Exit Process, The

The Role Exiting Process

First Stage: First Doubts
Second Stage: Seeking Alternatives
Third Stage: The Turning Point
Fourth Stage: The Exit
How to Write Your Life Story


An ex-member of the Friends and Workers fellowship goes through various stages in the process of disengaging her/himself from a role and in re-establishing another role or identity for her/himself. Whether one is moving from childhood to adolescence, from employment to unemployment, from single life to marriage, or vice versa, each of these movements involves a disengagement from the values, norms, social supports and ways of thinking that are associated with the group or relationship one is leaving. 

Every ex has been involved in a process of disengagement and dis-identification, of withdrawing from the expectations and obligations associated with a role. This article is not to encourage you to leave the fellowship, but to describe the processes that occur when someone disengages from the group.

FIRST STAGE: First Doubts

The doubting and questioning process is usually a gradual one, preceded by an overall dissatisfaction in a general way; a vague discontent for which the cause is not clear. Eventually specific areas of discontent begin to come into focus. Circumstances that raise First Doubts usually fall into one of five categories:

1. Changes
2. Burnout
3. Disappointments (Loss of confidence)
4. Specific Events
5. Discrepancies and Contradictions

1. Changes encourage people to begin questioning whether they want to remain in a relationship or system that is significantly different from the one they first entered. Example: Change in how divorce and remarriage couples are now being handled/treated.

2. Burnout results when there is a discrepancy between your ideals/expectations and what actually occurs in practice and reality. In order to resolve the tension and deal with the situation, you attempt to make sense and reconcile the two. If the discrepancy between your anticipated ideals and reality is too great, over time, burnout may be experienced. Example: “It finally hit me that the workers’ chief priority wasn’t truth but maintaining the status quo. That there wasn’t room in ‘the truth’ for REAL truth.”

3. Disappointments happen when reality is extremely far from the expectation; when betrayal, immorality or lying is involved, lack of compassion, understanding. Example: Discovering the deception regarding the founder and origin (if you had been told the group was “from the beginning.”) Or discovering something shady/immoral about a worker’s past (sometimes this is a result of putting a worker on a pedestal, from which all humans will fall).

4. Specific Events: Some event focuses your feelings of dissatisfaction, brings them to the front and causes you to be very conscious of them. Example: “I lost all my respect for the workers when I asked them about William Irvine and they lied to me. I began to wonder what else do they teach that isn’t true? Can I trust them in any area? I felt betrayed.”

5. Discrepancies & Contradictions: Through certain circumstances, you begin to wonder about serious discrepancies between what should happen and what does happen. You come to realize that things are not what they are cracked up to be; not what they had appeared to be on the surface; not what they are claimed to be.

Sharing Doubts is how people test reality. Those experiencing doubts often wonder whether they have a one-sided biased view of the situation. They also frequently wonder, “Am I crazy?” Why doesn’t everyone else see this? A frequent concern is that they are being deceived by Satan. Significant Others usually either (1) reinforce the reality of the problem by being sympathetic or (2) minimize the significance of the problem and encourage the individual to put on some rose-colored glasses to view the situation. The process of doubting is usually longer for lone doubters than for individuals moving through the process with others. It is far easier to exit when you are not unique and you have the company of others.

Interpretation of Subsequent and Former Events: Often, subsequent events are interpreted in ways that support initial doubts. You review former events you swept under the rug which conflicted with your expectations. You reinterpret the reality of these past experiences. Over time, you pinpoint precisely what you find lacking or existing in your situation which is bothering you. In the past, the feelings these events evoked may have been denied. Now anger, hurt, betrayal may be seen/felt as being valid emotions warranted by the situation and not a “wrong spirit.” It is okay to feel the feelings we suppressed. Many experience the desire to share these hard experiences with others who are sympathetic and understanding.

Cuing Behavior: You begin taking control of your life in a few areas and deviate from the rules and norms with which you do not agree. Cuing or Curing?

Re-evaluation of Priorities: As you begin to view your belief system as man-made, imperfect, capable of error, in dire need of changes, you begin to realize that you have a choice. (1) Of accepting your role as it is, or (2) Of rejecting and abandoning your role. To go or to stay — that is the burning question.

Disillusion: Some feel absolutely sick with disappointment. Your faith in God may waver until you realize God didn’t let you down — it was men who betrayed you. Depression is common.

SECOND STAGE: Seeking Alternatives ~ Weighing the Pros and Cons

Serious Study: You begin to study the Bible like you’ve never studied before. And it opens up WONDERFULLY to you! Often, for the first time in your life, you find yourself actually enjoying and looking forward to your quiet time! You want to find out what the Bible says; what God wants; what you must do to be saved; do the teachings you believed all your life have Biblical support? You are determined to know what God has to say about everything for yourself. You’re out to prove or disprove your suspicion that “this way” may not be God’s only way. If you prove to yourself that is not, then your alternatives are infinite. Some begin to enjoy praise and worship music, listen to Christian radio programs, read Christian literature, attend Christian seminars, enjoy Christian fellowship with others outside.

Seeking viable alternatives: Your actions send out cues that you are discontent, dissatisfied or questioning. As you care less and less what others think, your cues become more pronounced and obvious. Others respond to your cues and make their own interpretation of your behavior. The disengagement process then becomes a mutual one. As you move away from the group, the group reads your cues and withdraws from you. In turn, your commitment to the group is reduced by the group pulling back.

