Can Mindfulness Help Adults Who Were Abused as Children?

By Emily Nauman | May 19, 2014 | 0 comments

A new study explores how mindfulness meditation might help women cultivate more secure adult relationships.

Attachment theory predicts that children who had warm, close relationships with caregivers will grow into adults who are equipped to have open and trusting relationships of their own. On the flipside, research finds that mistreated children are more likely to have insecure adult relationships.

Our Mindful Mondays series provides ongoing coverage of the exploding field of mindfulness research. Our Mindful Mondays series provides ongoing coverage of the exploding field of mindfulness research. Dan Archer

Can mindfulness act as an antidote to the deleterious effects of childhood abuse and neglect? In other words, can mindfulness help people who were maltreated as children to restore their security in relationships as an adult?

Those are the questions tackled by University of California, Davis, researchers in a new study published in the journal Mindfulness.

During a three-day retreat, the researchers taught mindfulness and loving-kindness practices to women who had experienced childhood maltreatment. For instance, they were guided through a body scan (systematically bringing attention to each part of the body), mediations in which they regarded thoughts with non-judgment and acceptance, and a practice in which they paired with another participant to silently offer and receive compassion to each other.

The researchers administered questionnaires to participants before the retreat, and at two points in the month afterward—and compared their answers to women who were on a wait-list for the intervention, in an effort to understand how the retreat affected participants.

The results suggested that the retreat led to reduced emotional suppression and rumination, more emotional clarity, and better emotion regulation. The women also wrote a narrative about their childhood trauma before and after the retreat took place. When the researchers compared the language structures that the women used at different time points, they found that following the retreat, the women used significantly more mindfulness-based words. The researchers concluded that these women were now approaching thoughts and emotions about experiences in relationships with less judgment and more self-awareness.

Why might mindfulness help victims of childhood maltreatment?

The authors write that past research has shown that mindfulness and a secure attachment style are often related to each other. Mindfulness might act as an “antidote” for people who are insecure in their relationships as a result of childhood abuse because mindfulness allows them to become aware of thoughts and emotions, without judging or overreacting to them.

This non-judgmental, non-reactive approach can help people identify thoughts and emotions with more clarity and objectivity, rather than automatically suppressing or becoming caught up in them. In this way, mindfulness likely enables people to more deeply understand their own and others’ behavior, and respond more wisely to distressing thoughts, emotions, and behaviors related to relationships.

The finding that a mindfulness intervention can help repair attachment wounds also has significant clinical implications. “Without appropriate clinical interventions,” write the researchers, “individuals exposed to relational trauma in childhood are at greater risk for difficulties in adult relationships and parenting.” At present, there is not much in the way of treatment for individual adults who have experienced childhood maltreatment: this study shows that mindfulness could help change that.

Tracker Pixel for Entry
 
 
 

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure

 
About The Author

Emily Nauman is a GGSC research assistant. She completed her undergraduate studies at Oberlin College with a double major in Psychology and French, and has previously worked as a research assistant in Oberlin’s Psycholinguistics lab and Boston University’s Eating Disorders Program.

  

Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

Donate
 
  
 
blog comments powered by Disqus
 

Most...

  
  

Greater Good Events

Mindful Self-Compassion: Core Skills Training
International House
December 9-10, 2016


Mindful Self-Compassion: Core Skills Training

This workshop is an introduction to Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC), an empirically-supported training program based on the pioneering research of Kristin Neff and the clinical perspective of Chris Germer.


» ALL EVENTS
 
 

Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!

» TAKE A QUIZ
 

Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.

Watch
 

Greater Good Resources

 
 
» MORE STUDIES
 
 
» MORE ORGS
 

Book of the Week

How Pleasure Works By Paul Bloom Bloom explores a broad range of human pleasures from food to sex to religion to music. Bloom argues that human pleasure is not purely an instinctive, superficial, sensory reaction; it has a hidden depth and complexity.

» READ MORE
 
Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement