07: Social Sharing

When it comes to emotion regulation strategies, social processes are relevant (e.g., Rimé, Finkenauer, Luminet, Zech, & Philippot, 1998). In the interview material, the emotion regulation strategy social sharing was identified, which can be defined as openly talking with someone else about the circumstances and emotional reactions related to a particular emotion-eliciting event (Rimé, 2007). This regulation activity involves emotion description in a socially shared language (Duprez, Christophe, Rime, Congard, & Antoine, 2015).

Active JWs are often engaged in social interactions with fellow believers. For example, the norm of practice is to proselytize together with a partner. The link between religiosity and social support has been demonstrated (e.g., Kvande, Reidunsdatter, Løhre, Nielsen, & Espnes, 2014), and social sharing is an implicit part of social support, as the practice of verbalization of emotions in social frameworks occurs regularly (Rimé et al., 1998).

Context of Social Support and Sharing

During the interviews, the informants shifted between using I and we without any marked transitions, indicating that the social and individual levels were blurred in this group of dedicated and actively participating JW. The individual JWs experience themselves as part of what is termed a worldwide brotherhood, a spiritual family or a secure base, which is always accessible. Fellow believers are termed brothers and sisters, creating a spiritual family. The bonds can, in some cases, be stronger than biological family. An informant said, “You do experience difficulties in life; everybody does. Then, it is good to have a base to turn to where you can be helped” (OW). Another said, “Many people have an existential feeling of ‘in reality, I am all alone’. I do not think like that. I am never alone or never will be” (OW). Elders in the congregation were defined as helpers available for conversations and advice. Elders involved in Hospital Information Services support JWs in the hospital when a blood transfusion is in question. The elders involved in cases of sexual sins can potentially contribute positively to reducing negative feelings through social sharing, as this man described after unmarried intimacy: “He [the elder] said that it [sexual intercourse outside of marriage] would not have any big consequences. This was just a fragile moment. They [the elders] just said ‘shit happens’ and ‘we will help you out of the bad feeling state you are in now’ ” (YM). As long as the sinner regretted and stopped the practice, exclusion was avoided, and support was offered.

Being in this JWs’ context often implicates avoiding other social contexts and interactions. For example, a young woman (YW) informant indicated that she keeps her children away from “worldly activities,” such as birthday celebration days in kindergarten. Another YW has good friends at the University, metaphorically termed worldly friends, but chooses to cut these social ties to manage being a JW, as friends outside can challenge internal appraisals and self-control. With the goal being to hinder unwanted sexual impulses, so as not to break the rule of no sex outside of marriage, the strategy is to minimize the risk of unwanted sexual feelings through a selection of social arenas. This younger JW said: “You meet incredibly great girls from both inside and outside [the group of JWs]” (YM). Unmarried JWs of the same sex may share housing with fellows, as described by a young man (YM): “We have our little spiritual bubble.” Then, the strategy is not always successful, as the most common reason for exclusion among JWs in general was reported to be sexual relations outside marriage.

Social Sharing Rituals

Attending meetings and witnessing are obligatory social rituals: “There is no question about going or not. At meetings, you will be supported by friends” (YW). Participants reported that happiness is derived from meetings: “I need the happiness. I need what you get access to at meetings. So, I am keen to adjust everything in order not to miss meetings” (YW). The informants classified not attending meetings as risky, because they lose the support needed to remain active JWs. Theologically, the theme is reappraised as a battle between evil and good, as expressed by a JW woman:

Satan knows we need to go to the meetings to manage to hold on. We need each other. Moreover, if he manages to make you withdraw, say that you get depressed and do not want to go to the meeting and face other people, you know, that is typical! Then, you withdraw, and you also lose support and help. (OW)

Proselytization, through knocking on doors in pairs, induces social sharing between the two group members and sharing success and problems in work for Jehovah. Being “theocratic,” as learned at meetings and through participating in the group culture (always nicely dressed, sincere, calm, and polite), is believed to foster positive emotions among potential JWs and eventual social relations. Social sharing activity between JWs and non-JWs is defined as means to open up for more positive attitudes toward adapting JWs’ appraisals.

Prayer as Social Sharing

Social sharing comprises praying (Schafer, 2013; Sharp, 2010). JWs use prayer consciously and deliberately as communication with Jehovah to regulate emotions. They often use the term “friend” when referring to Jehovah, a friend to talk to in prayer:

Having developed a friendship [with Jehovah], then you can talk about everything. Talk about all that bothers you, on choices to make. It gives voice to all your feelings. It is excellent to have a place where you can clear out everything. (OM)

The modification of difficult emotions was reported as one important function of prayer: “Sometimes one feels ‘My life has no value, and no one cares.’ So there is a sense of security that you know there is one you can always talk to, that always has the time to listen to you” (OW).

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