Why is “god” so triggering?

Karen Veintimilla, LMHC July 24, 2022

No matter what you personally believe, it’s worth trying to unpack all the mental weight behind discussions of divinity.

Religion has always been a subject of great debate around the world. It’s understandable how some can discuss their faith openly, while others prefer not talking about it in polite company. Regardless of your personal beliefs, in the light of tragic events such as mass shootings, plagues, war, and diseases, I often wonder if more people have been thinking about “God.” 

Let me start by saying that this piece is not about the existence of “God” or religion specifically—but more about why the concept of “God,” the universe, or any other name that people want to associate with a higher power, especially now, can be a triggering topic. As previously stated, religion is a subject of great debate and there is simply not enough time (or words) to have this existential conversation (for the sake of continuity, I will be using “God” in this piece). 

Many things can cause one to question “God.” For some it may be a personal trauma, a tragedy, or sometimes mere curiosity. It is human nature to question things around us, to be curious, and to keep growing. After all, questioning and curiosity have kept us safe and led us to the world’s greatest inventions in the same breath. String theorists and physicists attest to the existence of things that defy explanation; for some, this might be where God comes in.

Even if one professes a strong faith, attends weekly (or daily) worship, does the specific prayers, and reads the literature, they can still find themselves questioning “God.” This might arise from one’s idea of a just world. For those who are familiar with cognitive distortions, the concept of a just world gets ingrained in us at an early age. One may internalize the belief that the world is just/fair, and that those who are responsible for causing harm will face punishment. Bad things happen to bad people, and good things happen to good people. As adults, we may question that logic when applied to others without checking it for ourselves. 

The idea of a just world is a cognitive distortion because the world is sometimes unfair, bad things happen to good people, and not all punishments make sense. Going back to this blog’s question of why “God” is so triggering, this distortion has caused many to believe that goodwill prevails and bad people will be punished. As children, the books we read and the media we watch all instill this lesson. But what if “evil” has prevailed and those responsible evade punishment? That is often where “God” comes in. Sometimes it may feel like there is no one to satisfactorily answer a specific question, so one can rely on questioning an all-knowing entity. Due to the consequent lack of an answer, one may personally feel as if they lack control of the world around them. This brings me to my next point: control.

Control is the driving factor behind both anxiety and the way w e organize information. When one lacks control, one begins questioning and attempting to find an answer wherever they can. Whether it’s questioning “God” or not, the concern around control may trigger our anxiety. If one cannot find a solution to their frustrations because there is no easy answer, one may begin to question God. 

Lastly, this questioning can come from a feeling of helplessness. One can feel helpless in times of tragedy. One can feel ineffective even if one participates in activism or does all they can attempting to prevent and/or alleviate another such incident (e.g. a natural disaster). This feeling of helplessness may also cause one to question “God” or feel triggered when discussing the concept of “God.”

So, what can one do if they feel triggered by discussions of “God?” One idea is to explore the feelings underneath the trigger. It’s one thing to get triggered—but another to fully consider the feelings and beliefs that contributed to that reaction. Is it that you feel helpless? Hurt? Scared? What are the vulnerabilities that led you here? Before you jump into attempting to solve the discomfort, what does the trigger mean to you? Is it an attempt to compartmentalize a trauma that occurred in your life? Vicarious trauma? 

Lastly, you can always try processing this feeling with a professional—because even though one might not be able to directly reach “God,” we can still have open conversations without judgment that can lead us into deeper revelations and self-knowledge.

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