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Do You Blame a Higher Power When You Get Sick?

'Negative spiritual beliefs' may lead to worse health, compared to positive beliefs, study suggests

THURSDAY, Oct. 1 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Feeling abandoned or persecuted by a higher power could be bad for your health, new research suggests.

Counseling people to overcome such negative spiritual beliefs could help decrease pain in some and improve their overall health, according to the study authors.

"In general, the more religious or spiritual you are, the healthier you are, which makes sense," author Brick Johnstone, a neuropsychologist and professor of health psychology at the University of Missouri, said in a university news release.

"But for some individuals, even if they have even the smallest degree of negative spirituality -- basically, when individuals believe they're ill because they've done something wrong and God is punishing them -- their health is worse," he added.

The study included nearly 200 people who had health problems such as cancer, chronic pain or traumatic brain injury, and others who were healthy. Those who felt abandoned or punished by a higher power had more pain and worse physical and mental health than those with positive spirituality, the investigators found.

The study was published recently in the Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health.

"Previous research has shown that about 10 percent of people have negative spiritual beliefs; for example, believing that if they don't do something right, God won't love them," Johnstone said.

"That's a negative aspect of religion when people believe, 'God is not supportive of me. What kind of hope do I have?' However, when people firmly believe God loves and forgives them despite their shortcomings, they had significantly better mental health," he concluded.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about spirituality and health.

SOURCE: University of Missouri, news release, Sept. 23, 2015
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