Religious beliefs and developmental factors in the psychological well-being of differing Christian faith groups : towards a model of psycho-spiritual abuse
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The past two decades have seen a surge of research publications in the psychology of religion, with most studies affirming the salutary effects afforded by religious functioning. However, current mental health researchers have advocated for more nuanced examinations of religious constructs and more careful analysis of potentially harmful aspects of religiosity. Particularly absent from the psychological literature are the mental health effects religious beliefs may exert on parishioners. Researchers note that this is surprising given the general psychological tenet that beliefs are inextricably bound-up with affective states and general mental health. Responding to the admonition of researchers in the field, this study proposes and tests an initial model of psycho-spiritual abuse. The proposed model of psycho-spiritual abuse hypothesizes that religious beliefs such as the theological doctrine of original sin, fundamentalist ideology, lack of self-forgiveness, and negative God-representations, in addition to familial upbringing, may negatively impact an individual’s view of self, thus fostering psychological distress. In particular, this study considers scrupulosity disorder, depression, and shame to be the primary psychiatric maladies engendered by psycho-spiritual abuse. Two hundred thirty five parishioners from 18 Christian faith groups across the United States participated in an online survey consisting of standardized measures of original sin, fundamentalism, self-forgiveness, god image, perceived parental rearing, scrupulosity, depression, and shame. A canonical correlation analysis was conducted because it allows for the simultaneously testing of the relationship between the criterion variables (i.e., scrupulosity, depression, and shame) and predictor variables (i.e., original sin, religious fundamentalism, self-forgiveness, parental rearing perceived as rejecting, emotionally warm, and overprotective, as well as accepting, presence, and challenging God-representations) of interest. Results reveal that greater degrees of belief in the theological doctrine of original sin as well as greater adherence to religious fundamentalist ideologies are directly and indirectly associated with scrupulous and depressive symptomatology as well as with shame-prone feelings and actions in unhealthy ways. Results also indicate that God-representations also play an essential role in scrupulosity, depression, and shame in hypothesized ways. Hence, such results further implicate the centrality of religious ideologies in the expression of psychopathology. Additionally, results seem to suggest that the direct familial contribution to the expression of psychopathology among parishioners appears to be weaker (i.e., secondary) than that of religious beliefs; this statement is based on the fact that perceived parental rearing practices were secondary contributors to the synthetic variable of psycho-spiritual beliefs in both Function 1 and 2. Finally, these results suggest that the primary mechanism through which religious beliefs as well as familial upbringing impact parishioner psychological well-being is the resulting view of the self they engender. Therefore, results suggest that the proposed model of psycho-spiritual abuse is sound.