10: Discussion

Social sharing is a strategy directly connected to the potential role played by interpersonal processes in “coping with emotion” (Rimé et al., 1998, p. 147). JWs have constructed a “backstage” (Goffman, 1971, p. 114), as in Kingdom Hall, where some of the difficult emotions can make an appearance and be shared with friends, sisters, and brothers, which, together, constitute a shelter of support for positive emotions and a means to extinguish negative emotions. The social sharing of emotions not only takes place between close contacts but also occurs for the purpose of strengthening social ties (Duprez et al., 2015), which is important in an end-time religious setting to reach group goals. In religious settings, the need to belong is a major factor in addition to the need to believe (Baumeister & Leary, 1995).

The induced social exclusivity among JWs can decrease the risk of experiencing an emotion or can increase the likelihood of experiencing an emotion (Gross, 1998b). This is often used to avoid situations the group defines as situations that provoke negative emotions. Examples are social participation, such as birthday parties, contact with ex-members of JWs or extramarital sexual activities. As a parallel to selecting social situations, avoidance of social situations to regulate emotions is in the field of psychopathology, associated with panic or phobic disorders. The goal then, among the mentally ill, is avoidance of experiencing their worst-case scenarios, which typically do not occur but will often lead anyway to more negative emotions (Campbell-Sills & Barlow, 2006).

Selecting social settings with other JWs is done to promote positive emotions. JWs connect positive emotions with certainty in belief and simplicity and avoidance of doubt or complexity. Rejecting people and impulses that present an alternative worldview reduces death anxiety, due to fewer challenges to the JWs’ symbolic reality (Friedman & Rholes, 2007).

When people regulate the emotions of others, the goal is both regulating their emotions as well as the emotions of others (Netzer, Van Kleef, & Tamir, 2015; Niven, Totterdell, Holman, & Headley, 2012). JWs take responsibility for the emotions of others, including being responsible for the emotions of Jehovah God. He is pleased when adherents make the right choices and have the right focus but otherwise becomes disappointed and sad. This touches upon a God-Image among JWs, as choosing the right situations for self and others is connected to pleasing Jehovah, which is a type of emotional parentification of Jehovah’s emotions (Schier, Herke, Nickel, Egle, & Hardt, 2015). Simultaneously, Jehovah is seen as the master of life and death, creating a God-Image that combines “I must make God happy and not sad” with “God decides if I will survive or be annihilated.” Rejection by God becomes a possible scenario.

The result of emotion regulation is considered adaptive or maladaptive, depending on the specific social demands of a situation (Zeman, Cassano, Perry-Parrish, & Stegall, 2006). The social costs of chosen emotion regulation strategies are, as such, dependent on context, potentially being an emotion-context mismatch (Kalokerinos, Greenaway, & Casey, 2016). Avoidance of non-members and certain social situations, as practiced among JWs, seems to strengthen the members’ in-group connection and simultaneously can weaken social bonds with people who are not members of JWs. A mismatch with the goals and demands of the social surroundings seems to be present at times (Kalokerinos et al., 2016). For example, celebrating birthdays is a social ritual that functions as strengthening social bonds, and JWs abstain from that type of celebration. This could be an emotion-context mismatch and potentially maladaptive (Kalokerinos et al., 2016). Avoidance of relevant social situations and persons can lead to social isolation, stronger group dependence, and, eventually, negative emotional situations, due to a mismatch with the surroundings (Campbell-Sills & Barlow, 2006).

Cognitive reappraisal is found to be a dominant emotion regulation strategy among JWs. An overall feature is the precedence that cognition seems to have over emotion in the group culture of JWs. A cognitive mode characterized by solution-activities, such as reappraisal (Duprez et al., 2015), seems to be dominant. The religious system of beliefs among JWs attempts to offer a framework of reinterpretations and affirmations of being able to stand up to stressors (Dezutter & Corveleyn, 2013). Cognition over emotion is combined with a supportive environment when experiencing unwanted emotions. In an evangelical Christian organization, Wilkins (2008) found that happiness is the ideal emotion and that negative emotions are not allowed. Among the JW participants, some negative emotions seem to be openly allowed and supported but are regulated by cognitive reappraisal in accordance with group goals. This is in line with a more general tendency, as cognitive reappraisal is relevant among individuals high in religiosity, as those persons “often transform the meaning of events in the world to fit their religious framework” (Vishkin et al., 2016, p. 258).

