Whenever someone decides to leave an intense community: like the hard line Churches of Christ, the Mormon Church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Amish, parts of the military, some intense corporation jobs, or a commune, the person goes through a time of longing for connection; both connection with the old friends and family, and connection with new people. That is the power that old friends and family within the powerful sect have over the person leaving. The person leaving feels lonely.
So whenever there is contact with old friends and family there is a big upheaval emotionally for the person who is leaving, or has left, the sect. Just seeing their faces brings back memories of the old slogans and arguments about what is near and dear to their hearts: for the Amish it is often a dedication to working with one’s hands and a denigration of education as the lazy man’s way to earn a living. For a hard line Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox family there is the feeling that they are the Mother Church, the producers of the Bible, the caretakers of the faith for centuries. For those who have left the hard line Churches of Christ there is the memory of being in the One True Church.
Conversations are had, things are said or not said, but what the person who has left the group comes away with is a feeling of loneliness, sadness, and loss. Sometimes there is the feeling of shame, guilt, confusion and defensiveness. When this happens there is a cure.
The quickest cure is to look at the (abstract) needs one has not had met in the interaction. For instance: Are you needing respect? Needing to be heard? Needing acknowledgment? Needing equality? Fairness? When we are feeling torn and crazy after meeting someone from the old sect, if we can just have a safe person acknowledge that one particular need has not been met, the one most important to us at the time, we sigh, we relax, we accept the sadness of not having that need met, and we move on.
Second best is when we can see the needs of the person who is driving us crazy. Recently I reached out to a relative I have not had communication with for 10 years because I would always get triggered by the relative’s accusations, shaming, triangulation and rebukes. When I told a friend about this relative who was upsetting me my friend pointed out that I had said this relative needed security and safety, yet here I was rocking the boat. What if my relative really thought that I was going to tip the boat over and drown him? No wonder he was rebuking me so strongly. His rebukes weren’t about me so much as they were about his need for safety and stability. Suddenly the sharpness of his rebukes softened in my mind and I was able to see his heart through all the abrasiveness.
We both have good needs. I have a need for connection, boundaries, fairness, harmony. He has a need for safety, harmony and connection. All good needs. We just disagree about the facts and how to get our needs met. As long as I reply to him defensively he will not get his needs met and I will not get my needs met. I have to keep his needs in mind when talking to him, if I want him to calm down and connect with me. Hard work.