article printed in the Jan/Feb 1994 issue of the Free Minds Journal
Love doesn't make the world go 'round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile. --Franklin P. Jones
Changing Old Patterns of Thought and Behavior
The longer the amount of time you spend in a group like the Watchtower, the more likely it is you will have certain cultic traits ingrained in your personality. The most common of these is the black-and-white mentality that oversimplifies the moral issues of everyday life. Additionally, a siege mentality is created by stressing the battle of light over darkness, of God over the devil, and truth versus error. Since the whole universe is watching to see what choices one makes each day, a great deal of pressure and guilt is put upon the cultist to make sure he/she doesn't disappoint God and his angels. They are watching to see what movies you go to, what clothes you will wear, and with whom you fellowship. The Watchtower occasionally prints guidelines for making right decisions in these areas. These guidelines are never phrased in terms of rules, but rather in terminology such as would it be wise to wear a beard... or some other phrase that pretends to show the choice one has in a moral matter, whereas in reality the phrase indicates a new unspoken rule for Witnesses to follow. Fear of punishment by God and/or the organization is used to enforce these unspoken rules.
Overcoming Mistrust and Suspicion
Cults will tolerate only so much loyalty within a family circle before they will attempt to divide the family. They do this by stressing loyalty to the organization at all costs. A family member who is caught smoking or reading pornography is to be reported to the elders if he does not come forward and admit his sins first. A JW woman who has a secret abortion is to be reported, even if the laws of the land are broken in order to make such information known. Since members of the local congregation can earn brownie points by reporting their straying brethren (i.e., they will get on the good side of the elders), the temptation is strong for weaker ones in the congregation to bolster their standing by turning others in. One might call it a cheap shot to the top!
It is precisely this attitude of mistrust and suspicion, as well as self-righteousness, that must be recognized in the old cult personality and overcome before you can move on. One must learn to trust others and to show grace to others who are as immature as you once were.
Making New Friends
It can be said that in a cult you have few peers. You are either a teacher or a student. Often you are both, always having someone more powerful than you to look up to, and someone lesser than you to train or correct. Equals among peers is rare, precisely because of this mistrust and suspicion. You dare not get too personal or reveal too much to another, for they are apt to use the information against you later. In a cult, relationships are best kept on a teacher/student level or on a superficial level as peers. For those leaving a cult, however, gaining new friends you can trust may be the most wonderful experience you can have in life. It can be quite difficult at first to learn to trust a new friend. You are gambling that they will not betray you or be insensitive to what you feel. You may find it easier to meet the friends of those already your friends, widening out the circle of friendships around you, while having the advantage of meeting others on the recommendation of those you already know (sort of like a trustworthy referral service).
Coping with Your Family
Leaving the Watchtower affects a woman's family in a wide variety of ways, depending on circumstances. One divorced woman who had been in the organization for two years and who was trying to raise her eight-year-old son in it confided in me one day that she was disassociating herself. Her eight-year-old son was in the car at the time she said this, and his eyes lit up. He started counting the reasons OUT LOUD as to why he was glad she was leaving! For her family, at least, it was good news. For some, leaving is a happy, positive event in their lives.
husband in agreement
If your husband/partner shares good communication with you in matters of religion and faith, chances are that you will discover foul play in the Watchtower simultaneously. Cults are perpetuated through ignorance and fear, and their methods are exposed through dialogue and documentation. If your mate will listen and weigh the evidence, the odds are overwhelming that he will see that the organization is not of God. That does not necessarily mean he will choose to leave the Watchtower, especially if he knows his Witness family will shun him. If this is the case that he chooses to remain in simply for family reasons, while you choose to disassociate, the marriage may not suffer much at all. In some cases, both husband and wife may decide to remain in the organization, in order to try and reach others and rescue them as well.
