Advertisement

Social Indicators Research

, Volume 98, Issue 3, pp 501–517 | Cite as

Spiritual Struggles and Psychological Distress: Is There a Dark Side of Religion?

  • Christopher G. Ellison
  • Jinwoo Lee
Article

Abstract

A growing literature examines the correlates and sequelae of spiritual struggles. Particular attention has been focused on three specific types of such struggles: (a) divine, or troubled relationships with God; (b) interpersonal, or negative social encounters in religious settings; and (c) intrapsychic, or chronic religious doubting. To date, however, this literature has focused primarily on one or another type, leaving open the possibility that these are highly correlated and may tap a single, underlying dimension. Further, because studies have relied mostly on small, specialized samples, it is not clear whether the associations between spiritual struggles and psychological functioning vary across key subgroups in the US population. Using data from the 1998 NORC General Social Survey we address these issues. Findings reveal strong and independent associations between each type of spiritual struggle and psychological distress, and they also show that these patterns are robust across most population subgroups, except for variations by age and marital status. Implications, study limitations, and directions for further research are identified.

Keywords

Mental health Religion Spirituality Spiritual struggle Doubt Negative interaction 

References

  1. Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  2. Ano, G. G., & Vasconcelles, E. B. (2005). Religious coping and psychological adjustment to stress: A meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 61, 461–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Becker, P. E. (1999). Congregations in conflict. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Becker, P. E., Ellingson, S. J., Flory, R. W., Griswold, W., Kniss, F., & Nelson, T. (1993). Straining at the tie that binds: Congregational conflict in the 1980s. Review of Religious Research, 34, 193–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Berger, P. L. (1967). The sacred canopy. Doubleday Garden City, NY.Google Scholar
  6. Charles, S. T., Mather, M. M., & Carstensen, L. L. (2003). Aging and emotional memory: The forgettable nature of negative images for older adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 132, 310–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cohen, J., Cohen, P., Aiken, L., & West, S. G. (2002). Applied multiple regression/correlation analysis for the behavioral sciences. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, Inc.Google Scholar
  8. Coser, L. A. (1974). Greedy institutions: Patterns of undivided commitment. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  9. Davis, J. A., Smith, T. W., & Marsden, P. V. (2008). The general social surveys: Cumulative codebook, 1972–2008. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center.Google Scholar
  10. Ellis, A. L. (1962). Reason and emotion in psychotherapy. Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart.Google Scholar
  11. Ellison, C. G. (1991). Religious involvement and subjective well-being. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 32, 80–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ellison, C. G., & Fan, D. (2008). Daily spiritual experiences and psychological well-being among US adults. Social Indicators Research, 88, 247–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ellison, C. G., & Levin, J. S. (1998). The religion-health connection: Evidence, theory, and future directions. Health Education and Behavior, 25, 700–720.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ellison, C. G., Zhang, W., Krause, N., & Marcum, J. P. (2009). Does negative interaction in church promote psychological distress? Longitudinal findings from the Presbyterian Panel Survey. Sociology of Religion.Google Scholar
  15. Exline, J. J. (2002). Stumbling blocks on the religious road: Fractured relationships, nagging vices, and the inner struggle to believe. Psychological Inquiry, 13, 182–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Exline, J. J., & Rose, E. (2005). Religious and spiritual struggles. In R. F. Paloutzian & C. L. Park (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology of religion. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  17. Exline, J. J., Yali, A. M., & Lobel, M. (1999). When God disappoints: Difficulty forgiving God and its role in negative emotion. Journal of Health Psychology, 4, 365–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Exline, J. J., Yali, A. M., & Sanderson, W. C. (2000). Guilt, discord, and alienation: The role of religious strain in depression and suicidality. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 56, 1481–1496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fitchett, G., Murphy, P. E., Kim, J., Gibbons, J. L., Cameron, J. R., & Davis, J. A. (2004). Religious struggle: Prevalence, correlates, and mental health risks in diabetic, congestive heart failure, and oncology patients. