Emotional Stages of Leaving the WT

by larc 17 Replies latest watchtower medical

  • larc

    Since there is a lot of emotion expressed on this discussion forum, I wanted to present a conceptual framework that might be useful. Elizabeth Kiebler-Ross studied the emotional state of those facing a terminal illness. She concluded that those suffering this fate went through five stages: 1. Denial (this can't true; I want a second opinion,etc.),
    2. Anger (Cursing God, the doctors, etc.) 3. Negotioation (e.g., Promising God to do special work in exchange for a cure.) 4. Depression, and finally 5. Acceptance.

    It might be that people going through other tramatic situations go through these stages as well. It seems to me that JWs and xJWs may go through this. I think that a lot of JWs are in denial over their doubts. Some here have expressed going through this and how they blamed themselves and their own imperfections at first for these doubts.

    Some here have described the Negotiation stage - being in with doubts but with the fear of leaving because of friends and family, so they have reached a compromise that suits them for awhile. The third stage, Anger, has been expressed my many and often by certain ones in our group here. Also, many have discussed the fourth stage, their depressive episodes. Of course, the goal, I think, should be to reach the fifth stage of Acceptance.

    I am curious as to what you think of the validity of this framework. Also, do you think that people go through them in that particular order or in a different order? Do we, sometimes, bounce back and forth between different stages, and finaly, how do we get to acceptance?

    I am interested in the thoughts of the experts, that is, those who have gone through the pain of leaving the Society.

  • stephenw20


    Expert I am not.-experienced perhaps-ong" jump back in fueled by guilt and a family crisis.

    The final separation , in my opininon can only take place when you decide you are more important than what is being taught, what is being held as truth, and what your freinds or family may retort to you......you almost go through the betrayal as did Jesus, tho many see you as the BETRAYER......to stand alone on an island because you have guidance or have wisdom gained through research and experience, takes some large ones..some higly evolved self esteem.......it dont come easy......many a trip many a fall ,still a doubt now and then...but the evidence will not go away.........

    I see aproblem with separation for a few reasons......and the beliefs are only a part of it........the departure is much larger than doctrine...... for it changes the balance in some families.....changes eating patterns for some......schedules and on and on......I had occaison on the weekend to discuss with my 13yr old already indoctrinated daughter, her boring life.......and suggested she call her grandmother and to make her day.....

    after the phone being passed to her brother and then back to her , the phone was placed back onthe wall, and I asked if my mother wanted to talk to me......the reply came back " no , she wont talk to you, as you dont go to the meetings......"

    I love my mother , my daughter, and will continue...its really as Jesus pointed out , not their fault, its no less pleasant , and needs to be experienced and dealt with ,

    if your beliefs of separation are not strong enough .... you will crumble under the pressure and have no sense of esteem or person. from this perspective sickenss is waiting for you......

    I have heard alot about separaNÚØ over the last six months. Separating from a tribe a belief. What happens to many is to prevent the imminent change we sabotage ourselves.... side step the issue and try to hang on to the tribe and ourselves even tho we dont agree with the tribes direction, we may even go BACK to the tribe to attempt to bring out of it..those we can trust..... funny thing is the tribe was here before us and will be when we go..they dont need us... just move on and be quiet and this tribe has that matter well in hand........... the fence sitters are in for some uncomfortable moments , in that they can't BRING themselves to announce their self worth and let everyone know ..they have a right to believe the sky is pink.....so it is a SLOW CHANGE.......till it is realized,,, I can get back to me and myself have the power I was born with and the support from above, within or a new tribe(perhaps this one) and get out and away from this where it is more healthy for me.....

    ..and if in this journey you still retain the idea of finding that spirtual paradise , it may even be more challenging .,as you must divorce yourself from doctrine that had your life under lock and key for years......and search for the truth inside of yourself, why your here, who made you, where are going, what makes you happy....

    the dark night of the soul is not a painless journey, it was never promised to be.....



