As we grow we develop ideas about who we are, who others are, and what the world is like. The collection of values and beliefs that we have about life called our world view. Our world view affects how we treat others and how we live our lives. Waking up from Jehovah’s Witnesses typically means that we will experience a shift in our world views.
Having our deeply held beliefs about the world be challenged and changes can be a distressing experience. Many JW survivors go on a journey of discovering who we are and what our new beliefs about the world will be. This journey that we go on is similar to what many people experience during adolescence and during other major life events. (see James Marcia’s Identity Status Theory and Erik Erikson’s Theory of Development)
One element of trauma that we have experienced is social and intra-personal trauma. Due to this, we may have developed unhealthy perceptions about other people and ourselves. It is advantageous to learn about new views regarding how we view other people. To help with this let me introduce you to a concept in psychology called Unconditional Positive Regard. This Unconditional Positive is also associated with post-trauma recovery (Murphy, Demetriou & Joseph 2015).
Loving Others: Unconditional Positive Regard
The basic idea behind Unconditional Positive Regard is that of being accepting and supportive of a person regardless of what that person says, does, or believes. You might notice that this is completely the opposite of how Jehovah’s Witnesses view the world. The love Jehovah’s Witness have for people is 100% conditional on adhering to their rules and worldviews. They only support other people who agree with their rigid set of beliefs.
Now to be clear Unconditional Positive regard is not the same as “liking” someone. Unconditional positive regard sounds simple by its definition but in practice, it can be hard to understand and practice for many people.
You might ask yourself how can I be supportive of someone who has political beliefs or religious beliefs are not the same as mine? How could I like someone who believes such-and-such? That’s the irony of Unconditional Positive Regard. Like mentioned above it’s not about “liking” someone. It doesn’t mean you agree with them. It doesn’t mean that you approve of their behavior or beliefs.
So if Unconditional Positive Regard doesn’t mean “liking” someone then what the heck does it mean? It means that you respect a person, a fellow former Witness or even an active Witness, as a human being with autonomy and you believe, regardless of how illogical what they do seems to you, that they are doing their best given their particular situation.
Unconditional Positive Regard is a philosophical viewpoint. Its a world view of sorts. It involves believing that every person has the right to self-determination. That they have the right to make their own decisions and form their own life based on their experience. This viewpoint varies from Witness belief in that witnesses believe that you must adhere to one way of life, there isn’t much leeway for opinion based on personal experience. With Unconditional Positive Regard, you believe this and choose to support them even if their views and choices are different than your own.
It’s not about smiling and being pleasant during a conversation. Rather it’s about developing this as a larger worldview and letting that viewpoint be reflected in your interactions with others. If you don’t believe the idea behind this worldview then you will never be able to have true Unconditional Positive Regard.
Loving Yourself: Radical Acceptance
Unconditional Positive Regard is often thought of as a perspective that you regarding other people. However, by developing the Unconditional Postive Regard when dealing with others we can improve our view of ourselves. As most people can attest it may be easy to have positive feelings for others but not so easy to have it for yourself.
You might think of having unconditional positive regard for yourself as being accepting of yourself as you are regardless of your mistakes, flaws, and shortcomings. This is sometimes referred to as Radical Acceptance. Let’s take a moment to explore this further.
When there is something we don’t like about ourselves there are 4 options that we have;
1. We can do nothing about it and continue to not like ourselves.
2. We can change how we think about whatever it is we don’t like.
3. We can change ourselves to fix what we don’t like.
4. We can practice Radical acceptance of ourselves.
Now Radically accepting ourselves is not the same as being passive. JW’s taught us to be passive about things we didn’t like. They taught us to pray, read the bible, and go out and preach when there was something in our life that we didn’t like. This is not what Radical acceptance is all about.
Radical Acceptance means that we accept what is as it is. It doesn’t mean we like it. It doesn’t me we want it. It doesn’t mean we don’t want to change. We’re just accepting ourselves as we currently are. Radical acceptance might even be our first step towards making changes.
With radical accpetance, we accept what is with the understanding that you are allowed to make mistakes and be imperfect. It means understanding that you have done the best that you could have given your particular situation. Radical acceptance means loving yourself even if you’re not perfect.
Self-loathing and self-pity are not constructive states to be in and they do not promote growth. When we resist accepting what is it brings us suffering. Its almost although, when we resist accepting ourselves as we are right now, we think we can force reality to be something other than it is.
Radical acceptance will bring us peace. Radical acceptance allows us to better understand where we are and who we are. It helps us to see things more clearly so we know what things we can do to make real changes in our life. It’s also helpful to radically accept what is when there is something that is out of our control.
If something is out of our control then what good does stressing do? It’s better to accept what is and be at peace with what we can not control. This is a tough concept to grasp and to practice. It takes time. It takes having a lot of patience and love for oneself.
If you’re interested in this topic I recommend the book called Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach.
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pieces-mind/201207/radical-acceptance by Karyn Hall Ph.D.
Joseph, S. (2012, October 7) Unconditional Positive Regard. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-doesnt-kill-us/201210/unconditional-positive-regard
Murphy, D., Demetriou, E., & Joseph, S. (2015). A cross-sectional study to explore the mediating effect of intrinsic aspiration on the association between unconditional positive self-regard and posttraumatic growth. Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies, 14(3), 201–213. https://gold.worcester.edu:2191/10.1080/14779757.2015.1051238