12: Limiting Conditions and Future Directions

There are characteristics of this work that limit the possibilities of conclusions. First, in this paradigm, the results could not be generalized, because they were based on a limited sample of 29 active members of JWs in a Norwegian context. Because the research data are based on a Norwegian context, cultural psychological factors may have impacted the findings. Thus, future research should confirm whether the described emotion regulation strategies are offered and used among JWs worldwide. The methods were also limited regarding which strategies could be identified. For example, cognitive reappraisal was identified, but not the often contrasted and less adaptive strategy suppression, which is defined as not sharing your actual feelings with the surroundings (Aldao et al., 2010; Gross & Levenson, 1993; Haga, Kraft, & Corby, 2009). The role of the emotion regulation strategy suppression should be thematized in future research on JWs.

Second, loyalty to the doctrine among JWs impacted the researchers’ access to data, as people report not only what they actually feel but also what they ideally want to feel (Tsai, Koopmann-Holm, Miyazaki, & Ochs, 2013), which is based on values (Charland, 2011). As this is a general challenge in emotion research, it is important to stipulate what the desired diversity of the end-states of emotion regulation are, and this includes “considering philosophical and historical perspectives in emotion regulation” (Tamir, 2011, p. 5). Thus, to a limited extent, explicit and implicit communication regarding how emotions are managed and presumably changed among JWs has been identified. This has been combined with an exploration of individual and group religiosity, which was identified as highly blurred and coincident.

Loyalty to the doctrine among interviewees may have led to the bias of over-reporting the benefits. Future research should explore the relationship between patterns of emotion regulation among JWs and the themes of wellbeing, quality of life, and psychopathology. This is a complex matter that requires the use of test instruments in a comparative design. In general, the field of religion- and emotion regulation implications for health and wellbeing is in need of future empirical studies and theory development (DeMarinis, 2013; Koenig, McCullough, & Larson, 2012; Singh & Mishra, 2011; Van Cappellen et al., 2016).

Although this research has made important advancements in identifying emotion regulation patterns and the functions of JWs’ membership, or memberships to end-time focused religious groups in general, this is only an initial step. There are limitations due to the concept of emotion regulation lacking clarity (Gross, 2015; Tamir, 2011), strategies being intertwined and sample size and contextual bias, which have been described. A larger sample size and a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods with the potential of generalizing and comparing results would be a relevant avenue for future research.

Concluding Comments

Emotion regulation is a new and growing field (Gross, 2015). This work investigated how religious groups offer emotion regulation strategies to adherents, which in turn are used by the individual members and are a powerful influence on inner experiences and behaviors (Yalom, 1980). This study demonstrates the impact of future expectations, as the projections and beliefs about the future influence religious identities and emotion regulation in everyday life. Calls for more coherent models of emotion regulation have been proposed (e.g., Westphal & Bonnano, 2004), and, based on the results of this study, the psychological relevance of the future should be included in models of emotion regulation. The reappraisal strategy emotional forecasting is especially relevant in future-oriented cultures but will probably be of more general relevance to emotion research. This suggestion is in line with the theory on prospection and a recent broader focus on the psychological implications of the future in psychology (Baumeister & Vohs, 2016; Baumeister et al., 2016).

Active membership in JWs involves access to group-based emotion regulation strategies with the goals of being and remaining a JW as well as being a human being with existential concerns. JWs have reported that they live with a strong focus on the future, which is a transcendental future-time perspective (Boyd & Zimbardo, 1997) and makes this study an example of the psychological implications of the future in an end-time-oriented religious setting.

JWs have group-based emotion regulation strategies to offer dedicated members. However, these members secure the group’s existence, because group success depends on the degree to which members of the group regulate their emotions in the service of group goals (Van Kleef & Fischer, 2016), which is connected to a broader self-control in the service of long-term goals (Aldwin et al., 2014; Tice & Bratslavsky, 2000). Among the JWs, the individual and group goals of emotion regulation appear inseparable. The identified goals of emotion regulation are eternal belongingness (Tamir, 2011), survival of death, and the emotional state of happiness.


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