“In light of current events. I encourage everyone to take a few minutes and check in with our community support systems. This four-part series of articles was written before the current global pandemic, but for many people this may be an appropriate season for private reflection and may help us mitigate and recognize mixed feelings we may be having about changing our daily routines and interactions. Maybe this is the time to re-evaluate social systems in which we wish to pour ourselves into when we are free to be out in the world again.”
(Originally attributed to MsInTheBiz.com and adapted for the book “Movie Baking”)
Is it time to leave my community?
Community saves lives.
But what happens when your time in that community is over?
This is why I shared with you that I grew up in a church in the first part of this community series. MANY people come and go in a 20 year (average) lifespan of a church group. Some leave on good terms and some FRACTURE the entire group and leave rubble in their wake for years or even decades to come. I have seen both types SO many times that I feel that I can share some insight on how to leave on good terms.
“It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.”– William Blake, poet
I know people in my life that have been so hurt by a past community that the very mention of the people/place/time/anything around that group hurts like a knife even years later. Hurt feelings can last a lifetime. Some triggers can send a recovering member into a life-altering depression for weeks at a time. No one saves a life like a community and no cut is deeper than that which comes from a community. Which is why some people refuse to engage again until they have recovered and found closure in past painful fractures. I have all kinds of horrible knotty feelings in my stomach when I think on painful past community fractures. Tears stream down my cheeks as I type this just as I’m sure some of you are equally pained to recall these traumas.
“Real loss is only possible when you love something more than you love yourself.”– Sean, Good Will Hunting
Let’s move on to the next step. Maybe we can find some closure in knowing how things should be and can be done better.
You must begin the process, it is a process
Typical reasons to leave a community:
- Idealogical issues with leadership direction
- Fracturing of the community already in process and hurt feelings
- Feelings of rejection from other members of the community
- Moving on in life, changes in your life not stemming from the community itself
How to start: COMMUNICATE (meet, email, call, or text)
- Your email/text may be read allowed to many people, forwarded to others, used as ammo for other purposes, or just reread over and over as the recipient processes your thoughts, so use your words wisely and save your deeper issues for in-person conversations that allow for tone control.
- “I’m having an ideological issue with… I’d like to talk with someone about resolving, discussing, or finding closure on this issue. When are you available to talk or meet in person?”
- “I’m having a hard time with the fracturing /contentious feelings /unhealthy competition /feeling excluded /forming of unwelcome cliches /fighting with… I’d like to talk with someone about resolving, discussing, or finding closure on this issue. When are you available to talk or meet in person?”
- “I don’t feel welcome here… I’d like to talk with someone about resolving, discussing, or finding closure on this issue. When are you available to talk or meet in person?”
- “I’m approaching a life change, I’m moving to… I’d like to talk with someone about the best way to say goodbye without hurt feelings and keeping the community love we’ve garnered all these years. When are you available to talk or meet in person?”
How NOT to start (or finish):
- Ghosting, disappearing from community life and dropping all communication/responses
- Goodbye email ‘telling everyone off” when you’re already gone
- Assuming you understand exactly what is going on in everyone else’s lives and becoming resentful until you erupt and storm out
- Ignoring the ‘goodbye’ aspect and intentionally drifting away on your own and then consequently blaming them for not noticing
- Taking 15 people with you and forming your own ‘community’ group without telling the original group gathering leadership or peers the reasons you are forming your own group
“If I find a favorite restaurant of mine has gone through changes that I don’t like then I simply stop giving them my money and they stop giving me their food. However, communities are made up of a network of relationships and so if I am considering ending my participation in that network I feel I have a greater responsibility than to simply stop showing up. Long before I have made the decision to exit I feel I have a responsibility to share my discontent with the community.”– Kevin Miller, Community Pastor
Yeah, Feelings will get hurt
“All conflict can be traced back to someone’s feelings getting hurt, don’t you think?”– Liane, Big Little Lies
Even if you make a decision to communicate and open the discussion, what if the community or leadership or close friend handles your exit intentions defensively?
