On August 14, 2018, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General released an 884-page report that details the results of a comprehensive investigation on the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal within that state.
There was a time when I believed I would never die. I literally thought that contrary to the experience of every human in history, I would never have to experience a physical death. That’s not the same as dying and then waking up in Heaven. It truly meant that my human body would never die and I would live forever. That belief affected every decision I made and every course I took in life.
Why did I believe that? How could I possibly accept such an outlandish proposition? Because that’s what I was told was “the Truth” from the time I was a small child and then well into my adult years. That’s the power of information control. It convinced me that something so clearly illogical and unrealistic was absolutely true.
When I look at examples in today’s world of how information is spread and what people believe, I see that my experience (although more extreme) is not that uncommon. We all are bombarded every day with news that is designed to convince us what to believe.
It now seems that the days of “unbiased media” are over. We have to be more selective about what we choose to take in, digest, and accept as “truth.” We will eventually become what we believe and who we are.
This bed of belief is crucial. It determines how our decisions in life are made and what we choose to pursue, fight for and even die for. Does that mean there is an “absolute truth” that we are meant to find? Is there really just one path that everyone must follow?
Personally, I don’t think so. “Absolute truth” is something that can be verified without question. “Gravity” and “time” are absolute truths, even though they can’t be adequately explained. Outside of science, our world is a blank canvas and we are free to paint it with whatever colors we choose. We each select our relative truths.
If we find that a “relative truth” doesn’t work for us anymore, we have the power to change it. That’s what many of us chose to do when we left the Jehovah’s Witness organization. The “painting” we were creating made no sense to us anymore and so, we started a new project. Instead of using only the colors that were being handed to us by others, we found the “shades of truth” that appealed to us and started using them.
Now, we begin our own “masterpiece.” We keep an eye on our own canvas, without feeling the need to tell our fellow artists how they need to work on their creations. We create and live our lives as we choose. What a great pursuit!
Every day I get to see the artistic works of life that the rest of humankind creates. I can see beauty in what others share and am moved. I’ve met and learned from some truly great “life-artists” and look forward to seeing what others choose to do with their life-canvases.
Yes, I used to believe I would never die. But now I believe that I won’t be here forever – and yet I have a chance to leave something behind for others to build on. In that way, maybe I’ll exist in some form beyond my death. Even if the memories of me die once I’m gone, I still had a chance to be here and contribute to this great collection of life. That freedom is something that I cherish and appreciate each day I am alive.
“Why am I not better yet? Why can’t I just get over this?”
If, after leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses, you find yourself asking yourself this type of question, you are not alone. Those of us who have left that religion must first acknowledge is that we were members of a high control group, and as such, we are “survivors of trauma.” It may be true that some of us may not have suffered physical injuries. And yet the mental, emotional, and spiritual abuse we suffered still qualifies our traumatic experiences as being “life-altering.”
How do trauma survivors keep going? What enables someone who has been through devastating events find ways to move forward and even thrive?
I found some interesting and helpful tips at https://www.helpguide.org/home-pages/ptsd-trauma.htm. While not everything in that article will apply to former Jehovah’s Witnesses, there are some very good points to keep in mind as you attempt your own recovery.
For instance, I thought these were good points to consider:
- People react in different ways to traumatic events. There are not a “right” or “wrong” ways to respond. Don’t tell yourself (or anyone else) what you should be thinking, feeling, or doing.
- Avoid obsessively reliving the traumatic event. Repetitious thinking or viewing horrific images over and over can overwhelm your nervous system, making it harder to think clearly.
- Ignoring your feelings will slow recovery. It may seem better in the moment to avoid experiencing your emotions, but they exist whether you’re paying attention to them or not. Even intense feelings will pass if you simply allow yourself to feel what you feel.
In addition to these points, these reminders on how to deal with painful emotions might be helpful:
- Give yourself time to heal and to mourn any losses you’ve experienced.
- Don’t try to force the healing process.
- Be patient with the pace of recovery.
