Mindfulness’ Association with Well-Being is Diminished by Adverse Childhood Experiences
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“mindfulness instruction may mitigate the negative effects of stress and trauma related to adverse childhood exposures, improving short- and long-term outcomes, and potentially reducing poor health outcomes in adulthood.” – Robin Ortiz
Childhood trauma can leave in its wake symptoms which can haunt the victims for the rest of their lives. These include persistent recurrent re-experiencing of the traumatic event, including flashbacks and nightmares, loss of interest in life, detachment from other people, increased anxiety and emotional arousal, including outbursts of anger, difficulty concentration, and jumpiness, startling easily. Unfortunately, childhood maltreatment can continue to affect mental and physical health throughout the individual’s life. How individuals cope with childhood maltreatment helps determine the effects of the maltreatment on their mental health.
It has been found that experiencing the feelings and thoughts produced by trauma completely allows for better coping. This can be provided by mindfulness. Indeed, mindfulness has been found to be effective for relieving trauma symptoms. But it is not known how mindfulness interacts with adverse childhood experiences to impact psychological well-being later on.
In today’s Research News article “Adverse Childhood Experiences and Psychological Well-Being in Chinese College Students: Mediation Effect of Mindfulness.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7915366/ ) Huang and colleagues recruited college juniors and seniors online and had them complete measures of psychological well-being, mindfulness, and adverse childhood experiences (“including abuse (psychological, physical, or sexual), neglect, household challenges such as violence perpetrated against mother and cohabitation with individuals who use substances or have mental illness or incarceration history, from the first 18 years of life”.)
They found that the students for the most part experienced low levels of adverse childhood experiences with an average of 0.69 experiences. They found that the higher the levels of mindfulness the greater the levels of psychological well-being and the lower the levels of adverse childhood experiences. In addition, the higher the levels of adverse childhood experiences, the lower the levels of psychological well-being. A mediation analysis revealed that adverse childhood experiences were associated with reduced levels of psychological well-being directly and also indirectly by being associated with lower levels of mindfulness, lowering their ability to improve psychological well-being.
These findings are correlational and as such conclusions regarding causation cannot be conclusively drawn. But previous controlled research has demonstrated that mindfulness improves psychological well-being, and lowers the symptoms of trauma, and that trauma diminishes well-being. So the present findings likely also represent causal linkages. Hence, the results suggest that mindfulness is good for the psychological well-being of college students but mindfulness is diminished by adverse childhood experiences and these experiences also directly decrease the students’ well-being.
Trauma during the early years of life can have a negative impact on the individual for the rest of their lives. The fact that mindfulness can mitigate these effects is heartening. It suggests the mindfulness training should be routinely implemented for individuals who experienced trauma in their formative years.
So, mindfulness’ association with well-being is diminished by adverse childhood experiences.
“mindfulness training may enable those experiencing post-traumatic stress to be better able to inhibit or reduce the pernicious cycle of negative thoughts, feelings, and memories that accompany traumatic stress.” – B. Grace Bullock
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Huang, C. C., Tan, Y., Cheung, S. P., & Hu, H. (2021). Adverse Childhood Experiences and Psychological Well-Being in Chinese College Students: Mediation Effect of Mindfulness. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(4), 1636. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18041636
Literature on the antecedents of psychological well-being (PWB) has found that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and mindfulness are associated with PWB; less is known, however, about the role of mindfulness, a type of emotional and self-regulation, in the pathway between ACEs and PWB. This study used data from 1871 college students across China to examine the relation between ACEs and PWB, and whether the relation was mediated by mindfulness. The findings from structural equation modelling indicate a statistically significant negative association between ACEs and PWB, while mindfulness was strongly and positively associated with PWB. The effect of ACEs on PWB was reduced once mindfulness was controlled for in the analysis. This provides evidence that mindfulness was able to partially mediate the effects of negative life experiences on psychological well-being. This calls for mindfulness interventions targeted toward students with a history of ACEs to buffer the effects of ACEs on PWB.