Other women are not so fortunate who decide to leave. If their husbands are JWs and refuse to look at any documentation that discredits the Watchtower, or they refuse to discuss issues that bring up doubts in their minds, their wives are in for much frustration and disappointment. If this is your situation, make sure you have non-JW friends to lean on, and start developing a new social life of your own. If you feel comfortable in going to a church, have others pray with you for the strength to start a new life, regardless of whether your husband remains by your side or not. If he does love you enough to remain by your side and treat you with dignity and respect, you will at least be strong enough to ride through the storm. If he chooses to treat you with the customary condescension that Witness men often have towards their wives, or turns emotionally cold on you, then you can at least escape with your own sense of individuality and self-respect in spite of the inevitable pain and separation that will ensue. If, on the other hand, you have no real individuality in your life, and your identity is entirely wrapped up in your husband, you will suffer devastating pain and much anger towards your mate. Try to prepare for this situation as early as possible if you are able to do so.
children receptive/ anger issues
Younger children (pre-teens) may not find it difficult to stop going to meetings if you explain what human organizations are all about, and how dishonesty and deception can creep in over time. See the article on the back cover to help you discuss the matter with your children.
For older children who have entered their teens, the Witness life is unusually harsh and makes them feel antisocial among their peers. This causes them to develop self-defense mechanisms such as attitudes of pride and elitism in order to survive these tender years. When you begin to communicate to them that mommy has made a mistake and that the Watchtower is really not of God at all, anger will usually surface sooner or later in your child. Why? The anger surfaces once the child realizes that all the rejection, mocking and pain he/she has suffered for this religion was all for nothing. All the things that he/she dreamed of doing but was not allowed to do now come to mind. Competition skills such as sports, scholastic contests, dancing/ beauty/cheerleader projects that one was only allowed to dream about (don't kid yourself, they DID dream about them!) now come back to their memory and haunt them. Anger towards you, the one who kept them from these things, may surface in the form of rebellion against you or against all forms of religion, especially Christianity.
How can you cope with this anger now directed against you? Above all, don't lose your own temper. Be vulnerable and sit down and share your own frustrations regarding the years you have lost with your child. Go over a list of the things you had to sacrifice over the years, and encourage them to do the same. Be attentive to what they have to say in this session, and ask them for your forgiveness in this matter. If you have never before had this kind of vulnerability in your communication with your child, now is the time to start. It may feel awkward and embarrassing at first, but it will go a long way towards relieving their anger, and you will likely end up with a much closer relationship with your child. Show your support in helping them start over as well, and arrange projects for both of you to do in order to accomplish this. Set a date and time to start working on it, don't leave it to be determined later.
They need to see your sincerity and that you really love them and are seeking their best interests.
children opposed/anger issues
In some cases the child will express anger and will rebel against you. Suddenly they will appear to side with the Watchtower and oppose your decision to leave. Anger towards you regarding the sacrifices they had to make over the years because of having to be a part of your religion can surface in the form of selfrighteousness and the desire to punish you for leaving the truth. For the first time in their life, the tables may be turned, and you are now seen as the weak Witness, and they suddenly see themselves as being spiritually strong. This is a kind of unexpected euphoria for them, and they will often play it out for all they can get out of it, which includes the satisfaction of punishing you and of feeling like they have a clean conscience before Jehovah for the first time in their lives. In reality, it is simply a form of manipulation that they find quite to their liking. Don't play along with the game! This is a test of your maturity, i.e., your ability to be vulnerable and sensitive while at the same time not allowing your child to manipulate that vulnerability. Discussing the subject of manipulation is often enough to disarm its use, as no one, not even children, like to see themselves as manipulators.
Whether your husband chooses to remain a Witness or not, inlaws who are also JWs will be a problem (unless you have had exceptional communication with them!). Inlaws are often quick to punish you for being weak in the faith and causing their dear Witness son so much grief and embarrassment. They may very well call you an apostate and shun you for your decision. Again, this is a form of manipulation; do not play their game. Explain to them that you have made an intelligent decision to leave the Watchtower BASED ON YOUR OWN INVESTIGATION, and mention that you have full documentation if they are interested in seeing it (NOT!). Mention that any attempts to punish you for leaving this religion will not be effective, as you have a clean conscience before God and man, and that it does not change your love for your husband (their son). They need to know that you are not weak in your constitution, and that you have spent much time thinking about these matters. If they sense hesitation or spiritual weakness on your part, they will lose any respect they have had for you.