- Be prepared for difficult and volatile emotions.
- Allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling without judgment or guilt.
- Learn to reconnect with uncomfortable emotions without becoming overwhelmed.
The main point of this article is that we need to accept that we have work to do – but, we can get through it. Having communities and contacts with others that have been through the same trauma can be very helpful and the keys to feeling empowered and in control of your own life.
Remember that your choices determine who you are and how much enjoyment you can get out of life. We can’t judge others if they need to process things differently. We can try to work together, help each other out, and become part of the support system that we all need.
WHAT IS IT?
“It is what it is.”
This is the response I got from two Jehovah’s Witness friends when I started talking about how disappointing it was to have not reached the paradise yet. My point was to discuss how we had never planned on getting older in this system. But my comment was immediately shot down. In unison, both the husband and wife both declared, “It is what it is.”
The point of their response was to quell my “complaining spirit.” I’ve often wondered since that day whether they had heard that sentiment in a talk – or if this was just a phrase they came up with on their own. Either way, their message was clear: No negative talk was allowed about the fact that we were well past the age we’d planned on being in “this system.”
I think many JWs are beginning to realize the massive implications that belief has had on their lives. They can choose to disconnect and lose all their friends and family but still live a normal life. Or they can shut their eyes and declare, “It is what it is” and accept their fate of living an unfulfilled life trapped in a cultish religion.
That was another moment that helped me wake up. I knew that these two had no tolerance for any thoughts outside of the Jehovah’s Witness guidelines. They expected me to trudge through life with them until we were “delivered at Armageddon,” whether that event was real or not.
I’ve chosen to move on, live a real life now, and “take the hit” of losing everyone I care about. It’s not ideal and there are moments of self-doubt and pain, but, this is now my life. I may never own a tiger or ride on the back of an elephant. But now I am living the way I choose.
I’ve accepted that “It is what it is.”
For some reason, I remembered something last night that used to seem very normal to me but now smacks of cult indoctrination.
In the past, it was fairly routine to have “resolutions” presented to the audiences at Jehovah’s Witnesses’ summer conventions. These were usually pretty generic in nature and often included the following points:
- We submit to Jehovah as God
- We submit to Jesus as King
- We submit to the “faithful and discreet slave” under the direction of Jesus
- We reject all aspects of Satan’s world:
d. The Spirit of the World
- We will work to keep the organization clean
- We will do everything in our power to preach
There were probably other items. Some conventions included items with specific wording that would highlight the theme selected that year. But, these points were the bedrock of almost every resolution.
I remember the feeling as each point was read to the crowd. The speaker would wait after each one for the audience to respond with “AYE!” The audience would grow louder and more determined every time they shouted out their joint response. By the end of the resolution speeches, the crowd experienced feelings of unity, pride, and “belonging” that were overwhelming.
Resolutions were usually adopted at the end of the day so that everyone would leave on a high note. Afterward, the audience seemed pumped up and solid in their dedication and commitment to what they had heard that day.
Having looked at other religions since then, and especially the way a cult works, this event smacks of mind control at its highest level. The pressure to respond positively and loudly was more than could be resisted. The items in the resolution were repetitive and designed to ingrain that group way of thinking even deeper.
The points in the resolutions were specifically created to reaffirm each person’s dedication to the organization. They would potentially get individuals to make changes to do or give even more time and money to support the organization. The crowd was whipped into a fervor, squelching any room for doubt among the attendees.
I recall conversations after these events that were almost always centered around how we all needed “to simplify and sacrifice” even more than we were and how we needed to refocus our attention on Kingdom interests.
Now, it reminds me of gatherings of highly emotional religions, cults, or political rallies. The manipulation techniques are sickening when considered in context.
I am grateful that this type of intellectual and emotional control is now no longer part of my life.
LETTING THE PAST GO
How can the past be put into context? What can help us avoid looking at the past as a definition of a person’s worth for either ourselves or others?
I’ve struggled with this issue and finally found a way to mentally categorize things, making it easier to put everything in perspective.