Shifting Loyalties: You may be considering another group and your loyalties begin to shift to that group. You get irritated when insiders criticizes or harshly judge outsiders and their ways. You may go through a time when you feel like you don’t belong anywhere; neither here nor there, at loose ends, ungrounded, on the fence — that you are a stranger in two worlds; in a vacuum. Your future is unknown, yet you no longer belong to the past. For some, their allegiance to the group shifts to where it is totally centered on Christ.

Role Rehearsal: You begin to identify with the values, norms, attitudes and expectations held by outsiders who are in the group you are considering. You begin to anticipate and imagine how different your life might be among them — in the role you are considering. You rehearse the role you are contemplating. You dream about: “One of the first things I’ll do if/when I leave is…” You are pretty certain that your nagging suspicion is going to prove correct; that `this way’ may not be God’s only way, and you’re out to prove what is true.

Weighing the Pros and Cons: The value of your present situation is reappraised. The Costs of Leaving are compared with the Rewards in Staying. You compare your alternatives with the costs and rewards of continuing in your present situation. Some major drawbacks to leaving are fear of negative criticism, fear of rejection, fear of scorn and gossip, fear of being deceived, fear of being made to feel ashamed, reluctance to hurt Significant Others (spouse, siblings, parents, etc.). You investigate ways to combat, overcome, reduce or face your fears. You explore your expected losses. You eventually come to the point where the disadvantages outweigh the advantages; the costs of staying are too high for what you are getting and doing without; your losses aren’t worth the price you are paying.

Talking or Writing Stage: The “clear” button wasn’t automatically pushed when you found out the truth. You feel the overwhelming urge to verbalize your feelings and thoughts, past and present. To reinterpret past events that you shoved under the rug in light of your new viewpoint. Giving expression to your thoughts makes them come crystal clear. It is this way with all your inward feelings; expression gives them development. Writing or telling your thoughts and feelings helps you clear out your old thinking patterns, and aids tremendously in formulating new role standards.

THIRD STAGE: The Turning Point

Significant events which precede your taking a firm stand and making a definite decision to exit usually fall into one of five categories:

1. A specific, traumatic event.
2. The last straw — event following gradual build up; where a relatively minor event that took on symbolic significance doesn’t make sense.
3. Time-related factors (age, mid-life crisis).
4. Events that gave an excuses or justification for an exit.
5. Either/or situation where the decision not to leave would have serious consequences

Anger: may be directed towards oneself for being so gullible; towards the workers who lied to you and betrayed your trust in the name of “the truth!” Some feel anger towards their parents who forced them to conform to the group’s rules — this may dissolve when you realize your parents were also victims; victims of the system, of brainwashing, and therefore, not totally responsible for their actions. Some become angry at God. One said, “I felt ripped off, swindled, gypped, betrayed, tricked, cheated when I learned William Irvine started this fellowship. I had been intentionally deceived. My faith in “the Truth” and the workers came tumbling down like Humpty Dumpty and it would never be put together again; but my faith in God was restored and went spiraling up.”

Grief: for your impending losses; because you know you will be misunderstood, rejected, mistreated, pitied, mocked, spoken evil about; viewed as shallow, gullible, made an object of scorn and ridicule.

You may (1) leave without knowing what direction you will immediately take; or (2) exchange your present belief system for another belief system.

You may go through a period when you take one last, backward, wistful glance, knowing it is no longer viable. The question changes from “IF I leave…” to “WHEN I leave…”

FOURTH STAGE: The Exit ~ Adjusting to the Role of an “Ex”

Feeling Free: You contemplate methods of “going public” with your decision to divorce yourself from the group. The hardest thing you have ever done in your life may be to tell your decision to Significant Others. After all the confrontations with your Significant Others regarding your change of heart, you begin to experience a profound feeling of liberty and freedom — like having a tremendous weight lifted off your heart! Euphoria, relief, excitement, a marvelous sense of being released from bondage! Of being set free!

Changes: Some actually move to another locality and make a fresh start where no one knows their past; many WISH it were possible for them to move. Outside friendships already in place are a tremendous help in bridging the transition. Changes occur in friendships. The quality of some relationships change; some for the better while others degenerate or disappear. Some immediately make changes in appearance, possessions, hairstyle, activities, while for other, the process is gradual. Some change to another Bible version.

Happy Stage: You go through high periods where you are on top of the world. You are happy, happy as can be! If only you’d known, you would have made the decision to exit a long time ago! You may still occasionally be plagued by feelings of guilt, fear, nightmares, depression, flashbacks or panic attacks. But your joy overrides them and no one can take it from you!

Excess Baggage: As an ex, you carry excess baggage you have not yet jettisoned from the role you exited; a hangover-identity. Gradually this is examined and some of it discarded. There are six areas of struggle in trying to shake off and de-emphasize the previous identity after exiting:

1. Presentation of Self
2. Reactions of Others
3. Intimacies with the Opposite Sex
4. Shifting Friendships
5. Relating to group members and stereotyped behavior assigned to you.
6. Role Residual

Stages in Revealing your “Ex” Status:

1. At first, you make sure people know immediately who you used to be.
2. Later, you hide your previous identity.
3. Eventually, your “ex” status rarely comes up in conversation. It is something you used to be that has become incorporated in who you are now. *

While some adjust and go on with their life, there is other group who feel a strong urge to reach out and help others in the group who are miserable and hurting like they once were. Helping others out is viewed by these individuals as “doing unto others what they wish had been done unto them.” For some, helping others becomes a priority for a certain time period, for others, the life mission or ministry. Some write books, some write letters, some reach out and touch by telephone, some do mailings, some feel called to confront the workers. Many express the feeling of being “driven” to do what they do.

By Cherie Kropp

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