How to Stop Thinking Like a Jehovah’s Witness — Part 2


Transcript of OnionUnlimited podcast episode 065

HELLO AND WELCOME TO ONIONUNLIMITED—THE PODCAST. I’m your host, Daniel Torridon. In the first part of this podcast, we looked at two types of thinking in detail, conscious and subconscious thinking.

To recap:

1. Conscious thinking is focused, concentrated thinking, where we actively analyse information and make conscious choices. It’s what we tend to do with new information. It’s often evident when we are learning.

2. Subconscious thinking is where we have already accepted information via conscious thinking and no longer actively analyse it. We accept it and “file” it away as processed. It’s what I tend to think of as programmed thinking or unconscious thinking. In many respects, it’s not really thinking at all. It’s more instinctive based on the preferences and decisions we’ve already considered.

When it comes to mind control, the initial hijacking of a person’s subconscious is not easy to pull off. You have to gain their trust on relatively easy-to-accept matters, and then up the ante, as they slowly stop questioning—bypass conscious, analytical thinking, and get them to accept new information straight into their subconscious. This level of conversion is difficult to pull off, but once accomplished, de-conversion can be extremely difficult. Nevertheless, it can be done.

We also spoke about higher thinking. Sometimes you just know when something is “off”. When it comes to realising Jehovah’s Witnesses are not “the truth” it tends to happen in a few ways. Often something will happen to cause you to consciously reevaluate your beliefs and values and compare them with what Watch Tower is teaching you. Other times a person just “knows” there is something not quite right and they start investigating, consciously. Either way, the process has started where you are no longer just subconsciously accepting what you’re told is true. Now you are consciously evaluating everything that you’re told and deciding if you want to accept it into your subconsciousness. The spell is broken. Even so, it can be difficult to completely break free from the pattern of subconscious thinking that has been programmed into you.

Remember what The Watchtower wrote: “Most stay with the religion in which they were reared, very often being afraid to make a change even if dissatisfied… The person who makes a change may become the object of popular hatred…” — Watchtower May 15, 1959 p. 305

Nevertheless, people leave their religion and join a different one all the time. The question is, Why? Is it because they believe their old religion to be 100% false and the new one to be 100% true? Or is it because they feel their new religion is “more true”? I doubt anyone thinks every single belief, teaching, ritual of their chosen religion is completely true or makes sense. Most people find a religion that is “good enough” for their purposes, whatever those reasons might be. It gives them a hope for the future, or a sense of purpose, or a social community. Very few people, when it comes to religion, actually care about whether their religion is true. Most, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, I would say stick with their religion because it’s convenient and avoids the chance of being rejected by their family or friends. It’s what they’ve always known from childhood, or it’s what they were converted into—possibly at a difficult phase of their lives, that’s common—and now they’re “trapped”. They might be dissatisfied, but the fear of losing their family, or their friends, or their reputation keeps them in, at least physically. Leaving becomes not an option even if they conclude it’s no longer “the truth”.

Every now and then their higher consciousness might voice itself but they will suppress any deviant thoughts because of the constant flow of indoctrination. For most Jehovah’s Witnesses, thinking isn’t something they do much of because they kind of know (subconsciously again) that if they did they would end up down a rabbit hole and probably leaving the organisation. They know it. The governing body knows it. So they all agree to just “believing” the same thing for the sake of unity and commending themselves for being obedient and humble. The thing is, unity, in itself, isn’t necessarily a noble thing. The Nazis were united in their hatred for Jews. That didn’t make them right. Likewise just because you’ve accepted a religion as “the truth” at some point in your conversion doesn’t mean it is.

At some point, no matter how brainwashed a person may have been, once their inner voice starts questioning their “reality” that voice will grow stronger and louder until you have to listen—to yourself. When that happens you will, at some point, end up leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses, or being kicked out. It’s just a matter of time.

The sad thing is, even after leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses, full self-deconversion doesn’t just happen overnight for most people. Sure, some people “wake up” to the notion that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not “the truth” and they leave, just like that. They stop going to meetings immediately, or they fade over time. They may even make it official by sending in a letter of disassociation and they never look back. but others really struggle with leaving. They genuinely worry about losing their family, their friends, their reputation, even their livelihood. They worry about dying at Armageddon and not getting a resurrection. They doubt themselves—”What if Jehovah’s Witnesses really are the truth?—but inside they know it’s not, and yet they stay, Physically In Mentally Out (PIMO). 