I envision each person to be like a flower. They are beautiful, fragrant and temporary. They should be appreciated and valued while they are here, just as they are. However, the growth of a flower isn’t always a pretty thing.
Flowers are fed by a variety of things from the time they are planted. Water, sunshine, and food all contribute to the flower’s blossoms. But other less noble things also pitch in. Fertilizer, compost, rotting vegetation, and even manure are also responsible for helping things along.
However, when you smell a flower’s fragrance, do you picture the manure that fed it? Do you see the rotting vegetation involved as you contemplate its petals?
Probably not. Instead, you see the current vision of its beauty and you smell its sweet aroma. The flower’s current state is all that you see. Everything that helped it become what it is now has been converted and contributes to its beauty.
I think we’re like this too. We have a past that includes wonderful events and noble acts. It likely also has darker parts that are less than desirable. These things fed our character and created the “flower” of our current person. When we consider the person alone, we can appreciate the beauty that has resulted. We don’t really need to remember or dwell on the “lesser” events that have also helped the person grow into what they are today.
Thinking of past events in this light has helped me see the value of everything that happens to a person. There are things I hate remembering about my past, certain actions or times when I acted less than honorably or things were done to me. I see the same thing in other people’s past too. But, those things shaped the individual that I now love and value.
The past is just food for the present. It builds us and crafts us into who we are now. Regardless of feelings about specific events, the past has value. Put into this context, I am finding ways of letting the past go and appreciating what is right in front of me.
THE BITE MODEL and WATCHTOWER ARTICLES
One of the key things that helped me to wake up was definitively being able to identify Jehovah’s Witnesses as a cult. I remember eating with a friend that wasn’t a JW and explaining to him that there seemed to be many marks that were “cult-like” in the JW religion. He looked at me squarely in the eye and said, “Then it is a cult!”
That was a thunderclap moment for me. I immediately teared up and felt a tremendous sense of shame, loss, and fear. I knew at that point that my life would never be the same.
The biggest help in coming to this realization for me was the BITE model. Just being able to tick off four boxes as identifiers of cults was tremendously useful to me. The thing about this model is that it’s so easy to remember because of the acronym (Behavior, Information, Thoughts and Emotions). More importantly, it’s so easy to find printed information from the Watchtower publications that substantiate the fact that it really is “a cult.”
I’ve chosen one article, more or less at random. Notice how easy it is to pull out sentences that fit each category of the model. This is from The Watchtower – Simplified Study Edition of May 2013 in an article called “Are You ‘Zealous for Fine Works’?”
“We need to try to do more in the ministry because we are very close to the end.”
“As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we are the only people who have that special honor. God and Christ direct our work to help people to ‘become reconciled to God,’ that is, to become His friends.”
Why do you want to stay zealous for fine works? Perhaps it is because you know that if you are zealous for the ministry and have good conduct, you will honor Jehovah and help others to be saved.
We are “zealous for fine works,” that is, we love what we do for Jehovah and do the best we can to please him.
Another reason for our zeal in preaching and our good conduct is that we truly want to show our love for God and for others. If we are zealous for fine works, we will have real joy and satisfaction now.
If you are ever in a situation where you are trying to prove to an active Jehovah’s Witness that the organization is a cult look for key phrases in the literature that fit this model.
Behavior – “We should do…” “We need to be…” We are always…”
Information – “We are the only…” “We should read…” We should avoid…”
Thought – “We are united in thought…” “We believe…”
Emotion – “Don’t we feel…” “We want to show by our attitude…” “Our hearts feel…”
These and trigger phrases like this are easy to find in the literature. If someone can accept the BITE model as a differentiator in cults, it will be a simple process to show them the proof from their own words. Of course, this all assumes that the person you are talking to is open-minded enough to accept this definition of a cult over the one the Watchtower has always used, namely “a group that follows a human leader.”
But, if we get them talking about this subject, we might be able to use this kind of reasoning to wake them up. I know that it worked in my case.
