Have you ever heard those words or a variation of them? I sure have. We’ve all seen it, a former Jehovah’s Witness, who may have left the Watchtower Organization many years earlier, still angry, still upset, and still lost. Why does it take a Jehovah’s Witness so long to recover? Why can’t they “just get over it”?
Why Does It Take a Jehovah’s Witnesses So Long to Recover?
If you’ve never been a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or any other “high control group” commonly known as a cult, you may never understand it. The level of indoctrination, mind control, and abuse is difficult to comprehend for someone who has never experienced it.
You may wonder, “How could anyone be so stupid as to join a cult”. No one joins a cult, they join a political movement, a religion, or a cause. No one who is in a cult knows they are in a cult. It’s not a matter of smart vs. stupid. It’s a matter of deception and becoming indoctrinated step by step without realizing it. It is all carefully orchestrated by the Watchtower Organization, which trains its members, the rank and file Jehovah’s Witness, to carefully recruit new members. They look for the young and innocent, they look for those who don’t know their Bible well, and they especially look for the vulnerable. Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught to alter their “presentation” to appeal to the person they are speaking to. They are trained to compliment the people they speak to, anything to stroke the ego of the listener. Today this may even include deception.
A cult uses what Steven Hassan calls the B.I.T.E. model, behavior control, information control, thought control, and emotion control. He’s written a book on this if you’re interested in learning more about it entitled “Combatting Cult Mind Control.” The point is, the Watchtower controls its’ members completely, including their emotions and thoughts. The mind stops being inquisitive, no critical thinking is allowed, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses become innocent and as gullible as children. They literally believe anything the Watchtower says. So, when the Watchtower contradicts itself, and the reason given is “new light” based on the erroneous interpretation of Proverbs 8, virtually every Jehovah’s Witness on the planet will simply accept it, all eight million of them, without question.
Once a Jehovah’s Witness wakes up to the deception of the Watchtower, they may find themselves in “no man’s land”. They may have lost all their family and friends; they may have lost their faith as well. If they haven’t lost their faith, they quickly realize they don’t really fit in anywhere. Christians believe in the Trinity, the Cross, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and hell. A Jehovah’s Witness doesn’t believe any of those things, and upon leaving the Watchtower Organization, he or she knows they don’t agree with Christianity and most can’t conceive of going to a church. That’s where I was, when I left the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1992. Where did I go? Nowhere. For twenty-two years I was alone. Just me, the Bible, and God. Talk about loneliness and isolation. Now while spending some time alone with the Lord is beneficial, spending that much time isolated is not good. It actually stunted my spiritual growth. I don’t recommend it.
Recovery from the cult can be compared to the five stages of grief, which are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Just like you can’t tell someone who is grieving over the loss of a loved one to just “get over it”, so too with a former cult member. They may have lost family and friends, they’ve certainly lost their support system, their social system, and their form of worship. Like a rowboat in the middle of the ocean, they are lost, alone and frightened. The shock is like having the rug pulled out from under you, because the lifestyle of a Jehovah’s Witness revolves around the cult. Going to meetings, going out in field service and when going to a “gathering”, the talk is almost always about one or the other. It’s not simply going to church on Sunday, rather, it’s a way of life. And to add to this problem, they may have been born into the cult; imagine finding out your parents lied to you. No, they didn’t mean to, they were lied to themselves, however, everything you’ve ever been taught was a lie. If you were a true believer in the Watchtower, this can put you on your head and turn your life upside down for years. Once you accept it was all a lie, then comes the anger. This can last for years, for decades, or forever. No one can dictate how long you should or shouldn’t spend in each stage of grief. And someone who says “Just get over it” truly doesn’t understand the damage spiritual abuse does to the individual.
Imagine being told you’re not good enough, every day. Imagine being told to “just work harder” when you’ve already given it your all, you’re exhausted and ready to give up. Imagine that no matter how much you do, it’s never enough.
Imagine that you can’t trust your spouse. Imagine you can’t trust your kids. Imagine you can’t trust your best friend. Imagine knowing this, and being afraid to speak, lest you say the wrong thing, or let something slip. Imagine saying something seemingly innocent and being turned in and being questioned by elders. A Judicial Committee Hearing sounds legalistic, doesn’t it? It’s designed to frighten you. You can’t bring anyone in with you. You don’t know the agenda. They blindside you, throwing questions at you faster than you can think. And who turned you in? Your best friend, spouse, or child. And you live like this, for years. Any idea what this does to the human psyche?
How to Help
So before judging a former Jehovah’s Witness, for not getting over the spiritual abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, and sometimes sexual abuse faster, walk a mile in their shoes. Instead of judging, come alongside them. Be a friend. Comfort them, help them learn to laugh again. When they’re ready, let them know you’re available to answer any spiritual questions they may have. And just wait. Be ready. And continue to pray for them. It’s a long road, but it can be done. I am one example of many, who came out of the Watchtower and by the saving grace of God, survived to tell about it.