Then there is this constant push and push between what they know is true and what they have been told to believe is true, and they end up in this situation where their actions are at odds with their authentic self. They experience an inner conflict which we call “cognitive dissonance”. Some, like me, manage to live—or exist—like this for many many years, but it affects one’s mental health irreparably, and at some point, assuming you don’t die first, something will happen, some catalyst that will prompt you to exit Jehovah’s Witnesses. When this happens, it’s often messy. Without meaning to sound too “new agey” it’s how the Universe works. If you don’t quit a dangerous, mind-controlling cult, the Universe will find a way of getting you out of it, for your own good. 

The good news is, if you reach a point where your beliefs and your actions match, there is an amazing sense of peace, relief, a feeling that you are living honestly and with integrity.

But there is another uncomfortable situation that can develop, and often does. Some Jehovah’s Witnesses have just enough self-awareness left to know that it’s not “the truth”. Maybe they can sense that some doctrine or teaching is “off”, or perhaps a moral issue comes to light (eg. child sexual abuse) which means they simply can’t lend their support to the organisation anymore. So they fade or disassociate, but after doing so they continue to think like a Jehovah’s Witness. Despite exiting the religion, the years of indoctrination are still at work in such ones. When called on by their senses or questioned by someone, their response is automatic, subconscious, filtered through their old JW programming. They may even realise this is happening and try to stop themselves. Nevertheless, this programming is still there, and they wish it wasn’t. So the question arises, How can a person who leaves Jehovah’s Witnesses stop thinking like a Jehovah’s Witness?

To figure out how to stop thinking like a Jehovah’s Witness, we first need to understand how we started thinking like a Jehovah’s Witness. We discussed this in part one of this podcast, but to recap:

Step 1: You learn to trust the source of information

In all cases of conversion, even if you were born in, it starts with information. You are told things by people you come to trust. How much control you have over this input depends on your situation. If you are a child raised as a Jehovah’s Witness you probably have very little if any choice as to the amount of information you’re subjected to by your parents and the congregation you’re surrounded by. If you’re a convert, you have more choice, but initially what you hear may sound good, safe, even beneficial. So you trust the person studying with you. You trust the publication you’re studying. In time you come to trust the organisation, the elders, the governing body. Whatever they say is true.

Step 2: You are subjected to a bait and switch scenario

Most likely, you will be given something to love (a carrot on the proverbial stick) whether that is a hope for the future, a social network, or perhaps a feeling of being special. Whatever you are told, initially it will be nice on the ears. Later, the information will be expanded to include things that may not be as palatable—a bait and switch technique.  As an example, initially, you may be told Jesus is going to kill the wicked at Armageddon and usher in a paradise earth which you can enjoy forever. Later, you realise that you are the wicked person deserving of death if you don’t join the religion, but by then you’ve already bought into the idea of living forever and welcoming your loved ones back from the dead into a paradise earth. 

This continues after you become a Witness. The things you originally accepted as true are routinely switched out for “new light” as the governing body sees fit. The longer you’re a Witness, the less “the truth” matches the version you signed up for.

Step 3: Repetition for emphasis

The information you receive will be repeated many many times over. To begin with you will have a Bible study. What starts as a short discussion every week—just 15 minutes with “no obligation”—slowly turns into an hour or two long study session and before long you’re being encouraged to attend meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses for three or four hours a week. If you’re hesitant, your “study conductor” will start to bring along different Witnesses each week so you inadvertently get to know the congregation before you ever step inside a Kingdom Hall. When you eventually do attend a meeting you will be love bombed.

Step 4: Attending meetings and preaching to others 

The real brainwashing begins when you start attending meetings. Weird as it might at first seem, you soon get used to singing songs. The words of the songs are in themselves a form of indoctrination. You read the words on the screen or in the songbook. You sing the words with your own mouth. You hear the words you are singing.

It’s not long before you find yourself answering up like everyone else is doing. You’re commended for your “progress” and pretty soon you’re being encouraged to “witness” to others about your newfound faith. Don’t know how? Don’t worry! That’s what the Theocratic Ministry School is for. Scared as you are, you agree to giving your first student talk, and afterwards, you’re flooded with commendation. 

