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When people experience anger or other negative feelings toward God, do they admit these emotions to others? Participants in an internet survey (n = 471; mean age 41.7) described an incident involving suffering and their responses. Among those reporting negative feelings toward God (n = 256), those who had stronger negative feelings and saw such feelings as morally acceptable were more likely to disclose their feelings to others. Supportive responses to disclosure predominated over unsupportive responses. Yet about half of participants reported some unsupportive responses, including indications that such feelings were wrong or responses that made participants feel judged, guilty, or ashamed. To the extent that participants saw others' responses as supportive, they reported greater spiritual engagement. In contrast, reports of unsupportive responses were linked with continued anger toward God, more suppression attempts and exit behaviors (e.g., rebellion; rejecting God; doubting God's existence), and greater substance use. When people experience traumatic or highly stressful events, a common response is to blame God (e.g., Gray & Wegner, 2010) and to experience anger toward God in response (e.g., Exline, Park, Smyth, & Carey, 2011; Wood et al., 2010). Past research has framed anger toward God as a private experience. The present study moved beyond this purely intrapersonal level to consider how people communicate about anger and other negative feelings toward God. We examined several factors that were expected to predict people's willingness to admit feelings of anger toward God. We also assessed interpersonal responses to such disclosures and whether the supportiveness of these responses would be related to anger resolution, behavioral responses, and subsequent faith in God. Understanding which responses are seen as supportive, along with the outcomes linked with supportive versus unsupportive responses, could help people to intervene more effectively with those dealing with trauma and spiritual struggles.

Religion & Spirituality
22 December
Rosemead School of Psychology

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