Formers–individuals who once held but now reject violent extremist views and work to grow beyond that past–are the frontline ambassadors helping guide others away from violence. Occasionally, self-identified formers break society’s trust. If society loses faith in the process, those who are exiting may lose the support they need. And that can upend a critical part of the process: welcoming back those who are willing to hold themselves accountable. To reduce this risk to the individual and the community of formers as a whole, Life After Hate emphasizes anonymity and self-care on the path to self-improvement.
When individuals defect, or, disengage from a life centered on ideologically-driven violence they are often called “formers.” But that’s not really accurate.
Many of the men and women we have worked with over the years didn’t become formers until years after they disengaged. That’s because it often takes that long to begin the hard work of deep self-reflection, and to begin building a new identity and life away from the movement.
It takes that long to understand why you would choose to dehumanize people, and in the process yourself.
It takes that long to begin healing from the damage and trauma you experienced, work to make amends and grow beyond your past.
This process is more than just difficult. It’s not always clear, and sometimes full of potential missteps. Above all else, it’s a lifelong commitment.
It’s with this understanding that formers enter a new phase in their lives. And they become—whether intentionally or not—examples for the rest of us. They show the world that change is always possible. That no one is forever bound to be the people they were. And that formers can build an identity beyond “former.”
People who support our work support this process of accountability and redemption for formers. They relate to it because the journey is familiar. In one way or another all people are former versions of themselves. And we all know that the change process is long, hard, and often lonely.
While we were founded in part to support individuals on this path to feel less alone, we go to great lengths to emphasize anonymity and protect their privacy. It’s also why we strongly advocate that they approach this work with trust and patience, taking the time needed to work on themselves before engaging publicly with the rest of the world.
Rushing out before any healing and self-work have truly begun is always a great risk. And that risk is shared by the individual, the community of formers, the people and organizations offering help, and society at large.
Ultimately we can not control when someone decides to go public with their story. We do not decide when they are ready and we do not decide if society is ready to welcome them back.
We can, however, be the standard in a field that is still evolving. These are standards built on decades of work that many formers put in when the only reward was the chance of a new life centered on compassion for themselves and for others.
If you want to talk about what you’re experiencing, our staff is here to listen.