You are now well on the way to becoming a Jehovah’s Witness but at this point, you’ve not signed up to anything officially. You can still tell your study conductor you don’t want a Bible study anymore. You can still stop going to meetings, but if you do that, you will feel you’re letting people down, people that say they love you.

The born-in route follows the same basic steps, except it starts when you’re very young. By age 3 or 4 you will probably be answering at meetings. By 6 or 7 you could well be an unbaptised publisher, and if you’re not baptised [and pioneering] by 16 questions will start to be asked. By 18, if you’ve not got baptised then you will be viewed as “worldly”, even a lost cause.

If at any point in the conversion process you seem to lose interest, or question too much, or hesitate to commit you will eventually get dropped, either by your Bible study conductor, the elders in the congregation, or sadly even your parents. If you reach 18 and you’re not baptised, especially if you’re living a “worldly” life, your place in the home will soon begin to be questioned. 

That is how you end up thinking like a Jehovah’s Witness. So how do you stop thinking like a Jehovah’s Witness?

Step 1: Unplug

Basically, you have to reverse the process. Start by unplugging yourself from the constant flow of information coming from Watch Tower. While ever you are attending meetings, reading publications, singing songs, viewing JW Broadcasting and so on, you will never be able to stop thinking like a Jehovah’s Witness because you’re acting like one. You may have some success. You may even be able to think differently than you act for a while but long term this is going to cause cognitive dissonance. 

To stop thinking like a Jehovah’s Witness you need to break the brainwashing cycle. How you go about this is up to you. There are various options. You could slowly fade. You’ll get some shepherding visits, but eventually, the elders will give up on you. Alternatively, you could immediately stop going to meetings, and avoid any follow-up shepherding visits. Or you could make it official—disassociate in a letter and tell the elders you no longer want visits from them. However you approach it, the first step towards regaining control of your mind is to stop subjecting yourself to the information, to the repetition, to the brainwashing.

Now ask yourself, how long did it take for you to convert in the first place? If you were not raised as a Witness it may have been anywhere from 6 months to a few years. Some take longer but generally speaking if they aren’t “making progress” within a year or so a study will be terminated. Children raised by JW parents don’t get it so easy. They suffer 16-plus years of indoctrination. With that in mind, how long is deconversion going to take? It varies from person to person, but don’t be surprised if it takes 6 months, a year, or longer to start feeling free of mind control.

So, no meetings, no visits from the elders, no publications, no watching JW Broadcasting or singing kingdom songs. That’s what you’re aiming for, and when you unplug you need to stick at it for 6 months to a year at least so as not to get sucked back in. 

Step 2: Know thyself

Don’t immediately replace what you’ve lost with a new social circle or religion. Find out who you are first and what you believe without Jehovah’s Witnesses or anyone else influencing you. Many don’t take the time to do this. They just join a new religion straight away. The danger in this is that you never actually realise your true authentic self without the cult. All spiritual masters have spent time alone—Jesus, Buddha—for good reason. You need to discover what you believe, what you really believe, intuitively.

How to go about this:

  • Start a journal.
  • Make a list of the key teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • Ask yourself what you intuitively think. Do you agree with the teaching or does it seem “off”?
  • What do outside sources teach?

Give yourself permission to read “apostate” information. For example, Crisis of Conscience by former governing body member Raymond Franz, The Gentile Times Reconsidered by Carl Ol[o]f Jonsson, Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan, and Shunned by Bonnie Zieman. These books and other recommended reading can be found on my website at

Read ex-JW accounts, check out the exjw subreddit, watch YouTube videos. Just be careful not to start following anyone again. The aim is to find out what you believe. Finding other people who think the same isn’t so you can join their religion or become their follower. It’s just to help you figure out what you feel. Try ideas on, but don’t feel the need to commit. If a new idea doesn’t work for you, don’t accept it. That’s what you did as a Jehovah’s Witness and look where that got you!

Step 3: Seriously consider whether Jehovah’s Witnesses is a cult.

