Disorders and Treatment
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The fear of facing inner conflict arising over existential issues, or life’s big questions, has been linked by researchers to diminished mental health, including increased depression, anxiety, and emotional turmoil.
“Religious and spiritual struggles - conflicts with God or religious people, tough questions about faith, morality, and the meaning of life - these are often taboo topics, and the temptation to push them away is strong,” said study co-author Julie Exline, a psychology professor at Case Western Reserve (CWR).
Though the temptation to ignore uncomfortable topics is strong, CWR researchers surveyed 307 individuals and found those who fully engaged in their struggles with values or beliefs reported better mental health.
The investigators also found an unwillingness to confront spiritual questions may cause people to view those of differing backgrounds, gender orientations, or faiths as threats. This can contribute to the world’s social unrest since opportunities to engage with and understand others are lost to fear.
Although using cognitive and emotional energy to push troubling questions away may provide temporary anxiety relief, it does not stop unsettling issues from continuing to arise over time. Repeatedly escaping these concerns can eventually limit people by locking them into a rigid way of seeing and experiencing the world.
“Continually being re-visited by these thoughts can create strains on emotional health, especially if a person sees this kind of questioning as morally unacceptable and dangerous,” Exline said.
Exline also notes that mental health workers might find it productive to help more clients engage their spiritual concerns, since avoiding them makes “it difficult to identify, work toward, or experience the qualities that lend a sense of purpose to life.”
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