Adversity refers to hardship and misfortune. Although what constitutes hardship and misfortune may vary from one person to another, there are general stressors considered by most to be conditions defining hardship and misfortune. Stressors come in two types: acute and chronic. Acute stressors are major life events such as the loss of a loved one, a divorce, and a major accident causing bodily harm. Chronic stressors include long-term neglect (by parents, peers, others in general), poverty, and permanent physical and mental disabilities. Religion often serves as a means to cope with such adversity.
The research on coping distinguishes between three types, namely, self-directing, deferring, and collaborative types. The self-directing type refers to when people rely mostly on themselves to cope; the deferring type refers to when people take control by giving control over to God; the collaborative type refers to when people collaborate with God, that is, see both themselves and God as actively participating in the coping process.
The self-directing type of coping is associated with a greater sense of personal control and higher selfesteem. An example of self-directing coping is having a sense that God will support one's decisions on how to cope, but the decisions themselves are one's own. The deferring type of coping is associated with lower self-esteem, less planning and problem solving, and greater intolerance for the differences found in others. An example of the deferring type is when individuals pray for God to do something miraculous. The collaborative type of coping is similar to the self-directing type in that it too is associated with greater sense of personal control and greater self esteem. However, with the collaborative type, there is an active give-and-take between the individual and God. For example, an individual may pray for support and strength needed to solve certain problems defining his or her adverse situation.
No matter what type of coping, all follow similar steps. First, there is a major life event, followed by an appraisal and then some coping activity that focuses either on fixing a problem or on improving some emotional-psychological condition. Appraisal plays a central role in the coping process. In making an appraisal of their adverse circumstances, individuals can see the same circumstances very differently. For example, when told they have a cancerous tumor, individuals can appraise their situation as a challenge to take on or as a hopeless situation that they have to accept. These different appraisals determine what strategies will follow. Religion can play an integral role in coping with adversity. Indeed, after tragic events, sometimes turning to religion can seem the only way to cope. Religious coping activities are numerous, and include cultivating relationships with members of a faith community, including the clergy, as well as cultivating a relationship with God. They include cognitive change, such as finding a lesson or meaning in adversity; emotional change, such as feeling dependent on God; behavioral change, such as leading a more caring life; and social change, such as investing energy in social causes. It is difficult to determine how many people turn to religion in order to cope with adversity. However, research has shown that for many people in adverse circumstances, religion is indeed relied on for coping.