International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology

Traumatically Mindful: Investigating the Link Between Exposure to Potentially Traumatizing Events and Greater Dispositional Mindfulness

Adam W. Hanley, Ph.D

University of Utah

Kwynn M. Gonzalez-Pons, M.P.H.

University of Utah

Eric L. Garland, Ph.D.

Integrative Medicine–Supportive Oncology, Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah


Summary. Evidence suggests that mindfulness influences posttraumatic reactions; however, it may also be that experiencing a potentially traumatic event impacts mindfulness. Trauma exposure is believed to disrupt an individual’s assumptive world and alter attentional, cognitive, and affective qualities that have also been linked to mindfulness. Thus, the posttraumatic reconstruction of an assumptive world may influence mindfulness. This study investigated this possibility, exploring whether self-reported dispositional mindfulness differs between individuals with and without exposure to a potentially traumatizing event. Findings. A sample of 724 university students completed surveys assessing their trauma history and dispositional mindfulness. Participants endorsing exposure to a potentially traumatizing event reported significantly higher levels of dispositional mindfulness in comparison with those participants without exposure, controlling for posttraumatic stress symptomology and the number of traumas reported. Differences in dispositional mindfulness by trauma type (i.e., general disaster vs. interpersonal trauma) were also observed. Results suggest that individuals reporting exposure to a general disaster (e.g., natural disaster, serious illness, or death of a loved one) also reported greater dispositional mindfulness compared both to individuals reporting interpersonal trauma and those reporting no exposure to traumatic events. Applications. Thus, individuals reporting exposure to a wide range of potentially traumatizing events experienced themselves as mindful. This orientation towards mindful cognitive and attentional qualities may have treatment implications, with mindfulness-based interventions being particularly well-suited for individuals exposed to general disaster traumas.
*Published May 2019. Back-published to January 2019.

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