Praying really can bring comfort during tough times, a new study has suggested.
Through the course of in-depth interviews with dozens of victims of violent relationships with intimate partners, Shane Sharp of the University of Wisconsin-Madison gathered an array of ways prayer helped them deal with their situations and emotions through coping mechanisms such as venting.
Those who were boiling with anger said they found 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," said Sharp.
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," said Sharp.
Prayer is also a handy distraction for some, the 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 said.
Sharp said, "I looked at the act of praying, of speaking to God, as the same as a legitimate social interaction. Instead of a concrete interaction you would have face-to-face with another person, prayer is with an imagined other."
However, the consequences of prayer aren't always positive.
"For some, through prayer they told me they learned to forgive their abusive partners, to let go of their anger and resentment.
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," he said.
The findings were published in the journal Social Psychology Quarterly .