  • Introspection

    Good topic Larc, I gave this some thought and I guess one of the most obvious things might be that denial is the opposite of acceptance, and the other 3 steps is essentially the process. I suppose this doesn't necessarily have to be about death or the prospect of death, but in a way we are dying from moment to moment, not to mention that questioning our former belief system would negate the teaching of everlasting life for many. In any case, I suppose we can say it is a matter of dealing with some kind of loss..

    As for the 3 processing steps in the middle - anger, negotiation and depression - I don't believe it is necessarily a sequence. I should note that I am also a person who doesn't keep track of the past in a linear fashion, I remember things but don't remember when it happend, and if you asked me about the order of events regarding my past I would probably only be accurate to 1-2 years. Nevertheless, I still think that for others it may also happen in parallel. For example, one may be experiencing depression throughout the stage of anger or negotiation, or both. I know this is true for myself, because for a long time I was processing this stuff but not on a conscious level, and the depression was always there.

    Now as for the question of how to come to acceptance, I think it can in fact be easier than we think. Certainly, there can be no promises as far as time frame is concerned, but perhaps it is a matter of how we understand time.. (I should probably read Stephen's other thread first, but I can always reply to that one too ;) ) I believe the practice of meditation can really help. I recently did a 4 week Vipassana (insight) meditation retreat, and I have to say that I literally feel like a new person. The practice centers around the present moment, your experience right now - the thoughts that are in your mind, the body sensations you feel, etc. I'm no expert, but I think basically when you are not thinking of the past or the future, it allows you to concentrate on the matter at hand, and that does not necessarily have to be some external task to be performed. We live in the present moment, the person that experienced the trauma in the past is a different person, even if only to a small degree. The person we want to heal is also in the present, and it seems to me that often when we focus our mind on the present rather than the past, that itself takes a big load off our shoulders.

    Of course, there's still the matter of processing all this stuff that we've been taught for so many years. I don't think the details of this process has to happen on a conscious level. There are times in my own life when I'm not even formally meditating, but perhaps just sitting quietly in a contemplative state, and insights just pops up in my head, out of the blue. Of course, everyone is different, and if you have issues on a conscious level you'd likely want to resolve it consciously too. I myself just had that heavy feeling in my heart through the years before I came to accept the fact that I am no longer a JW.

    I couldn't comment on how one might consciously process the specific issues associated with leaving the organization as there are many and is no doubt different with everyone. I do have one observation that I think may be helpful though, and that is how we reframe our memories. I recall from my psych classes that memory isn't exactly a reliable thing, that often times it may not be very accurate depending on how we recall things. But I think the important thing is the fact that we CAN reframe it. We can choose to associate other emotions with the same memory. One way that I look at my JW history is seeing it as a learning experience. I find comfort in knowing that I'm wiser now and will not fall into the same trap again. While we may miss our friends and family who are still in the organization, I think another way to look at that is to recognize the value of those ties, but on an individual level we must realize how confused they are, too. Perhaps the lesson there is to appreciate the social and familial relationships we do have, but accept them for who they are and what they stand for.

    It seems to me acceptance is really important in everyday life. We may live with someone who is absent minded, perhaps they leave their belongings around the house. Instead of just asking or expecting them to change, it would probably be wise to recognize that atleast for right now, that is just the way they are. Now that's a small thing that a lot people would no doubt put up with. But other things like the teachings and practices of the WTS are much bigger, and it is certainly unreasonable to think that they will change just because you ask them to, when you can't even get your kid to pick up their clothes. We must accept things as they are, because that is the truth of the matter. The other side of it is to recognize the truth about ourselves. If we're honest in both regards our course of action should be perfectly clear.

  • stephenw20

    Larc, I am surprised there is so little interest in this post......

    "I am interested in the thoughts of the experts, that is, those who have gone through the pain of leaving the Society."

    perhaps there is a massive vaction in process visiting EGYPT

    and D E N I A L

    is it too much to deal with?

  • expatbrit

    For me, an ideal method of separation from the WT would be to hook Brooklyn Bethel up to a gigantic particle accelerator and fire the place into the vicinity of the Pleiades.