MY FAVORITE EMMET FOX QUOTE
This quote is from the early part of the 20th century, well before Jehovah’s Witnesses became the global structure they are today. It’s from Emmet Fox and it describes exactly what has happened to this organization.
“The great peril to true religion has always been the building up of vested interests in wealthy organizations, or in the exploitation by individuals of their own personalities. An organized church is always in danger of developing into an “industry” which has to provide a living for numerous officials. When this happens the rank and file are sure to be severely discouraged from seeking spiritual things for themselves at first hand. A tradition of “loyalty” to the organization is built up as a means of self protection. Not loyalty to Truth, or to your own soul, be it remarked, but to the ecclesiastical machine. Thus the means becomes an end in itself and spiritual power then fades out. Rash promises and vague claims take the place of real verifiable demonstrations.”
BETTER OUT HERE
It’s better out here. That’s about all I can say regarding the change from being in the organization to living a normal life. As people I’ve known all my life, including my closest family, disconnect from me, I know they are more miserable about their decision than I am. I have a whole new group of friends and adopted family that show me unconditional love. They don’t expect the worst from me. They don’t judge me. They actually listen to opinions that differ from theirs without condemning me. It’s an amazing experience.
I remember being fully involved in the organization and the feelings that would come up when someone decided to leave. It was worse than a death because there was very little expectation of ever seeing that person again. They were condemned, an anathema. There was real mourning for that person and profound sadness that they had turned from “the truth.”
Now, being on the other side of that experience, I know that those that left were actually heading for a better, more meaningful life. It’s sad how much current members torment themselves because of what they think we’re going through. It’s even sadder that they continue to condemn and hurt us because we can’t stand with them anymore.
The bright side of all of this is that there’s a whole world out there to explore. Yes, we’ve lost some very important people in our life, for now. We’ve suffered blows because of their actions and words. But, we actually get to live life for real now. We can be who we want, believe what we want and see things as they really are.
So, if you’ve lost people because of leaving the Jehovah’s Witness organization, know that you’re not alone. But, also know that you have more in front of you than behind you. The situation may be hard at times. But just remember: It’s better out here.
THE DRAMA TRIANGLE
In a “high control” group, there are certain patterns that can be expected and easily predicted. The goal of total dominance involving and controlling the thoughts and actions of everyone in a group creates a cycle known to mental health professionals as “the Drama Triangle.” The use of the word “drama” in this context is not surprising to anyone who has ever been involved with an organization like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Families, local congregations, and the entire structure of that kind of a religion are rife with drama.
This psychological model is called a “triangle” because there are three main types of people involved:
A Victim, the Rescuer, and the Persecutor. Each person in this scenario plays a role that feeds the needs and actions of the others involved. The whole relationship between these “actors” can evolve into a vicious, never-ending cycle with tragic results.
The Victim – This is a person who imagines that “the world is out to get them.” They act and consider themselves powerless in the face of any and all obstacles and trials. Instead of solving problems for themselves, they look for someone to take pity on them and to either figure out and fix their problem(s) or rescue them somehow. This individual’s signature characteristics are feelings and complaints of being oppressed, helpless, hopeless, ashamed and indecisive. They seem unable resolve their own problems, enjoy any pleasures in life, or achieve insight as to the reality of their situation.
The Rescuer – This person’s purpose in life is to “save others.” They thrive in situations that call for them to be the “hero” or “savior.” But this isn’t necessarily an entirely altruistic endeavor on their part. By focusing on other people’s problems, they are able to avoid fixing their own personal issues and shortcomings. They are skillful at getting involved in situations that are not really any of their concern.
The Persecutor – This person is a master at making others feel guilty, inadequate and inferior. Through their words and actions, they convey the message that others don’t and won’t measure up to expectations. They need someone to control by convincing a person that they are somehow at fault or guilty for some deed, real or imagined and will never be quite right. They will either protect or persecute others and often come across as authoritative, rigid and superior.
