Healing and Rebuilding After Leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses


Transcript of OnionUnlimited podcast episode 010


Leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses, healing, and then rebuilding a new life is not easy. It may be the hardest thing you ever do. You’ve been indoctrinated, brainwashed even, to believe Jehovah’s Witnesses is “the truth”. “Jehovah” is God. The “governing body” is synonymous with “Jehovah”. They are appointed by the holy spirit so you can not—must not— disagree with them on anything otherwise you are sinning against the holy spirit—the unforgivable sin. Elders, to a lesser degree, are also an authority. They rule your life. You must do what you’re told to do, think what you’re told to think, believe what you’re told to believe, even if you don’t. Independent thinking is a sin. There is no life, or happiness, to be had outside of Jehovah’s organisation. “The world” is under Satan’s control. “Worldly” people are bad. You won’t fit in. There is only death and destruction to be had if you leave “the truth”. You can not leave.

And then—you wake up. You realise Jehovah’s Witnesses is not “the truth”. It’s just another man-made religion. Worse, it’s a cult and a dangerous one at that—one that controls its members via a barbaric shunning rule that has no basis in scripture. You see now, with eyes wide open, that the governing body members are just men, and not very good ones either. They are self-appointed idols, power-hungry cult leaders, living in luxury—paid for by your contributions. They are neither appointed nor anointed, by anything other than themselves and the only authority that they have over you, is the authority you give them. What’s more, the “truths” they speak are nothing of the sort. It’s all one big lie that has been perpetuated for over 140 years, and you bought into it.

So you leave. You fade, or you disassociate, or you speak your mind and get disfellowshipped for apostasy. Or you keep your doubts to yourself and stay, and suffer in silence, but in the end, it affects your mental health so badly that you have no choice to leave. It’s killing you inside, and so here you are now in “Satan’s world” surrounded by “wicked people” you can’t possibly trust or make friends with because even though you know it’s not “the truth”, it still is, because you were told it is. You came to believe it is, and that belief just won’t go away. It’s like you have two opinions living in your head. It’s “the truth”. It’s not “the truth”. What do you do?

How do you heal and rebuild a new life after leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Here are my top ten tips to finding your way after discovering Jehovah’s Witnesses is not “the truth”. These tips are aimed at people living in the UK, but there will be similar options available if you live elsewhere in the world—and they assume that you have experienced some degree of trauma in your exit from Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s very common for Witnesses leaving the organisation to find themselves shunned, alone, homeless, and suffering from depression and PTSD.

So, tip number 1: Unplug. While ever you are exposing yourself to meetings, whether at the Kingdom Hall or on Zoom, you’re being brainwashed. You know this. You can feel it—that monotonous, repetitive tone that is Watch Tower. Disconnect. Stop going to meetings. Stop reading the publications and visiting the JW.ORG website. Refuse shepherding visits. While ever you are listening to, watching, or reading the cult propaganda, you will be in a state of push-and-pull. You need time, and space to make a successful break.

Tip number 2: Ensure your basic needs are met. Initially, you need a source of money, somewhere to live, and food and water to keep you alive. You’ll need to prioritise these things if, like me, your exit from Jehovah’s Witnesses is traumatic. Maybe your marriage has broken up and you’ve left home with nowhere to go, or you might have been disfellowshipped and made homeless by your parents. Whatever, you need money, somewhere to live, and something to eat and drink. If you still have a job, that’s great—that’s going to be your source of income, but if your job was somehow tied to Jehovah’s Witnesses—maybe your boss or your clients were Witnesses—you might find yourself unemployed. Obviously, you will want a job at some point, but in the interim, especially if you’re suffering the effects of trauma, it might be a case of signing up for Universal Credit if you live in the UK so that your basic expenses are covered. At first, you might not have money to spend on luxuries, but that’s not the priority at this stage. You just need enough money to pay for a roof over your head and food and water.

Tip number 3: See your doctor. Pay a visit to your GP and explain that you have just left a mind-control cult, especially if you are suffering from depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress. It may be that your doctor prescribes you some medication to keep you stable while you navigate healing and rebuilding a new life. In cases of depression, you might find your doctor signs you off from work. That’s what my doctor did, and it gave me the time and space I needed to seek further help, for example, therapy—which if you are in a 9-5 job can be difficult to access.

Tip number 4: Ensure you have help in place if you face a crisis. In the UK, the Samaritans are available 24/7 to talk to you on the phone or by email. The Samaritans are not just there for people who are feeling suicidal. They will talk to you if you’re feeling sad, lonely, depressed etc. If your exit from Jehovah’s Witnesses was traumatic, you will likely benefit from just chatting things over with someone unbiased. In addition to the Samaritans, you could check out CALM (C.A.L.M. which stands for Campaign Against Living Miserably). They provide an online chat or telephone service and they really are great. For the first year or so after leaving I spoke with CALM every day for an hour. It was a life-saver. They really are understanding and have a good grip on the subject of abuse within religious settings.

