The present study proposed investigating how ELS can associate with trait mindfulness levels in a population of workers in a public university's administrative-technical category. After analyzing the scores related to the CTQ and FFMQ-BR, participants exposed to some ELS subtypes scored higher than those who were not exposed to ELS in the mindfulness facets' general distribution.
The correlation tests between the variables in question predominantly showed values of positive coefficients, with emphasis on the “non-judgement of the inner experience”, “acting with autopilot conscience-autopilot”, “acting with awareness-distraction”, and “non-reactivity to inner experience” facets. Moreover, “emotional neglect” and the “observe” facet stand out among the findings containing negative correlations.
The correlation between childhood trauma and symptoms of psychological disorders in a similar adult population pointed out that the presence of trauma favors the appearance of anxiety, somatization, psychoticism, paranoid ideation, compulsive obsession, hostility, phobia, and depression symptoms .
In searching for tools to mitigate the causes of negative experiences for the individual, scientific evidence demonstrates how much mindfulness favors mental health and emotional regulation. Stress management decreased reactivity and openness to observe negative thoughts and emotions [25,26,27,28].
It is essential to note that the act of abandoning the child or adolescent by relatives or caregivers is characterized as one of the components of emotional neglect and can directly influence the development of ELS [29, 30]. Thus, the biosocial theory stands out in this context in which the vital role of the person providing care in developing (or not) trauma in childhood . Social support for this individual during childhood and adolescence is one of the determining factors for developing effective coping strategies, satisfactory corroborating levels of health [28, 31].
Regarding the “non-reactivity to inner experience” facet, our results demonstrate that the participants exposed to EA and PN have higher averages than individuals not exposed to such experiences. The correlation values between these previously mentioned subtypes and the others were negative. Thus, it is possible to understand that some adverse experiences related to contexts of abuse and or neglect of a physical, emotional, or sexual character tend to result in greater reactivity towards inner experiences. Differently, a meta-analysis containing 148 studies found positive correlations of the “non-reactivity to inner experience” facet with affective symptoms in a population of nonmeditators .
The analysis of the “non-judgment of the inner” facet showed positive correlation values with the presence of ELS, according to the FFMQ-BR evaluation . Our study indicates that the individual tends not to label their emotions and thoughts more frequently. In contrast, we observed a negative correlation in the original FFMQ questionnaire's validation study between the referred facet and functional constructs for the individual’s health, such as “openness to experience” and “emotional intelligence” .
Our results agree with other studies’ findings that showed negative correlation values between the same facet and deleterious psychological symptoms . Thus, concerning the “non-reactivity to inner experience” and “non-judgment of the inner experience” facets of our results, we hypothesize that even though these individuals are more aware and judging less often, the fact that they are reacting with greater intensity to their inner experiences can demonstrate losses in coping strategies for situations related to ELS.
In the case of the “observe” facet, the present study's findings demonstrated a single negative correlation with EN. There was no correlation with the other subtypes. These results match those observed in studies that reveal the same outcome in a sample of nonmeditating adults [22, 32]. These findings confirm previous research, including the author's investigation of the scale in which it highlights that this facet does not access the attentional aspect of individuals without experience with meditative practices [22, 34].
Everyone, in general, seeks coping methods when faced with a stressor, which in this specific case is childhood trauma. Hence, emotion regulation is within the scope of coping strategies as a potential and innate component. The ability to promote strong and effective responses to everyday stressors defines the term emotional regulation . Scientific evidence points out how adverse early experiences contribute to inadequate adaptation to these objective and pathological conditions such as depression, anxiety, and cancer [31, 32, 34].
The effects of childhood trauma on the nervous system are widely discussed in the literature. Studies suggest that children may develop dissociative or somatic symptoms throughout life because they have experienced a dissociative adaptive defense in response to trauma, or also symptoms such as anxiety, sleep disturbances, hyperactivity in face of a hyperarousal adaptation .
Psychological trauma affects brain development differently in girls and boys with a history of childhood trauma. In a previous study, the presence of childhood trauma and the volumes of specific brain areas revealed increased volumes for girls and decreased volumes for boys in the hippocampal and parahippocampal regions for children with a history of high-level childhood trauma—children who reported 4 or more traumas .
Predominantly, the facets “non-judgment of the inner” and “acting with awareness” reveal a negative correlation with affective symptoms, while moderate correlations are presented in the facet "non-reactivity to inner experience” and “describe”. In the “observe” facet, correlations with affective symptoms are not evidenced. The “non-judgment of the inner” and “acting with awareness” facets are essential to understand the relationship between trait mindfulness and negative affective symptoms, because they are components of emotional regulation [32, 38].
Our results elucidate that those individuals with a history of ELS had higher averages in these specific facets in all subtypes of the CTQ. Accordingly, there is a possibility that there may be some association with the "non-judgment of inner experience” and “acting with awareness” facets specifically for this population when scoring for the presence of some trauma.
The present findings corroborate the literature showing a predominance of EN among the participants exposed to at least one subtype (n = 46; 4.9%) of the current sample . As previously mentioned, regarding EN, this component is fundamental to aggravating proactive strategies to regulate emotion [29, 30].
The participants in this study have sociodemographic characteristics of health and work within the context of social support. Having a working position within a public university, being part of the highest percentage with higher education, having stability and financial security are factors that demonstrate that these participants, in some way, received social support during childhood and adolescence. Thus, they could create a possibility to develop the necessary skills to deal with adverse experiences from the past.
The correlation tests between the types of childhood trauma (CTQ) and mindfulness facets (FFMQ-BR) in our study found a weak correlation, statistically significant in most of the variables. Trauma exposure during childhood may be associated with some aspects of trait mindfulness levels, however, there are several other relevant factors to consider.
A significant limitation to this study needs to be acknowledged. During data collection, the university changed the rector, so the population's climate of insecurity and high stress was clearly noted.
A cross-sectional design is a snapshot of a given situation, making it difficult to make causal inferences of the factors related to the mindfulness level of this population. Also, the high number of people recruited and approached in person proved to be a challenge. However, personal approaches favored individuals’ adherence since the opportunity to be close and establish direct contact with the participants seemed relevant and enlightening for those involved. It is also important to note that researchers' veracity and engagement in the data collection, covering the entire university campus, and approaching each participant in person favored the recruitment.
Another limitation was the application of the FFMQ-BR questionnaire. Despite being self-applied, the participant's understanding of the questions proved outdated, especially with those questions that started with the word “non”. Thus, it was not uncommon for researchers to assist in applying the questionnaire. The number of questions in this instrument seems to be a limiting factor since the participants became tired when answering them. However, this questionnaire’s choice is because it has been validated and translated in six countries and measures the mindfulness traits in populations with and without meditation experience [20, 35, 39].
Finally, the Cronbach’s alpha in this study was lower than 0.7. After we double checked and found no missing data or unreasonable responses, we decided to use the primary measure. We based our decision on previous studies [40, 41] in which acceptance reliability was less than 0.7.