Prayer can help victims of domestic violence deal with their situation and emotions by using coping methods such as venting, a small new study suggests.
The study included dozens of people in abusive relationships who were interviewed by Shane Sharp, a sociology graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The racially diverse participants came from different regions of the United States, were mostly from Christian backgrounds and had varying levels of education.
One finding was that prayer offers "a readily available listening ear" to people who were boiling with anger.
"If they vented their anger to their abuse partner, the result was likely to be more violence. But they could be angry at God while praying without fear of reprisal," Sharp said in a university news release.
Prayer also offers domestic abuse victims an opportunity to see themselves as God views them.
"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 abuser's hurtful words," Sharp said.
For some, folding their hands and focusing on what to say while praying provides a reprieve from the anxiety of their situation. The experience is similar to having a conversation with a close friend or a parent.
But prayer isn't always beneficial.
"For some, through prayer they told me they learned to forgive their abusive partners, to let go of their anger and resentment," Sharp said. "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."
Many of the participants said they believe in God but don't belong to a specific church.
The study appears in the current issue of the journal Social Psychology Quarterly.