Chronic Pain? Negative Spirituality Can Make It Worse

Negative emotions can affect more than your mental health; a recent report concluded they also make painful conditions even worse.

Negative emotions can affect more than your mental health; a recent report concluded they also make painful conditions even worse.

“In general, the more religious or spiritual you are, the healthier you are, which makes sense,” Brick Johnstone, PhD, a neuropsychologist and professor of health psychology in the University of Missouri (MU) School of Health Professions, said in a news release.

Johnstone and colleagues looked at the importance of thinking positively and found that negative feelings are even more influential over physical and mental health.

“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,” Johnstone said.

The team assessed nearly 200 participants to uncover how their spiritual beliefs influenced their health conditions, including chronic pain, cancer, and traumatic brain injury, as well as healthy controls. The 61 subjects in the negative spirituality group were defined as feeling abandonment or punishment from a higher power. The 138 in the no negative spirituality group were defined as having no endorsement of negative spiritual belief. They answered questions focused on emotional and physical health.

Not only did those in the negative spirituality group have significantly worse pain and physical ailments, they also had worse mental health. According to the results published in the Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health, any amount of negativity inhibited health. On the other hand, having positive spirituality was linked to better mental health, but not physical outcomes. Furthermore, negative spirituality was also linked with less frequent religious practices and lower levels of forgiveness.

“Previous research has shown that about 10% of people have negative spiritual beliefs; for example, believing that if they don’t do something right, God won’t love them,” Johnstone continued. “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.”

The team hypothesizes that treatments focusing on combating those negative spiritual beliefs can help improve physical and mental health.