Studying the Use of Prayer to Heal Emotional Pain0

A recent publication in the journal Social Psychology Quarterly explores how prayer manages emotional pain.  According to Shane Sharp, a University of Wisconsin-Madison sociologist/graduate student, individuals who choose to pray find personalized comfort during difficult times.

Through a series of in-depth interviews with victims of violent and abusive relationships with intimate partners, Sharp tried to ascertain the ways in which prayer helped.

According to Sharp, those who were boiling with anger claimed to find “a readily available listening ear. If they vented their anger to that abusive partner, the result was likely to be more violence. But they could be angry at God while praying without fear of reprisal.”

Sharp added: “During prayer, victims came to see themselves as they believed God saw them. Since these perceptions were mostly positive, it helped raise their senses of self-worth that counteracted their abusers’ hurtful words”

The study found that prayer can also be a useful distraction. The mechanics of just folding your hands and concentrating can help with anxiety, like meditation. “I looked at the act of praying, of speaking to God, as the same as a legitimate social interaction,” Sharp says. “Instead of a concrete interaction you would have face-to-face with another person, prayer is with an imagined other.”

The study did note a downside to prayer, however. “For some, through prayer they told me they learned to forgive their abusive partners, to let go of their anger and resentment,” Sharp says. “But that’s a double-edged sword. It’s good for those who are out of that violent relationship to let go of it to a certain extent. But if they’re still in their violent relationship, it may postpone their decision to leave, and that can be bad.” [audio:|titles=Prayer]

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