Tip number 5: Get a therapist. This is a must. Try to find a therapist that has an understanding of abuse. I was only able to secure 20 free sessions with Rotherham Abuse Counselling Service but it was brilliant. My counsellor and I were able to work through the abuse I’d suffered both in my personal life and in the cult, and in doing so I was able to make some sense of what happened. I think this is a large part of the healing process—just knowing why certain things happened, why you acted in certain ways, and why you’re feeling the way you do. Once you realise there is nothing intrinsically wrong with you and that you were in an abusive situation it begins to have a positive impact on your self-esteem and helps you to find the motivation to move forward with your new life.

Tip number 6: Rest. A natural response to trauma is to feel very very tired. If possible, give yourself time to rest, and don’t feel guilty about it. You will probably find yourself sleeping much more than usual. Your mind will be trying to process what has happened. That’s okay. If you’re not working, take advantage of the time you have to relax. Don’t feel guilty. Find ways to relax, maybe listen to music, or meditate, or just sleep—it’s fine. Over time, your mind will naturally process what has happened and you should start to feel a little better.

Tip number 7: Self-care. After leaving a high control group like Jehovah’s Witnesses, life may feel empty, especially if you were a pioneer or an elder. No longer are you attending meetings and spending hours in the ministry each month. You may find yourself twiddling your thumbs with nothing to do, and that in turn may make you feel guilty. Remember—you were in a cult. The cult kept you busy busy busy for a reason—so you didn’t have time to think! That level of busy-ness isn’t “normal”. Most people, after they’ve done their work for the day don’t then attend a 2-hour meeting, or take “time off” work to attend a 3-day religious convention, or cram in 30 hours of door-to-door preaching in their “week off”. They rest, relax, enjoy time with their friends and family, or just spend time doing things they like—watching telly, listening to music, reading, walking, gardening, hobbies. As a Jehovah’s Witness, you were taught that doing these things was “selfish” and that you should spend your time preaching. It’s not selfish. It’s normal human behaviour and a necessary part of life. So give yourself some self-love. After life in a cult, you deserve it!

Tip number 8: Now would be a good time to establish what you do believe. Do you still believe in God? How about the Bible? Religion? Are you still spiritual, or do you feel drawn to being an atheist? What feels right? If you feel you need religion in your life I would recommend that you don’t join a church straight away. You could, if you’re not careful, walk straight into another cult or man-made organisation. Explore your spirituality—read, watch YouTube videos, chat to spiritual people online. I have come to believe not so much in “God” in the traditional, religious sense, but in “Source”—a kind of underlying, unchanging, unaffected, Universal Consciousness if you will, from which “reality” emerges. Some of the Hindu philosophies resonate with me. So does Pandeism and Panendeism. I still believe Jesus was a real person, but not necessarily that everything written about him was true. I see him as a spiritually awakened individual, much like Buddha. I believe that Source experiences life through us and that we are all One, returning to Source after death. I no longer view the Bible as the infallible word of God, but I do still think there are some truths to be found within it. Personally, I feel no need to join another religion. I feel “spiritual” and “connected” to the Whole, and that works fine for me. I find that my creativity has become a substitute for the “worship” I used to engage in. So now I write music, poetry, I paint, take photographs and that gives me a sense of spiritual fulfilment. So find what you believe. Find your own spirituality.

Tip number 9: Make new friends. Up to now, you will have been working on yourself, but at some point, you will want to make new friends, especially if you’re being shunned by your Witness family and friends. Just be aware that it’s not “normal” to have hundreds and hundreds of friends from all parts of the globe. The idea that every Jehovah’s Witness is your “brother” or “sister” is a cult thing. For the most part, those “friendships” are fake, or at least conditional. The moment you decide you don’t want to be a Jehovah’s Witness anymore, you will lose most, if not all, of your so-called “friends”. Don’t expect to walk out of a cult and into a world with zillions of ready-made friends. In real life, friendships are based on more than simply belonging to the same cult. It takes work. Now, at first you might not have the energy to socialise, but this will return in time. You might join a club, or a meetup group, or associate with work colleagues, or—if like me, you are a bit of a recluse—you might find you make friends better online. Personally, I’ve made some great friends via the ex-JW community on Twitter. I also reached out to friends I used to know as a Witness who left the organisation before me. I’ve found that ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses understand me better than people than have never been a Witness. Don’t worry if you only have a few close friends. Quality is more important than quantity, and by all means, hit me up on Twitter if you would like to chat with me.

Tip number 10: Resist the urge to return. This is very important. You are going to have low days—days when you are missing your family or friends, times when life feels empty. Realise that belonging to a cult is like being addicted to a drug. Cults make you feel dependent on them, and they hold your family and friends to ransom when you leave. Some find that they simply have to return for the sake of their mental health, but I would suggest you don’t return quickly. Give it time, see how you adjust to life without Jehovah’s Witnesses. After a while, you may find, like me, that the feelings of needing to return gradually diminish. If you rush back to Jehovah’s Witnesses the minute you feel sad, or lonely, you will never know what life is like outside of the cult.

When I left Jehovah’s Witnesses, I found it useful to write down the above ten tips on yellow Post-it notes and place them in a prominent position in my room. This gave me a focus, and as I addressed each point I removed the Post-it notes, giving me a sense that I was making progress. You might decide to journal your progress. Either way, keep a record of your intentions and your achievements and trust me when I say that over time things really do start to work out for the best.

That’s all for this time. Thank you for listening. Join me next time as I tell you more about what I now believe.