08: Conclusions

This study aimed to explore and understand the lived experiences of former members of Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been excommunicated and, as a consequence, ostracised by their family, friends and extended former community. As far as the researcher is aware, this is the first study of its kind in the field of Criminology, and a topic that has furthermore been rarely addressed by other disciplines. Due to the originality and nature of this research, a qualitative approach was adopted using two research methods, narrative research and interpretative phenomenological analysis. The study comprised twelve qualitative interviews, with six participants who were all former members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and had been excommunicated due to various doctrinal rule transgressions.

The study has provided insight into the short and long-term effects of ostracism by religious high-control groups and the sense making employed by its targets. The findings are in line with previous research in the field of ostracism, as participants’ four fundamental needs of belonging, control, self-esteem and meaningful existence were thwarted. The current study explored individual impacts beyond initial reactions and found that ostracism impacted participants well-being adversely even years after they had initially been ostracized. The key findings relate to how individuals’ lives were impacted on a personal level/identity and on a social level. Further emergent themes explored how participants coped with being excluded and adjusted to their lives as part of mainstream society. The long-term exploration of excommunication provided insight into how participants created new narratives of their stories and turned their adverse experiences into sources of hope and optimism.

The chosen methodological framework, IPA, allowed for valuable and novel findings to emerge. The attention IPA pays to a detailed examination of the participants’ experience, allowed participants to recount their experience as fully as they wanted and were able to. Based on the participants’ account the study was able to identify the needs and challenges this group is facing in their recovery from high-control abuse. The IPA framework furthermore allowed for the formulation of participant led recommendations for improved health care provision to promote recovery, as well as preventative educational, legal and political action. The broad framework and flexibility of IPA made it possible to study and investigate this particular phenomenon from various angles and allowed individuals participants to shape the interview process. This flexibility, IPA promotes, was particularly suited for this context, as it provided space for respondents to speak about a highly sensitive topic. Furthermore, the small sample size allows for a detailed exploration of each individual’s experience. Even though IPA cannot offer generalisations due to small sample sizes, the level of consistency across participants, suggests that the issues and challenges identified may be applicable to other former Jehovah’s Witnesses or even across other high-control groups.

On a personal level, this study has led to a deeper understanding of the recovery process of individuals who are the targets of chronic or acute shunning from their family and peers. As a trainee counsellor working in the field of coercive control, conducting this study means that my increased understanding of this group’s needs will help inform and improve my therapeutic practice with clients. This study has not only been invaluable and transformative for my personal learning but has also had transformative potential for the participants, as respondents shared the cathartic effect this study had for them, through the recounting and reflection of their life story.

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