    Expatbrit (guess which stage I'm at)

  • Seven

    Stephen, I wouldn't say there is a lack of interest at all in larc's post or in any of the threads here in the MH & Depression forums. People will read what interests them. It's much better to post such information here rather than have it disappear in five minutes on the Main catch-all forum. You can keep threads alive forever, and invite others you meet on the other forums or in chat to visit here.

  • Introspection

    .. in fact, it's been read 88 times so far, just not too many posts..

  • Prisca

    Sometimes people read threads but don't post, because the information is of such quality that there isn't anything else that could be said.

    Upon reading this thread, I'd say that this has the sort of information that is worth taking away and dwelling on, before posting a reply. Which is what I'll do!

  • larc


    What I wrote is a lot to chew on. I do believe it is useful to contemplate these ideas and try to figure out how we can get to acceptance, and in so doing reach a state of peace instead of turmoil. I want to thank Stehpen and Introspection for their lengthy and thoughtful comments. I think that each of you highlighted some important ideas that help up us reach acceptance. Stephen emphasized our own internal resources. He said that "when you decide you are more important than what you are taught" you will begin your healing. Later, he wrote, "and your search for truth is inside yourself." This drawing on our internal resources as contrasted with our desire to be part of "the tribe" is an important idea, in my opinion.

    Introspection talked about "living in the present moment can help." I think this is a useful idea. I can get over wrought by thinking of the past or worrying about the future, but if I can stop that thinking and live this precious moment, I feel much better. Sometimes, the present moment is as simple as looking at a blue sky or listening to fine music. I am in the moment and I am happy.

    I think his idea about reframing our memories is a good approach. He said that being a JW was a "learning experience" and he is "wiser now". I think that is a good way to think. I can be depressed over wasted years, or I can be happy because I have the unique background that allows me to help others. I really do believe that how we interprete our past and what we do with it has a powerful influence on our emotions.

    Thank you Seven and Prisca for appreciating what has been written here. Thank you, again, Stephen and Introspection for you thoughtful analysis.

  • Introspection

    I was reading an article about acceptance by Christina Feldman, an insight meditation teacher and thought I'd share it with you guys. She notes that 3 primary forces of nonacceptance are aversion, craving, and expectation. It seems to me that whereas Kubler-Ross' stages is intended to be a time sequence, this model describes the mechanics in more detail. For example, at the stage of anger, there is likely unmet expectations and maybe some aversion as well. The negotiation stage would seem to involve aversion and craving, some back and forth if you will. If you do go through those stages in a sequence, depression would seem to be a state where you just give up because the expectations are not met and you can't seem to get anything by negotiation. Here is an experience that Feldman relates:

    "During my own journey I went to Thailand in order to practice meditation. I had very high expectations that the monastery would be an oasis of peace, respect, and wisdom. The reality was very different. When I finally ended up in a monastery where I decided to stay for awhile, I found myself noticing all the things that were wrong. There were monks who played the radio, monks who were standing around chattering all the time, ones who ate too much at lunchtime, and others who were quite unmindful. What I did not see, of course, were all the monks who were practicing sincerely, who were generous and kind, or who were incredibly silent. Because my expectations were being disappointed, I had this kind of tunnel vision. I did not have any time to meditate because I was too busy criticizing. I quite forgot why I was there, that I had gone to this place in order to practice, in order to cultivate peace. My intention was actually to be awake, but I forgot all about this.

    "There is a story about a man in Aachan Cha's monastery who did exactly the same things I was doing. He kept complaining to Aachan Cha about why the monks were not better meditators, why they were not more mindful, or why they did not eat less. Aachan Cha said to this man, "You are like somebody that keeps chickens and then goes out in the morning and picks up the droppings instead of the eggs."

    We have a tendancy to focus on the negative. This is not to say we should put up with the corruption of the organization, but I think that if we really think back to our experience in the WTS, we will remember some who are kind, some who were sincere in their attempt to be loving brothers and sisters, even if they are misguided. So why should we pick up the droppings instead of the eggs?

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