Yes, there are times where you and your college roommate will fight about EVERYTHING and air years of dirty laundry in order to subconsciously make moving out easier. Yes, there are times when you will be immediately cut out of online groups, blocked, and trash-talked to peers the moment you begin the exiting process. Yes, your peers and/or leadership may act out, question your decisions, defend themselves against your accusations, and make you feel like worthless, unwelcome, crapola just for talking out issues.
“It’s a lot easier to be angry at someone than it is to tell them you’re hurt.”– Tom Gates, author
Is this indicative of why you are leaving anyway? Then let it roll off of you, send them your love and sincere thanks for the good times, and as the fabulous Michelle Obama says:
“When they go low, We go high.”
Because your email/text/words will be reviewed over and over by many people and if they ring true, then your words will remain to empower the people still struggling IN that community. Take the high road.
“You wanna hurt me? Go right ahead if it makes you feel any better. I’m an easy target. Yeah, you’re right, I talk too much. I also listen too much. I could be a cold-hearted cynic like you… but I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings. Well, you think what you want about me; I’m not changing. I like… I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. ‘Cause I’m the real article. What you see is what you get.”– Del, Planes, Trains and Automobiles
If they act out and attack you and it is not indicative of the reason you are leaving said community, know that they are allowed to feel hurt, rejected, and process their grief. They are allowed to take time and feel awful and maybe project all their bad feelings onto you. They are allowed to misbehave. Just let it roll off of you and do not respond in kind. Do not fall victim to the same exact reaction. Take it slow. Give them grace and equity to grieve and trust that time will make things right.
“I know…and I love you. But I don’t think we love each other in the same way. And…I think keeping you near me, would destroy me.”― S.C. Stephens, author of Thoughtless
Not to be too paranoid, buuuuut I was a middle school-aged girl once. I was experiencing a community fracture and some girls confronted me and let me know they didn’t want to be my friend anymore. It was a traumatic experience and they secretly recorded our intervention of sorts and listened to it repeatedly and shared it with our peers in an attempt to embarrass and shame me. Every young person has horror stories, but the point is that it is easier to consider pretty disgusting actions such as these as everyone has a voice memo app on their phones now. Be aware of what you say, that’s all. And DO NOT record anyone without their consent, it is illegal in many states (unless you feel unsafe, are being illegally extorted, or find dangerous illegal activity that needs to be exposed – contact your local authorities for support and instructions before contact).
In summary, leaving or fracturing a community may feel like a violent act even when it isn’t. Once feelings are settled and grieving takes place, find a way to bring closure to your split.
“It’s amazing, Molly. The love inside, you take it with you.”– Sam, Ghost
But do you actually want to leave?
Occasionally you’ll need to step away from an organization that fosters community because there are issues that need to be resolved that can actually be resolved. Communicate that you are stepping away for a time until these issues can be resolved. Cancel culture does not allow for the growing pains of life that are completely messy, ugly, oppressive, and sometimes necessary. Severing ties and suspending involvement are two different things.
“As issues come between us, we must examine the importance of the “issue” versus the importance of the relationship. Unless you are facing a moral, ethical or destructive/abusive issue – choose carefully. Drawing an emotional “line in the sand” makes this issue more important than the relationship – and irreparable damage is often the result.”– Darleen Hampson, Educator and Leadership Development Workshop Trainer
Consider what you really want in communication with your community. Asking abusers to step away can actually result in a positive change for everyone without you and many others leaving the community. But some people with toxic habits (that are not abusers) may be welcomed back if there are changes and justice and reform within the community. Only you can decide what is best and be flexible to change and hearing out ways that justice can be served.
“We were on a break.”– Ross, Friends
No matter why you ultimately leave, it is OK to leave
In a church, the pastor often brings a family up to the front, encourages them to announce their change, and leads the community in a blessing over their departure. I’ve seen this ritual not only take place concerning the people moving far away, but also for the people starting their own seemingly competitive and similar ministry just around the corner. In my lifetime of positive and affirming churches, I have seen people leave with blessings for every reason under the sun. If no one has told you yet, your reason is good enough and you deserve to leave without yucky feelings following you for years. You deserve to maintain decades long relationships with people still participating in your former community. You can still belong and not be there and we can all handle that. I’ve seen it happen before and it can happen for you.
“What a beautiful place…to be with friends.”– Dobby, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1