Life After Social Death: Leaving the Jehovah's Witnesses, Identity Transition and Recovery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

It is well documented that religiosity is linked with positive indicators of wellbeing, but less research has examined the psychosocial impacts of leaving ‘high-control’ religions. Theoretically situated in recovery and desistance literature underpinned by the social identity approach, the current study examined cross-sectionally the extent to which ‘disfellowshipped’ former Jehovah’s Witnesses experiences of ostracism and post exit identification with others are associated with diminished psychological wellbeing and identity transition success. It also examined the extent to which type of exit (forced vs voluntary) and prior religious commitment shaped these outcomes. 554 adults (62% female; M age = 37.26, SD age = 12.82) were recruited via online social support networks for former Jehovah’s Witnesses. Path analysis tested the mediating and moderating functions of exit method (forced vs voluntary), commitment levels during membership, and post exit group identification with groups on outcomes of identity transition, recovery identity, self-esteem and wellbeing. Results indicate that individuals who voluntarily left the Jehovah’s Witnesses reported more ostracism than those who were disfellowshipped (forced out) and that prior religious commitment was associated with post religious identity transition success and diminished self-esteem. Findings further suggest that distinct aspects of respondents’ social identity were related differentially to outcomes in partial support of the theoretical framework. Future research and theory development efforts are deemed necessary to better understand the aetiology of how exiting high control religions impacts psychosocial outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberPASP-D-20-00056
Pages (from-to)1-32
Number of pages32
JournalPastoral Psychology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 19 Aug 2020

Keywords

  • Jehovah's Witnesses
  • Ostracism
  • Identity
  • self-esteem
  • Religious Exit

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