Exploring the Impact of Involuntary Job Loss and Unemployment on Meaning Violation and Spiritual Struggle

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Gutierrez, Ian A
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Psychological theory on unemployment has posited that involuntary job loss violates a person’s sense of meaning, but few studies have directly tested this proposition. Moreover, research has yet to explore whether involuntary job loss is associated with religious or spiritual struggles, such as blaming God for one’s circumstances, doubting one’s religious belief, or grappling with one’s understanding of meaning in life. The present study followed unemployed persons (N = 162) who had recently lost employment involuntary at three time points over a period of two months to examine (1) the relationships between religious and spiritual struggles and mental health among the unemployed, (2) whether and how these relationships change over time, (3) the role that religiousness plays as a possible protective factor against poor mental and physical health outcomes among the unemployed, (4) the interactions between religiousness and struggles on mental and physical health, and (5) the role that perceiving a calling has on mental health and well-being following involuntary job loss. Quantitative analyses revealed that core belief violation and meaning-related struggles were associated with poorer overall mental health and higher rates of internalizing symptoms among the unemployed. Meaning-related struggles became more strongly linked to psychiatric distress over time, involvement with organizational religiousness served as a protective factor against worsening mental health, and perceiving a calling was positively associated with mental health outcomes and well-being. Findings are considered within the context of the changing landscapes of work and faith in American life.