Anger Management 101: New Study Shows How Forgiveness and Prayer Can Reduce Rage

Anger Management: How Prayer And Forgiveness Can Reduce Your Rage

John Schinnerer Ph.D.

Guide To Self, Inc.


There was some wild stuff happening on the court where I live recently.  Last Thursday, one of my neighbors accidentally backed her SUV up,

…out of her driveway

…across the street

… into our neighbor’s house

…going 60 mph.

She went through a row of 2-foot tall boulders in the garden, the concrete front step, and several support beams. Her car was completely in the neighbor’s house for a second.  

Panicked, the driver threw the car into drive and

sped out of the house

across the street

into her own garage door,

into the car parked in her garage,

and buckled the side wall.  

Shortly after the sheriff, fire and ambulance arrived; there was a Channel 4 KRON news truck. A Channel 7 news helicopter circled the court taking video footage from the air. Fortunately, no one was badly injured. 

As an interesting aside, it’s speculated that one lady would have died in the accident if it weren’t for a phone call from her church asking her to come down to volunteer for a couple hours. Had she not headed down to the church, she would have been right in the path of the oncoming car, paying bills, where she was shortly before the car exploded into her house.

The house was deemed uninhabitable and repairs are now underway. Yet, the destruction left behind by the accident was quickly followed by dark emotions – embarrassment, guilt, anger, shame, sadness, and dread.  The driver of the car stated yesterday ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever smile again.’  Meanwhile, her neighbor who lost many of her possessions said ‘A house is a thing. It can be replaced.’

All of us have made mistakes at some point in our lives. Nobody is perfect. Everyone has hurt, disappointed or betrayed the trust of someone we love.  That’s the world we live in. That’s what makes us human. We are not perfect. Life is messy and at times unfair. In my experience, this unfairness can lead to feelings of anger, resentment, sadness and anxiety.

One of the best methods I know to turn down the volume on such discomforting emotions is the daily practice of forgiveness. Most of my education on forgiveness has come courtesy of Fred Luskin, the former head of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, and author of Forgive For Good.

This morning I came across a new study from Psychological Science entitled ‘Motivating Change in Relationships: Can Prayer Increase Forgiveness?’ which looked at how prayer impacts our willingness to forgive. Since roughly 90% of Americans report praying at times, Florida State University psychologist Nathaniel Lambert wondered how prayer might impact forgiveness.

Lambert and his colleagues found that simply by praying a single prayer for one’s significant other led to decreased negative feelings after having been wronged. Forgiveness was defined as a decrease in the negative feelings that came up after one has been trespassed against. By the way, forgiveness does not imply that one approves of, or condones, the transgression. It is, simply put, the best way to dump out old, stale anger.

Participants who prayed were found to have fewer thoughts of revenge and less destructive emotions such as anger and resentment. These participants were more likely to forgive (yet not necessarily to forget) and move forward with their lives, unburdened by unproductive anger.

An old friend of mine used to say, for those who are unwilling to forgive prior offenses, ‘pray to be willing to be willing to forgive.’ Many times, this focus on being willing to be willing to forgive gives individuals the ability to forgive acts that were once thought to be unforgiveable.

Given the surprisingly powerful results of a single prayer, the next study Lambert did looked at what prayer might do if continued over a period of time.

In the next study, Lambert asked participants to pray for the well-being of a near and dear friend every day for a month.  On the other side, the control group was asked to merely reflect on the friendship, thinking positive thoughts but not praying specifically. Lambert looked at an additional construct in this study – the degree of selfless concern for other people in general. They found that daily prayer increased concern for others which strengthened the ability to forgive.

When we are getting along with friends and loved ones, the frequency and duration of our positive emotions increases. This bump in positive emotion, such as gratitude, pride, interest and love, makes it easier to think of others as well as ourselves. Positive emotions cause us to come together, to be more social, more open, and more giving.

When things get rocky in a relationship, as they are wont to do, negative emotions enter with greater frequency and intensity. This switches our internal focus to temporary goals that separate and alienate us from others. Temporary goals, such as revenge and meting out punishment, shift our attention from the group to the self.   This attentional shift to the self is difficult to shake as long as the negative emotions are there to fuel it. Prayer seems to shift focus from one’s self back to the group, which allows compassion to grow and resentments to die off.

As far as my neighbors go, a large dose of prayer, forgiveness and self-compassion will help alleviate the feelings of anger and loss. In many situations, forgiveness must take place on several levels to be effective – forgiveness of self, forgiveness of others, allowing others to forgive you, forgiveness of God for His part in allowing unjust situations, and allowing God to forgive you. In this way the rebuilding of relationships can be accelerated to match the speed of the reconstruction of the homes.

For more information on forgiveness, please check out the book, Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought or the article, Forgiveness: The Key to Releasing the Pain of Past Mistakes and Betrayals.


Author Bio:

John Schinnerer, Ph.D. is in private practice helping individuals learn happiness by mitigating destructive emotions and fostering constructive emotions. Using positive psychology, he helps clients achieve happy, thriving, meaningful lives. His practice is located in the Danville San Ramon Medical Center at 913 San Ramon Valley Blvd., #280, Danville, California 94526. He graduated summa cum laude from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in educational psychology. John Schinnerer has been an executive and coach for over 12 years. John Schinnerer is President and Founder of Guide To Self, a company that coaches clients to their potential using the latest in positive psychology, mindfulness and attentional control. John Schinnerer hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a prime time radio show on positive psychology, in the San Francisco Bay Area.   John Schinnerer’s areas of expertise range from positive psychology, to emotional awareness, to moral development, to music psychology, to sports psychology. He wrote the award-winning, ‘Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought,’ which is available at, and  He is currently collaborating with the University of New Zealand in a longitudinal positive psychology study called The International Wellbeing Study ( < -->

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Please take a listen to Dr. John Schinnerer’s recent radio interview with David Van Nuys, Ph.D. and professor emeritus at Sonoma State University.

The talk focuses on using positive psychology for coaching individuals towards a thriving, productive, meaningful life.

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All the best,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology coach

A Great Quote on Self-Compassion

‘I must learn to love the fool in me, the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries.’

— Theodore Isaac Rubin

By way of  my old friend Dino Giolitti. Thanks, Dino!

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.