Improve Attachment Style with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“using mindfulness in specific ways, we can become aware of our hidden attachment conditioning and, if it’s not working, begin to change it. This results in a meditation practice that is truly comprehensive: not just an escape, but an empowering force to enrich life and propel us happily through it.” – Insight Meditation Support
Mindfulness training has been shown to have a myriad of positive benefits for the physical and psychological health of the individual. It has also been shown to be beneficial for those suffering from a wide range of physical and mental diseases. Research is revealing the mechanisms by which increasing this simple state can alter the individual so profoundly. For example, stress, particularly chronic stress, is known to have deleterious effects on physical and mental health and mindfulness has been shown to reduce the physical and psychological effects of stress on the individual. By reducing stress effects, mindfulness can have wide ranging positive effects on the individual’s well-being.
Attachment has been shown to affect the individual’s well-being. There are a variety of ways that individuals attach to others. The particular strategies are thought to develop during childhood through attachments to caregivers. They are secure, insecure, avoidant, ambivalent, fearful, preoccupied, and disorganized attachment styles. Secure attachment style is healthy and leads to positive development while all of the others are maladaptive and unhealthy. These can lead to psychological difficulties and interfere with the individual’s ability to relate to others. Depression has also been long hypothesized to have roots in early childhood. Patterns of mother-child interactions are thought to produce different forms of attachment styles in the infant. All of attachment styles, save secure attachment style, have been found to be associated with depression.
It is possible that one of the ways that mindfulness promotes well-being is by affecting attachment. In today’s Research News article “The Relationship Between Adult Attachment Orientation and Mindfulness: a Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5693974/), this relationship is examined. Stevenson and colleagues review, summarize, and perform a meta-analysis of the 31 published research studies on mindfulness and attachment style.
They found that the published research studies report that mindfulness is significantly associated with lower levels of attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance. In other words, the higher the level of mindfulness in the individual the lower the levels of adult attachment anxiety and avoidance. This was true for each of the individual components of mindfulness; describing, acting with awareness, non-reactivity, and non-judging. Each of these four facets of mindfulness were found to be inversely related to both attachment anxiety and avoidance. Hence, mindfulness appeared to be counter to adult maladaptive attachment.
It should be noted that these studies are correlational. So, causation cannot be concluded. That mindfulness and attachment style covary does not mean that one is the cause of the other. But, that the two are related suggests that there may be a causal connection. This may indicate another mechanism by which mindfulness improves mental health, by countering maladaptive attachment styles. Anxious and avoidant attachment styles are both known to be associated with mental illness. So, mindfulness may promote mental health, at least in part, by decreasing these maladaptive styles. It remains for future research to investigate if mindfulness training can be a useful technique to promote healthy secure attachment and decrease maladaptive attachment and in turn promote mental health.
So, improve attachment style with mindfulness.
“Whether it’s understanding each other better, increasing intimacy, or just tackling day-to-day relationship problems, it takes awareness to make things work. Noticing patterns of behavior can give us a really useful insight. It’s sometimes helpful to understand how your partner is likely to react in a given situation. Not so that you can anticipate that with a prepared strategy, but just in order to be mindful of your own responses and reactions. It’s no exaggeration – short-circuiting these habitual patterns of conflict can be life changing.” – Headspace
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Stevenson, J. C., Emerson, L.-M., & Millings, A. (2017). The Relationship Between Adult Attachment Orientation and Mindfulness: a Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Mindfulness, 8(6), 1438–1455. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0733-y
Mindfulness can be measured as an individual trait, which varies between individuals. In recent years, research has investigated the overlap between trait mindfulness and attachment. The aim of the present review and meta-analysis was to investigate the current evidence linking adult attachment dimensions to trait mindfulness dimensions, and to quantitatively synthesize these findings using meta-analyses. A systematic literature search was conducted using five scientific databases of which, upon review, 33 articles met inclusion criteria. Inclusion criteria were peer-reviewed journals and dissertations published in English that relied on quantitative methods using reliable and validated self-report measures where study participants were aged 16 years and older. Random-effects model meta-analytic procedures were used to investigate the relationship between both constructs. Cross-sectional studies found significant negative correlations between adult attachment insecurity, on either dimension (anxiety or avoidance) and both total mindfulness score and all five sub-dimensions of mindfulness (act with awareness, observe, describe, non-reacting, and non-judging), with the exception of a non-significant positive correlation between attachment anxiety and observe. The effect size of the relationships ranged from small to medium. The overall mean effect sizes were moderate (anxiety, r + = .34; avoidance, r + = −.28), with both attachment dimensions associated with lower levels of total mindfulness. Results are discussed in relation to theory and research. Implications for future research include the need to utilize longitudinal design to address causality and mechanisms of the relationship between these constructs.