Attachment Insecurity Lowers Mindfulness and Increases Rumination Which Heightens Conflict
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Mindfulness, which has been shown to help mental, behavioral, and physical outcomes in both youth and adults, is a powerful tool that can help us respond to conflict in a non-reactive way.” – Whitney Stuart
Relationships can be difficult as two individuals can and do frequently disagree or misunderstand one another. These conflicts can produce strong emotions and it is important to be able to regulate these emotions in order to keep them from interfering with rational solutions to the conflict. In fact, it has been asserted that the inability to resolve conflicts underlies the majority of divorces. Mindfulness may be helpful in navigating disputes, as it has been shown to improve the emotion regulation and reduce the repetitive thinking about the conflict, rumination. Indeed, mindfulness has been shown to improve relationships. So, mindfulness training may improve the ability to resolve conflict
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 and resolve conflict.
The relationships between attachment style, mindfulness, rumination, and conflict have not been previously studied. In today’s Research News article “Being in the Moment So You Can Keep Moving Forward: Mindfulness and Rumination Mediate the Relationship between Attachment Orientations and Negative Conflict Styles.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7559327/ ) Quickert and MacDonald recruited college students and had them complete measures of attachment orientation, experiential avoidance, relationship satisfaction, relationship mindfulness, romantic partner conflict styles, rumination, and mindfulness.
They found that the higher the levels of general mindfulness and relationship mindfulness the lower the levels of experiential avoidance, attachment anxiety, attachment avoidance, rumination, and relationship rumination. In addition, the higher the levels of attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance the higher the levels of experiential avoidance, rumination, and relationship rumination. Finally, the higher the levels of attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance the higher the levels of the conflict styles of avoidance, interactional reactivity, separation, domination and submission, and the lower the levels of relationship satisfaction. Performing a mediation analyses they discovered that mindfulness and rumination mediated the negative relationship between attachment insecurity and negative conflict styles, such that the higher the levels of attachment insecurity the lower the levels of mindfulness and the higher the levels of rumination which, in turn, were associated with higher levels of negative conflict styles.
It should be noted that this study is correlational and as such causation cannot be determined. Also, only relatively young college students were employed which limits the generalizability of the results. Nevertheless, the study suggests thar insecure attachment is related to poor conflict styles and that relationship occurs because of insecure attachment’s relationships with higher rumination and lower mindfulness.
It can be speculated that being mindful in a relationship leads to less worry and rumination and to better ability to deal with conflict. It can also be speculated that having attachment insecurity tends to disrupt this relationship. All in all, it may be that mindfulness can improve relationships, reducing conflict.
So, attachment insecurity lowers mindfulness and increases rumination which heightens conflict.
“Mindfulness skills have been shown to help with conflict management by decreasing self-centered focus, allowing for more collaborative dialogue, breaking the vicious cycle of automatic thoughts/feelings/behaviors that contribute to unproductive conversations, increasing emotional awareness of self and others, which promotes connection and understanding, strengthening attention and non-judgmental awareness, which can foster flexible and innovative problem-solving.” – Taylor Rush
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Quickert, R. E., & MacDonald, T. K. (2020). Being in the Moment So You Can Keep Moving Forward: Mindfulness and Rumination Mediate the Relationship between Attachment Orientations and Negative Conflict Styles. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(18), 6472. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17186472
Attachment insecurity has been associated with negative behaviors during conflict and decreased relationship satisfaction. We theorize that individuals high in attachment anxiety and/or avoidance are less mindful during conflict with their romantic partners, and thus more likely to ruminate. Decreased mindfulness and higher levels of rumination may be important mechanisms in the relationship between attachment insecurity and conflict behavior, as it may be more difficult to engage in constructive problem-solving skills when one is distracted from the present moment. We conducted an online survey assessing 360 participants’ attachment orientations, levels of mindfulness and rumination, behavior during conflict, and experience with mindfulness activities. Using a serial mediation model, we found that mindfulness and rumination mediated the relationship between attachment insecurity and negative conflict behaviors. We further discovered that individuals high in attachment insecurity were more likely to report negative experiences with mindfulness activities (i.e., meditation and yoga), and that this relationship was mediated by higher levels of experiential avoidance, or a fear of engaging with one’s own thoughts and feelings. We discuss the importance of increasing mindfulness and decreasing both rumination and experiential avoidance to assist individuals high in attachment insecurity in navigating relationship conflict using more constructive and relationship-promoting strategies.