Attachment insecurity and restrictive engulfment in college student relationships: the mediating role of relationship satisfaction

Date11 February 2019
Published date11 February 2019
AuthorEzgi Toplu-Demirtaş,Christine Murray,Zeynep Hatipoglu-Sümer
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Aggression, conflict & peace,Sociology,Gender studies,Gender violence,Political sociology, policy & social change,Social conflicts,War/peace
Attachment insecurity and restrictive
engulfment in college student
relationships: the mediating role of
relationship satisfaction
Ezgi Toplu-Demirtaş, Christine Murray and Zeynep Hatipoglu-Sümer
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 studys 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 pr eliminary, they may in form college counselor s and
other mental health pr actitioners about the nature of RE within col lege studentsdating r elationships.
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 me ntal health professional s 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.
Keywords College students, Relationship satisfaction, Attachment insecurity, Dating relationships,
Psychological aggression, Restrictive engulfment
Paper type Research paper
Received 19 November 2017
Revised 29 January 2018
2 February 2018
Accepted 2 February 2018
Ezgi Toplu-Demirtas¸ is an
Assistant Professor at the
Department of Psychological
Counseling and Guidance,
MEF University, Istanbul, Turkey.
Christine Murray is an
Associate Professor at the
Department of Counseling and
Educational Development,
University of North Carolina at
Greensboro, Greensboro,
North Carolina, USA.
Dr Zeynep Hatipoglu-Sümer is
an Associate Professor at the
Department of Educational
Sciences, Middle East
Technical University,
Ankara, Turkey.
VOL. 11 NO. 1 2019, pp. 24-37, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599 DOI 10.1108/JACPR-11-2017-0333

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