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Ex Jehovah's Witness Terminology - What is POMI?

POMI is an acronym commonly used in the ex Jehovah's Witness community that stands for Physically Out Mentally In. (Not to be confused with PIMO, which is explained here)

Typically, this term applies to Jehovah's Witnesses who have been expelled (disfellowshipped) from the religious community, so they are 'Physically out', and are experiencing mandated shunning from their friends and family. However, crucially they still align to the belief system, so are ', Mentally in', and therefore attend religious meetings, while still being shunned by all in attendance. (You can read more about the practice of shunning and it's effects here). POMI is arguably the most dangerous mental state for an ex Jehovah's Witness because aligning with the belief system, still believing everything they've been told, often means that these individuals live in constant fear of impending death at Armageddon, creating what some people term as a 'death row' attitude, just waiting to die, that can negatively impact mental health. In addition, the effect of being shunned often creates reductions in self-esteem as well as producing feelings of worthlessness, guilt and shame. The term POMI means that a disfellowshipped Jehovah's Witness still views themselves as a JW, but are being denied the opportunity to maintain a Jehovah's Witness way of life.

So here is where a person finds themselves if they are POMI - Unable to practice the religion that they still believe to be true, all the time believing that if they cannot re-enter the Jehovah's Witness organisation, the imminent arrival of Armageddon means they will lose their place in the paradise, where the rest of their JW family will be for all eternity.

As if that were not bad enough, the vulnerable psychological state in which this leaves a person is compounded by the fact that the very people from whom they need so much support are the very ones that are denying them any sort of love or attention. In fact, they are denying their existence and actively ignoring them. The ones that should be helping them are the ones causing a huge amount of the mental turmoil in the first place.

There are ways for a disfellowshipped person to get reinstated into the religion but they are likely to involve a lot of time spent at the back of the hall at meetings, again, being ignored and made to feel like an outsider. There will be interviews with elders where the person is expected to show sufficient remorse for their transgression in order to be deemed worthy of being allowed to return. This process can involve an awful lot of rejection, being told they are not sorry enough and to try again in a few months, which is not something that a psychologically fragile person will find easy to deal with.

Repeated failure to be accepted back into the congregation can easily lead to the struggling person having dark thoughts about their own worth and start viewing themselves extremely negatively. These thoughts can be made even worse if the person focuses on blaming themselves for where they are and the fact they are disfellowshipped. It's worth remembering that all of this is happening without the support of loved ones. The person is, in every sense of the word, alone.

For there to be anything close to a satisfactory outcome for this person, one of two things has to happen.

1 - That their mental state changes in such a way that they no longer believe in the Jehovah's Witness doctrine and that they begin to realise the best chance for a happy life is to stay outside of the organisation that has expelled them. This is highly unlikely but not impossible. Even if a person had such a large shift in their perception, they still have to live with the fact that they are being shunned by their family and friends and have to try to adjust to life outside of the organisation with the shunning as a constant reminder.


2 - That they can successfully get reinstated by their congregation elders and return to their Jehovah's Witness life. As mentioned earlier, this is not an easy process and the damage to a person's mental health in having to deal with those rejections, before finally being accepted, is hard to gauge.

As mentioned at the beginning, being POMI is possibly the most psychologically dangerous situation for any Jehovah's Witness to find themselves in. Imagine what it must be like for a person to maintain their absolute belief in the doctrine but, for whatever reason, continue to be rejected by the elders. To be told they are still not worthy of a return. This sort of catastrophic and hopeless situation can end tragically for some.

If you do find yourself in this position, please try to find the courage to reach out to someone. If absolutely everyone in your life is shunning you, perhaps consider contacting a professional to help talk through your feelings and try to figure out how to successfully negotiate this particular part of your life.

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