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 34, 179–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fitchett, G., Rybarczyk, B. D., DeMarco, G. A., & Nicholas, J. J. (1999). The role of religion in medical rehabilitation outcomes: A longitudinal study. Rehabilitation Psychology, 44, 333–353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Galek, K. C., Krause, N., Ellison, C. G., Kudler, T., & Flannelly, K. J. (2007). Religious doubt and mental health across the lifespan. Journal of Adult Development, 14, 16–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. George, L. K., Ellison, C. G., & Larson, D. B. (2002). Explaining the relationships between religious involvement and health. Psychological Inquiry, 13, 190–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Greenfield, E. A., Vaillant, G. E., & Marks, N. F. (2009). Do formal religious participation and spiritual perceptions have independent linkages with diverse dimensions of psychological well-being? Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 50, 196–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hartman, K. (1997). Congregations in conflict: The battle over homosexuality. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Hecht, J. M. (2003). Doubt: A history. San Francisco: Harper.Google Scholar
  26. Hill, P. C., & Pargament, K. I. (2003). Advances in the conceptualization and measurement of religion and spirituality: Implications for physical and mental health research. American Psychologist, 58, 64–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hunsberger, B., McKenzie, B., Pratt, M., & Pancer, S. M. (1993). Religious doubt: A social psychological analysis. Research in the Scientific Study of Religion, 5, 27–51.Google Scholar
  28. Hunsberger, B., Pratt, M., & Pancer, S. M. (2002). A longitudinal study of religious doubt in high school and beyond: Relationships, stability, and looking for answers. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41, 255–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Idler, E. L., Musick, M. A., Ellison, C. G., George, L. K., et al. (2003). Measuring multiple dimensions of religion and spirituality for health research: Conceptual background and findings from the 1998 general social survey. Research on Aging, 25, 327–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kessler, R. C., Andrews, G., Colpe, L., Hiripi, E., Mroczek, D., Normand, S., et al. (2002). Short screening scales to monitor population prevalences and trends in non-specific psychological distress. Psychological Medicine, 32, 959–976.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kirkpatrick, L. (2004). Attachment, evolution, and the psychology of religion. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  32. Koenig, H. G., McCullough, M. E., & Larson, D. B. (2001). Handbook of religion and health. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Krause, N. (2003a). Exploring race differences in the relationship between social interaction with clergy and feelings of self-worth in late life. Sociology of Religion, 64, 183–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Krause, N. (2003b). Religious meaning and subjective well-beingin late life. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 58B, S160–S170.Google Scholar
  35. Krause, N. (2006a). Religious doubt and psychological well-being: A longitudinal investigation. Review of Religious Research, 47, 287–302.Google Scholar
  36. Krause, N. (2006b). Gratitude toward God, stress, and health in late life. Research on Aging, 28, 163–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Krause, N. (2008). Aging in the church: How social relationships affect health. West Conshohocken, PA: John Templeton Foundation Press.Google Scholar
  38. Krause, N., Chatters, L. M., Meltzer, T., & Morgan, D. L. (2000). Negative interaction in the church: Insights from focus groups with older adults. Review of Religious Research, 41, 510–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Krause, N., & Ellison, C. G. (2009). The doubting process: A longitudinal study of the precipitants and consequences of religious doubt. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 48, 293–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Krause, N., Ellison, C. G., & Wulff, K. M. (1998). Church-based emotional support, negative interaction, and psychological well-being: Findings from a national sample of Presbyterians. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 37, 725–741.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Krause, N., Ingersoll-Dayton, B., Ellison, C. G., & Wulff, K. M. (1999). Aging, religious doubt, and psychological well-being. The Gerontologist, 39, 525–533.Google Scholar
  42. Krause, N., & Wulff, K. M. (2004). Religious doubt and health: Exploring the potential dark side of religion. Sociology of Religion, 65, 35–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Maselko, J., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2006). Gender differences in religious practices, spiritual experiences, and health: Results from the US General Social Survey. Social Science and Medicine, 62, 2848–2860.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. McConnell, K., Pargament, K. I., Ellison, C. G., & Flannelly, K. J. (2006). Examining the links between spiritual struggles and psychopathology in a national sample. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62, 1469–1484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Meisenhelder, J. B., & Marcum, J. P. (2004). Responses of clergy to 9/11: Posttraumatic stress, coping, and religious outcomes. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 43, 547–554.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Mickley, J. R., Pargament, K. I., Brant, C. R., & Hipp, K. M. (1998). God and the search for meaning among hospice caregivers. The Hospice Journal, 13, 1–17.Google Scholar
