The truth is that the Theravadin practice of mindfulness meditation can be helpful in a multitude of ways, including pattern recognition. It is important that you understand how this is the case. First of all, you need to understand what sankhara means in plain English. A sankhara is an unconscious mental process that performs one of two functions: (1) It causes you to make sense of what you experience. For example, on the level of perception, it causes you to recognize or understand a set of sensations. On a more complex level it causes you to understand complex situations, what other people are doing or saying, or even understand your own feelings and experiences. Needless to say, a sankhara is a very sophisticated mental process that has had a long developmental process of learning and modification and is subject to error. (2) It causes you to generate and select action-plans that make sense to you in terms of your past experience, memory, and understanding. These definitions are based upon 50 years of practice and study.
The second thing you need to know is that no sankhara is perfect or complete. This is due to the facts that (1) knowledge is based upon evidence that is naturally incomplete and (2) that the world is endlessly complex. Your unconscious mind takes these two facts into account by engaging what I call safeguard processes. These processes have the function of avoiding, detecting, and correcting errors in your understanding and motivation. You have many built-in unconscious safeguard processes that are being constantly engaged for your benefit. Ordinarily, they do their jobs without you knowing about it. However, they are subject to distortion or limitation by your present beliefs, values, emotions, and preferences. This is normal.
You need to know about some of the more important safeguards. One such safeguard process is what I have called (in my book and in papers I am publishing) the does-this-make-sense safeguard. In order to understand this safeguard, it helps to imagine that your unconscious mind is constantly engaging many sankhara and this particular safeguard constantly asks (unconsciously) the question: Does this make sense? When something does not make sense, then some kind of correction process is always (unconsciously) engaged. For example, if a sensory sensation does not make sense, this safeguard may cause you to look again more carefully. If one of the action-plans you are considering does not make sense, then it may be quietly eliminated from your list of possible actions. When it comes to assessing a potential action you may want to perform, this safeguard (unconsciously) provides a very sophisticated analysis of the circumstances, memories of past successes and failures, and the desirability of probable outcomes. Unfortunately, your emotions, ignorance, and false beliefs can interfere with this analysis.
Another important safeguard discussed in the Satipatthana Sutta, is the “body-in-the-body” safeguard that I will call the focusing safeguard because it involves the process of “focusing” as developed by Eugene Gendlin. This is an advanced form of mindfulness meditation that helps the meditator examine and correct the history of a sankhara.
The next thing you need to understand is how mindfulness meditation engages your safeguards to help you unfold towards Enlightenment and overcome suffering. For example, you report that your meditation has reduced your anxiety. Anxiety arises when you (unconsciously) ask the question: How am I doing? An anxious person tends to assess his mental or physical state as being worse than it really is. During mindfulness meditation practice, you become relatively calm and objective in a matter-of-fact sort of way. When you address the question, how am I doing, things don’t seem so bad and you calm down.
If you put in the hours, days, weeks, or months of meditation all of your problematic sankhara come to mind periodically. Your safeguards will deal with the easiest ones first. Deeper problems may require engaging the focusing safeguard. It would take me too much space to explain it here. I suggest to learn focusing from the book by that name. Or you could read my book.
It is not the case that “mindfulness is always about being in present.” This is a beginner’s view. Concerning the toxic person you speak about, I suggest you learn to find “the body in the body” or the “felt sense” (Gendlin), learn to contact your deeper intelligence, and acquire a deeper understanding of everyone around you. Your problem-solving approach is good but limited until you are able to contact your deeper intelligence. I wish you well.