You’ve likely heard people say this in the past, but you’ve dismissed this because Watch Tower told you Jehovah’s Witnesses were not a cult based on its own definition of what a cult is. Take a fresh look. What do non Watch Tower sources say a cult is? Do Jehovah’s Witnesses match the definition of a cult? Steven Hassan’s B.I.T.E. model will help with this. It is a checklist of what a cult looks like. It discusses 4 areas of control evident in a cult:

  • Behaviour control
  • Information control
  • Thought control
  • Emotional control

Ask yourself do Jehovah’s Witnesses employ these methods?

Was your behaviour controlled as a Witness?

  • Did Watch Tower tell you how to dress, even in your leisure time? What dress was considered unacceptable? Why? Did that seem reasonable?
  • Were beards okay or not? Why? Did the reason given make sense?
  • When on holiday were you expected to go to meetings? Did you want to? Did you feel guilty if people found out you skipped them?
  • How much time was spent doing religious things? How did you feel at meetings and assemblies? Did you look at the clock wishing them to end?
  • Did you find yourself thinking the same as everyone around you? Was it unity or uniformity? What would happen if you expressed different thoughts to the group?
  • Were you encouraged to disconnect from “worldly” family? How about family that left Jehovah’s Witnesses? Were you scared to keep in touch with them fearing something bad would happen to you?

Was the information you were allowed to consider controlled?

  • Where did you get your information? Was it only from Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publications?
  • Was considering negative information about Jehovah’s Witnesses allowed? If not, why not? What was Watch Tower hiding?
  • Did you feel you were constantly being bombarded with information —meetings and assemblies you were expected to attend, publications you were expected to read?
  • How did you react when you heard in the press about Watch Tower’s mishandling of child sexual abuse? Did you make excuses? Was it all “apostate lies”?
  • How did you feel about there being different levels of information within the group? Were you aware the elders have a secret handbook? 
  • How did you feel if you unplugged for a while, maybe on holiday? Did you feel relieved?
  • [And] how did you feel if you had a genuine reason—maybe illness—to skip a meeting?

Were your thoughts controlled?

Did you find yourself using “buzz words” that created a sense of “us and them”? Things like:

  • The truth, in the truth, left the truth
  • The world, worldly persons
  • The real life #bestlifeever
  • Brothers and sisters (or the friends depending on where you lived)
  • Disfellowshipped, disassociated, apostate
  • Governing body, faithful and discreet slave 

To stop thinking like a Jehovah’s Witness you need to stop doing this. Eliminated all buzz words from your vocabulary and replace them with new terms that reflect the reality of the situation:

  • [So] the truth becomes “the cult”, “in the cult”, “left the cult”
  • The world becomes “normal life”, worldly becomes “normal”
  • The real life becomes “cult life”
  • Brothers and sisters become “cult members”
  • Disfellowshipped, disassociated, apostate becomes “ex-JW”
  • Governing body becomes “the leaders”

And finally, were your emotions controlled?

  • Were you made to think any problems you encountered in the organisation were always your fault, not theirs?
  • Did you oscillate between feelings of love and fear? Did you feel loved and accepted one minute and worthless the next? Were you praised one minute and blamed the next?
  • Did you ever feel like you wanted to leave, but couldn’t? 
  • Were you scared that if you left you would die at Armageddon?
  • How did you feel when you shunned those that left? Did it feel right or wrong?

So to recap, the way to stop thinking like a Jehovah’s Witness is:

  1. Unplug. Stop exposing yourself to the brainwashing. See how you feel after six months or a year without being exposed to JW doctrines.
  2. Give yourself time to find out what you believe without influence. Ask yourself questions. Journal your thoughts. Trust your intuition.
  3. Consider whether Jehovah’s Witnesses is a cult. This will help you if you ever find yourself thinking, feeling, or even acting like a Jehovah’s Witnesses. You can remind yourself that your thoughts, feelings, or actions are those of one who used to be in a cult.

Once you realise a) you don’t actually believe what Jehovah’s Witnesses teach and b) it’s a cult, why would you want to continue exposing yourself to their constant flow of indoctrination? Unplug, get as far away as you can, and go with your true instincts. Listen to your higher self. Know thyself and trust thyself. This is how you stop thinking like a Jehovah’s Witness.

Thank you for listening. I hope you can join me again soon. Bye for now.