  47. Musick, M. A. (2000). Theodicy and life satisfaction among black and white Americans. Sociology of Religion, 61, 267–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Okun, M. A., & Keith, V. M. (1998). Effects of positive and negative social exchanges from various sources on depressive symptoms in younger and older adults. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 53B, P4–P20.Google Scholar
  49. Pargament, K. I. (1997). The psychology of religion and coping. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  50. Pargament, K. I. (2002). The bitter and the sweet: An evaluation of the costs and benefits of religiousness. Psychological Inquiry, 13, 168–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Pargament, K. I., Ishler, K., Dubow, E. F., Stanik, P., Rouiller, R., Crowe, P., et al. (1994). Methods of religious coping with the Gulf War: Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 33, 347–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Pargament, K. I., Kennell, J., Hathaway, W., Grevengoed, N., Newman, J., & Jones, W. (1988). Religion and the problem-solving process: Three styles of coping. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 27, 90–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Pargament, K. I., Koenig, H. G., & Perez, L. M. (2000). The many methods of religious coping: Development and initial validation of the RCOPE. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 56, 519–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Pargament, K. I., Koenig, H. G., Tarakeshwar, N., & Hahn, J. (2001). Religious struggle as a predictor of mortality among medically ill elderly patients. Archives of Internal Medicine, 161, 1881–1885.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Pargament, K. I., Koenig, H. G., Tarakeshwar, N., & Hahn, J. (2004). Religious coping methods as predictors of psychological, physical, and spiritual outcomes among medically ill elderly patients: A two-year longitudinal study. Journal of Health Psychology, 9, 713–730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Pargament, K. I., Murray-Swank, N., Magyar, G. M., & Ano, G. G. (2005). Spiritual struggle: A phenomenon of interest to psychology and religion. In W. R. Miller & H. D. Delaney (Eds.), Judeo-Christian perspectives on psychology: Human nature, motivation, and change (pp. 245–268). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Pargament, K. I., Smith, B. W., Koenig, H. G., & Perez, L. (1998). Patterns of positive and negative religious coping with major life stressors. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 37, 710–724.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Rook, K. S. (1984). The negative side of social interaction: Impact on psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 1097–1108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Rook, K. S., & Pietromonaco, P. (1987). Close relationships: Ties that heal or ties that bind? In W. H. Jones & D. Perlman (Eds.), Advances in personal relationships (pp. 1–35). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.Google Scholar
  60. Schieman, S., Pudrovska, T., Pearlin, L. I., & Ellison, C. G. (2006). The sense of divine control and psychological distress: Variations across race and socioeconomic status. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 45, 529–549.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Schuster, T. L., Kessler, R. C., & Aseltine, R. H., Jr. (1990). Supportive interactions, negative interactions, and depressed mood. American Journal of Community Psychology, 18, 423–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Shah, A., Snow, A. L., & Kunik, M. E. (2001). Spiritual and religious coping in caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Clinical Gerontologist, 24, 127–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Sloan, R. P. (2006). Blind faith: The unholy alliance of religion and medicine. New York: St. Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  64. Smith, T. B., McCullough, M. E., & Poll, J. (2003). Religiousness and depression: Evidence for a main effect and the moderating influence of stressful life events. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 614–636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Smith, B. W., Pargament, K. I., Brant, C., & Oliver, J. M. (2000). Noah revisited: Religious coping by church members and the impact of the 1993 midwest flood. Journal of Community Psychology, 28, 169–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Steensland, B., Park, J. Z., Regnerus, M. D., Robinson, L. D., Wilcox, W. B., & Woodberry, R. D. (2000). The measure of American religion: Toward improving the state of the art. Social Forces, 79, 291–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Thoits, P. A. (1991). Merging identity theory with stress research. Social Psychology Quarterly, 54, 101–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wuthnow, R. (2005). America and the challenges of religious diversity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

Personalised recommendations