecting the brain in such a way as to release aggressive tendencies. Obviously, there is a need to find methods to help deal with aggressive tendencies in substance abusers.


Mindfulness has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of substance abuse and for relapse prevention (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/addiction/). It is also know to assist with emotion regulation and anger management (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/emotions/). So, it would seem reasonable to believe that mindfulness may be related to aggressive behavior in substance abusers.  In today’s Research News article “Dispositional Mindfulness and Aggression Among Women in Residential Substance Use Treatment”


Shorey and colleagues investigated the relationship between mindfulness and aggression in women who were undergoing residential substance abuse treatment. They found that the higher the level of mindfulness the lower the levels of aggression in the women, including verbal aggression, physical aggression, and aggressive attitude.


It should be noted that these results were correlational in nature and as such causation cannot be determined. It is possible that high mindfulness lowers aggressiveness, or that low aggressiveness causes increased mindfulness, or that some other factor is related to both. It will require an active controlled test perhaps including mindfulness training to determine if mindfulness may be a useful treatment for aggression in substance abusers.


Nevertheless, it would appear that there is a negative, inverse, relationship between mindfulness and aggression in women in substance abuse treatment. There are a number of possible explanations for the relationship. Since mindfulness improves emotion regulation it may assist the women in reacting in a controlled and appropriate manner when anger and frustration arises rather than evoking aggressive behavior. Also, since mindfulness is known to reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/stress/) and attempting to control an addiction is stressful, it is possible that mindful women may be better at coping with stress rather than lashing out aggressively. Finally, since mindfulness appears to improve the response to substance abuse treatment it is possible that an improved ability to control urges for substances relaxes the women making them less aggressive.


Regardless of the explanation, the results suggest that mindfulness is associated with lower aggression.


“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” – Pema Chodran


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

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