Cognitive reappraisal has been described as an effective means for affect regulation with physical, immune, and psychological benefits (Augustine & Hemenover, 2009), and research has indicated that “all types of reappraisal had reliable positive effects on emotional outcomes” (Webb, Miles, & Sheeran, 2012, p. 19) or were negatively associated with symptoms of psychopathology when compared with the strategy suppression (Aldao et al., 2010). Suppression is the conscious inhibition of emotional, expressive behavior when emotionally aroused (Gross & Levenson, 1993). More variables should be included in future evaluations. For example, there is a broad diversity of types of reappraisals, whereas some are probably more helpful than others (Kross, 2015).

Emotional forecasting is an emotion regulation strategy used by active and dedicated participants in the highly end-time-focused JWs, as the theme of Armageddon soon to come is “afforded” emotionally within this context (Barrett, 2012, p. 420). JWs use the emotional forecast of happiness to influence the here and now. The leadership of JWs encourage members to make use of mental time travels to Paradise and pre-feel pleasure (Gilbert & Wilson, 2007) as a means to manage emotional struggles nowadays. As Weigert (2014) pointed out: “End-time identity cognitively and affectively fuses personal with social identities, thus generating powerful motivation” (pp. 321-322).

Through active membership, JWs are offered ways to manage emotions, and the group existence is secured, because the individual can only have access to the emotion regulation strategies as an active and dedicated member. The unpleasant “outside” is presented as an alternative and is manifested through experiences of exclusions, social exclusiveness and social sharing of appraisals and reappraisals, underscoring the insider-outsider scheme. Guided by the psychological presence of competing future states, prospections (Seligman, Railton, Baumeister, & Sripada, 2013) make individual members become a part of the group-based alternative of survival of death. Here and now, the end-time goal can even cost a life, due to refusing medical blood transfusions (Ringnes & Hegstad, 2016). Some JWs abstain from sex, higher education, careers, or money, or are willing to cease contact with relatives and friends due to ethical rules (Boyd & Zimbardo, 1997).

We define JWs as having, as Boyd and Zimbardo term it, a delayed-return culture, different from an immediate-return culture in which people have short-term goals (Boyd & Zimbardo, 1997). Current life choices and success in impulse control are perceived by our informants to have delayed consequences connected to individual survival status in a perceived soon-to-come Armageddon. Prospection, the guiding mental representations of possible future states (Seligman et al., 2013), is, in this case, eternal life or annihilation. Emotion regulation in general is goal oriented and intended toward control of what will happen (e.g., Thompson, 1994). The extraordinary, labor-intensive goal among JWs connected to an eternal life in an earthly Paradise may have made it especially relevant to try to control emotions.

Research on the forecasting of feelings suggests that humans would like to be able to predict their future level of happiness (Wilson & Gilbert, 2003). Important life decisions are based on affective forecasts, such as whom to marry or which career to pursue (Wilson & Gilbert, 2003). When the reward is expected in a future life and could be termed impact bias, forecasters may motivate themselves by overestimating the hedonic impact of future events (Morewedge, Buechel, & Desteno, 2013). The implications involve working harder to reach the goal (Miloyan & Suddendorf, 2015), as forecasts of future happiness make collaborators work toward a particular end goal (Suddendorf, 2011).

Two themes seem to be recurrent and interdependent goals of emotion regulation, death and belongingness. Death is an existential topic that individual JWs confront when elaborating on belonging to this religious group. Death, or the fear of death, can potentially deprive individuals of happiness and fulfillment (Yalom, 2008). Being a JW is reportedly a way to regulate anxiety regarding death, as one obtains clear answers from within-group appraisals and reappraisals of death and the future. To reassert one’s value and that of the group becomes important, because if one’s symbolic reality is threatened, it produces anxiety and defense mechanisms (Greenberg, 2012). We identified a need for managing belongingness to the group of JWs. Being a JW in this actual world surrounded by appraisals and people not sharing the JWs’ system of meaning actuates regulation needs connected to being a member of a religious sect, self-defined as “not of this world.” For JWs, people can believe the doctrine outside the group, but the benefits of believing connected to the end-time goal of survival and belongingness presuppose active membership.

The finding that experienced positive emotions can lead to religiousness and, as such, support a religious worldview (Saroglou, Buxant, & Tilquin, 2008) can, as well, be seemingly relevant among JWs. Committed group members are willing to accept that group membership as well implies some negative emotions (Smith et al., 2007). Overall, people are motivated to experience emotions that support a particular interpretation of the world (Tamir & Bigman, 2014).

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