As was highlighted in the Sep/Oct 1993 issue of the Free Minds Journal, cults often function like a drug in a person's life, helping them to escape from something undesirable in their life and to create a counterfeit form of self-esteem. However, this happens at the cost of their own natural personality, which becomes buried under the cult personality as if it was something to be ashamed of and kept hidden away. Along with the loss of the natural personality, one may experience the loss of one's natural chemistry of romance and sexuality. Though in most cults sexuality is permitted among married couples, there are often certain prohibitions in the bedroom. Not a few Jehovah's Witness' wives divorced their husbands because they refused to engage in oral sex during the seventies. Witness teenagers were not generally allowed to date non-Witnesses, and often married another Witness without ever really falling in love with them, just so they could have sex and move out of the house. I get many, many calls from former JW women who married the worst example of a man I ever met. Physical affection is often lacking among Jehovah's Witnesses in particular, since they stress the dangers of touching their brothers and sisters, and how it can lead to fornication.
Some wives did find a loving husband, only to watch them become an elder in the congregation and lose their natural kindness and taste for romance. They found out the hard way that an organization man is rather sterile emotionally.
Thinking of Dating?
As was mentioned earlier, Witnesses were told not to date non-Witnesses, and dates with other Witnesses were to be chaperoned so that the two were not left alone. After considering the selection of men available in the local Kingdom Halls, many JW women looked outside of the religion for emotional and sexual fulfillment, which brought a great deal of guilt upon them. Thus began a cycle in the lives of some JW women of getting involved with non-Witness men, feeling guilty, being manipulated and later abandoned by these men or abandoning them, only to fall into the same pit again. Sadly, they never experienced the JOYS of romance, due to the guilt and ostracism by their fellow Witnesses.
Are you too afraid to start over, now that years have gone by? Do you feel you are no longer in your prime, or that you are no longer desirable to most men?
My own observations tell me that a woman has to be downright UGLY not to be able to attract a good man that she could fall in love with. Now if she is ugly, there is plastic surgery that will cure facial abnormalities, large noses, wrinkles and warts. If you feel too fat, realize that a lot of men like robust wives (big, beautiful women), and such men are often quite attractive. Or, you can find a good weight loss program. Whatever it takes to make you feel good about yourself should be considered, as long as it is safe and worth the cost to you. Why let the Watchtower ruin the REST of your life??? (As if several years weren't enough?) Men often fall in love with a woman due to her character, i.e., her outgoing personality, her sense of humor, etc. more so than her youthfulness or numerical rating (a "10" is in the eyes of the beholder). If you look at yourself in a negative light, others will perceive that and see you the same way. If you begin to see yourself in a more positive light, you will shine and attract others to you. Women who have a good sense of spirituality and depth in their lives are all the more attractive, by the way!
Have You Remarried?
Many women who have left the Watchtower are now remarried to non-JW men. In most cases, they seem to be happy with their mates, but often find their mates cannot relate to their past experiences in the Watchtower, it seems so unreal to their husbands that anyone could get involved in such a strange cult. If you find yourself in this situation, it would be helpful for your husband to read Steve Hassan's Combatting Cult Mind Control or my own book, Understanding Mind Control Among Jehovah's Witnesses. The slow and deliberate process of cult indoctrination is very clever, and can overcome the most intelligent of persons under the right circumstances. Your husband will respect you much more if he understands the indoctrination process. Few things in life are more rewarding than your mate's respect for you and your intelligence. Get them to commit to reading these books!
