Prayers can handle harmful emotions: study

The 75 per cent of Americans who pray on a weekly basis do so to manage a range of negative situations and emotions — illness, sadness, trauma and anger, a researcher at University of Wisconsin-Madison has claimed.

Through the course of his in-depth interviews with victims of violent relationships, Shane Sharp, a sociology graduate at the university, gathered ways how prayer helped them deal with their situations.

Sharp's interviewees represented a wide swath of the US in geographic, educational and racial terms, and came largely from Christian backgrounds. Those who were boiling with anger said they found "a readily available listening ear," said Sharp, who explores how prayer helps manage emotional pain in the December issue of the journal Social Psychology Quarterly.

"If they vented their anger to the abusive partner, the result was likely to be more violence," Sharp said. "But they could be angry at God while praying without fear of reprisal. During any interpersonal interaction, the participants are considering how they look through the other’s eyes. In the case of people who pray, they are considering God's view."

"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," Sharp says.

Prayer is also a handy distraction for some, Sharp's study found. Simply folding hands and concentrating on what to say is a reprieve from the anxiety of an abusive relationship.

The experience isn't that much different from a conversation with a close friend or a parent, he says.

"I looked at the act of praying, of speaking to God, as same as a legitimate social interaction," Sharp said.

"Instead of a concrete interaction in which you would have to be face-to-face with another person, prayer is with an imagined other."

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