The Impact of Child-Parent Attachment, Attachment to God and Religious Orientation on Psychological Adjustment

By Miner, Maureen | Journal of Psychology and Theology, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

The Impact of Child-Parent Attachment, Attachment to God and Religious Orientation on Psychological Adjustment


Miner, Maureen, Journal of Psychology and Theology


The impact of religion and spirituality on psychological adjustment is a continuing area of concern. This preliminary study attempted to examine the effects of religious orientation, retrospective accounts of child-parent attachment and current accounts of attachment to God on trait anxiety and existential well being, based on questionnaire responses of a sample of 116 adults from Sydney, Australia. Small, significant effects of attachment to God on the prediction of adjustment were found above the effects of child-parent attachments. Intrinsic religious orientation mediated the relationship between attachment to God and adjustment. In addition, groups were formed according to correspondence and compensation routes to secure religious attachment. Results gave preliminary support to a differentiation, rather than a surrogacy, model of compensation. Further work to examine the process whereby attachment to God does or does not compensate for insecure child-parent attachment is needed.

An ongoing issue for the psychology of religion is the complex relationship between religion and psychological adjustment. Psychological adjustment has been described as an umbrella construct with various cognitive and affective dimensions such as life satisfaction, positive affect, happiness, congruence between expected and achieved life goals, absence of symptoms, a positive sense of well being; appropriate social behaviour; freedom from worry and guilt; personal competence and control; personality unification; open-mindedness and flexibility (Batson & Ventis, 1982; Levin & Chatters, 1998). From these, the absence of symptoms such as anxiety and a positive sense of well-being are often used for economical assessment of objective and subjective aspects of adjustment. One well-researched line of inquiry has been the relationship between religious orientation (exemplifying the facet of religious importance, or commitment) and adjustment.

Religious Orientation and Adjustment

The well-known concept of religious orientation was developed by Allport (1950) who distinguished between intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity. Intrinsically motivated religion is pivotal to life and comprises a life focus that is an end in itself, with other needs being secondary. In contrast, those having an extrinsic commitment use religion for self-focused goals. According to Gorsuch and McPherson (1989) extrinsic religiosity consists of two distinct components, use of religion for personal benefits (extrinsic personal, or Ep) and use of religion for social rewards (extrinsic social, or Es). In addition to the ends (intrinsic) and means (extrinsic) orientations to religion Batson and colleagues proposed the quest orientation (Batson & Ventis, 1982). Quest (Q) comprises a searching for answers to existential questions and has three components: readiness to face existential questions without a corresponding loss of complexity; self-criticism and the perception of religious doubt as positive; and openness to change.

Religious orientation has been related to psychological adjustment in many studies. Intrinsic religion (I) has been found to correlate negatively with anxiety and positively with well being, amongst other outcomes (Masters, 1991). Watson, Morris and Hood's (1990) review concluded that extrinsic religion was positively correlated with psychological maladjustment, and this held more strongly for extrinsic social (Es) than for extrinsic personal (Ep) forms, especially when depression and anxiety were dependent variables. Quest has been associated with cognitive openness and flexibility (Ventis, 1995) but also with conflict and/or anxiety (Kojetin, Mcintosh, Bridges & Spilka, 1987; Nielson & Fultz, 1995). Intrinsic, and to a less extent, extrinsic orientations have been positively correlated with both religious and existential well being (Bassett et al., 1991; Ellison, 1983) although some studies have found extrinsic religion to be negatively correlated with total spiritual well being measures (Ellison & Smith, 1991). …

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The Impact of Child-Parent Attachment, Attachment to God and Religious Orientation on Psychological Adjustment
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