Another good reason for your husband to read these books is if they will not tolerate your getting involved in another church, for fear of your getting sucked into another cult. What they don't realize is that if an ex-member of a cult is EDUCATED as to the cult dynamic and how it works, they are the LEAST LIKELY of anyone to get involved in a cult again. Such husbands need to appreciate that their wives may still have a heart for spiritual things, and that there are many good Christian churches out there that are not cultic or legalistic. You should not suffer being starved spiritually just because your husband does not trust you--the trust will come by mutual education regarding the cult phenomena. Fellowship with other ex-members is very helpful in overcoming lingering fears and any shyness at meeting new friends!
There are certain growth stages that I believe an ex-Witness must pass through in order to recover from the cult experience and enjoy their new life. The first is:
Stage 1: Discovery
By this I mean taking the time to examine the Watchtower from an outsider's point of view. Apply to it the same tests you would to any other religion that claims to be the only truth. Have they been honest with their followers? Do they claim to be the only channel God is using on earth? What makes them so special? Have they covered up or sugarcoated their past? Do they insist you must believe whatever they say, claiming authority over you without taking responsibility for being false prophets if they later change their teachings? Humility is a mark of God's servants, but arrogance is the mark of a false prophet. How do they gauge their own importance in the scheme of things? Do they keep their people uninformed out of fear of excommunicating or make them feel guilty for questioning the organization? Such are truly wolves in sheep's clothing.
There are a number of books and tapes available on our order form that come from a wide variety of sources, yet consistently expose the deceptive methods of the Watchtower. Take the time and do your research!
Stage 2: Decision
What will I do with this knowledge? How do I handle the anger I feel over being deceived all these years? What about my family, who still believes this nonsense? Can I ever set foot in a Kingdom Hall again, knowing what I know? What will I do with the REST of my life? Should I go to a church? These are hard decisions. It is helpful to talk to others who have been down the same road. Find some other ex-Witnesses to talk to regarding these matters. Locating a support group is even better.
Stage 3: Practical Planning
Since cults like the Watchtower act as drugs that help one escape from one's own inadequacies, it's high time to deal with those issues NOW. Starting a new career, pursuing a romantic relationship, becoming wellread, getting involved in sports or social events, or even getting involved in community or national affairs are some of the many possibilities that you should have considered years ago, were it not for your cult involvement. DO IT BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE! Don't be a bitter girl the rest of your life. You will be amazed when you look back after a couple of years and see the growth you have made, and the joy it brings you!
Some choose to get involved in helping others out of cults. While this is enjoyable and helps many, just make sure that you yourself are OVER the healing process, or at least most of it. If not, you will do better to stay away from the cult/religion scene for awhile. Get a life! Don't be known as an ex-JW to EVERYONE you know.
Stage 4: Matters of Faith
It should be appreciated that the Watchtower is a counterfeit of Christianity. Don't equate one with the other. Many ex-Witnesses find a church to fellowship with right away, and live happy lives knowing the Lord. But there are many others who are not ready for formal religion again, as there are too many triggers in the Bible that bring them back into the Witness mindset. If this fits you, perhaps you need time alone to pray and/or meditate, and take things at your own pace. Don't feel compelled to read the Bible. If you have a love for God, you will come around in time. If not, you can't force it, so why try? Experience life a little, and you will desire something deeper in time. Then you can pick up the Bible again some day and come to terms with Jesus on your own. If you believe that if there is a God, He will watch over me, that gives Him enough of an invitation to do His own hidden works in your life, without your being motivated to serve Him out of fear.Before you start attending any local churches, you should be educated as to what to watch out for that is harmful. I recommend reading Churches That Abuse by Ron Enroth for a start. Don't make the same mistake I did of getting involved in every eclectic movement that Christendom offers. You may get burned! Be conservative. Don't expect to find the same degree of comradery in the churches as you had in the Witnesses. Such a close degree of comradery is ONLY obtained by forced acceptance of certain beliefs and mass indoctrination (mind control). Instead, look for the love of others who are different than yourself, who do not insist you be just like them, but accept you as a sister anyway. Learn the meaning of grace, that God loved you and therefor you are now able to love others freely (John 1:16,17).
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