All of these roles are “fluid,” meaning that a single individual can adapt to whatever the circumstances might call for. They may start as a protector of a victim and later switch to being a prosecutor or persecutor. They may become “a rescuer,” trying to save others from themselves. At any rate, this is an unhealthy dynamic that perpetuates itself through the interactions of each of these characters.
Imagine the following scenario:
PUBLISHER (Victim): “I feel so bad for not doing enough in the ministry.”
ELDER (Rescuer): “I understand. We all want to do as much as possible for Jehovah. But, you are doing the best you can in your circumstances.”
PIONEER (Coach): You know, if you would adjust your schedule and make a few more sacrifices, you could become my pioneer partner. We could go out in the ministry all the time together. All it would take is you making a few changes to your way of life.
ELDER (Persecutor): Well, Sister Pioneer, you might be able to do a bit more too. Have you thought about selling your home and moving to where the need is greater? You would then have the circumstances to expand your ministry.
PIONEER (Victim): I don’t know if I can do that right now. But, I see what you’re saying. Maybe I have been getting too comfortable in my routine.
PUBLISHER (Rescuer): But, Sister Pioneer, you really are doing so much for the congregation now. You’re a great example to the younger ones.
ELDER (Victim): That’s true. I think I probably need to do more for the kids in our congregation.
PUBLISHER (Persecutor): I agree. Actually, I think all of the elders need to be reaching out and working with the young ones more than they do.
PIONEER (Rescuer): But, they’re all so busy. It seems like you are all doing everything you can for them.
In one brief conversation, the roles can switch around and become totally reversed. All parties are unconsciously contributing to the drama triangle. None of them will leave this conversation feeling better about themselves or their life choices.
The “drama triangle” is the most common social dynamic in the Jehovah’s Witness organization. Almost everyone will fit into one of these roles at every level of the Organization.
The problem is that we become so used to this environment that we might continue to play these roles, even after leaving the organization. We may feel exploited and oppressed by the organization (victim). We may feel responsible for getting others to leave the organization (rescuer) or constantly complain and criticize the organization and those still in it (persecutor).
Obviously, we all have different stages in our personal recovery and those feelings aren’t necessarily unhealthy. We may even feel the need to act in one of these roles for a while. But, when we get stuck in that role, even years after leaving the Organization, its effects can hinder us from emotional development and healing.
So, what’s the answer? How can we avoid being trapped into these categories that we’ve become so used to?
The “key” is self-empowerment and developing our own life goals. We be able to break out of the “drama triangle” by learning to be self-sufficient, independent, and not “victimized.” We need to allow others to grow at their own pace – not by continually “rescuing” them. We can help by being satisfied with the efforts of others and recognizing their right to decide on a life course for themselves – and not “persecuting them” for their decisions.
When we focus on our own lives and personal choices, we will finally break free from this “drama triangle” of trying to fill the roles of a “victim,” a “rescuer,” or a “persecutor.”
TV station WGAL in Pennsylvania has been closely following the ongoing legal actions against Jehovah’s Witnesses in connection with their handling of child abuse cases. Becca Hendrickson, a staff and field reporter for the station, recently interviewed Barbara to discuss Watchtower’s policies that cover up and hide criminal activity within their Kingdom Halls.
For many young male Jehovah’s Witnesses, the thrills and joy of reaching “manhood” are tempered by the possibility of serving some time in a Federal prison. Why? Because they face the possibility (especially when there are wars going on) that they will be called up for military service.
NEWSWEEK’s Jason Lemon reported on June 19, 2018, that Russia’s response to Washington that the U.S. government has “no moral right” to demand that Russia release religious or political prisoners – including detained Jehovah’s Witnesses. The U.S. State Department responded by issuing a statement calling on Russia to release more than 150 prisoners being held for “religious or political reasons.”
Before my transfer from the Engineering Department to the Writing Department in 1989, the architect designing a 30-story staff residence building (that was about to be built near the four Watchtower printery buildings) mentioned to me his need for a professional cost analysis system to be put into place for future building projects. He designed the buildings but the Accounting Department paid the bills.