Attachment insecurity and restrictive engulfment in college student relationships: the mediating role of relationship satisfaction
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CitationToplu-Demirtas¸, E., Murray, C., & Hatipoglu-Su¨mer, Z. (February 02, 2018). Attachment insecurity and restrictive engulfment in college student relationships: the mediating role of relationship satisfaction. Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, 11, 1, 24-37. DOI : 10.1108/JACPR-11-2017-0333
Purpose Studies on restrictive engulfment (RE) – a subtype of psychological aggression in intimate relationships – have focused either on insecure attachment or relationship satisfaction, not both. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to investigate relationship satisfaction as a potential mediator of the associations between anxious and avoidant attachment and RE perpetration among college students. Design/methodology/approach A sample of 322 college students (178 women, 137 men, and seven other gender-identified) completed the experiences in close relationship inventory, relationship assessment scale, and RE subscale of the multidimensional measure of emotional abuse. Findings Among the sample, 89.3 and 90.5 percent of the college women and men, respectively, reported to have used isolating, restricting, monitoring, and controlling behaviors. The results of structural equation modeling revealed that all direct paths except for that from avoidant attachment to RE were significant. Moreover, significant indirect paths were identified from anxious and avoidant attachment to RE via relationship satisfaction. Research limitations/implications The results of this study should be interpreted with consideration of the study’s limitations. First, the data were drawn from a convenience sample of Turkish college students. Second, the design of the study is correlational; therefore, we cannot assume causality. Finally, this study utilized self-report and retrospective data. Practical implications Though the findings are preliminary, they may inform college counselors and other mental health practitioners about the nature of RE within college students’ dating relationships. College students who are unhappy with their dating relationships but still in those relationships (i.e. they choose not to leave) should be assessed for whether they are the perpetrators and/or recipients of psychological aggression, especially in light of the high rates of this form of aggression in the current and previous studies. Furthermore, assessing psychological dating aggression perpetrators for insecure attachment styles may help mental health professionals who work with college students, envisage the sessions toward areas in the need of improvement, such as their views of themselves and others. Self-esteem, feelings of insecurity and inadequacy in relationships, and dependency can be worked with these clients. Social implications The results of this study also have implications for the prevention of psychological aggression before it occurs. The need for prevention programs is evident in the high rates of psychologically controlling behaviors among college students. It may be useful to implement campus wide programs to raise awareness regarding psychological aggression, such as through events, seminars, posters, flyers, and talks with student groups. Originality/value Despite the limitations of this study, its findings offer insight into the factors that influence the perpetration of psychological aggression within dating relationships among college students. Adult attachment theory offers a useful lens for understanding the possible driving forces behind college students’ controlling behaviors toward their dating partners. In particular, college students who demonstrate an insecure attachment style – and especially an anxious attachment style – combined with low levels of relationship satisfaction appear to be at a high risk for perpetrating RE behaviors.