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Advice For Ex-Jehovah's Witnesses:
Why Do Witness Friends And Family Act So Weird Now That You've Left The Watchtower Society?
Things have been strained between you and your mom lately, haven't they? (Just nod, okay?) Yeah, after years of skulking around and trying not to doze off at the meetings, you finally did it. You, a once loyal Jehovah's Witness, stopped going to the Kingdom Hall and haven't shown your face there since. Weeks have passed and everyone wants to know where you've been and what's wrong...with you, actually. "Don't you like the Watchtower Society any more??" they seem to be asking. You're not expecting that lunch date to go so well with your mom this afternoon, either. (Good call) But you try smiling anyway as you take the seat across from her. Problem is she isn't really smiling back at you. It's more of a grimace. So ... could you use some advice?
It's really hard for most exxers to find the courage to handle these situations and keep their dignity intact. (Atheists with fundamentalist families often have similar issues) These conversations are usually among the weirdest that most ex-Witnesses will ever have. If you're used to them making sense - or being treated like a person when you talk to someone - then you're surely unprepared for what's about to happen. But there's hope! Understanding the reasons for all this weirdness can help you deal with the situation in an informed way.Note: I'll be writing another article that focusses more on handling this behavior soon enough. We'll just focus on the cause for now.
Weirdness, Guilt, And Blame! Oh My!
I want you to repeat after me:
It's not about me. It's about them. No one has the right to make me suffer so they can feel better about themselves. They've made their choice, now they owe me the same courtesy.
Now repeat those lines until you believe them or until you get bored and die. Not that I'm advocating death through boredom! I want you to believe these words because they're true.
Still need convincing? Think about it this way. If these people were approaching you about "The Truth" because they cared about you and wanted you to be in paradise, would they really treat you with so much contempt? Would they ignore your feelings, your thoughts, and your opinions so brazenly while hitting you so hard with their own? Would they treat you with so much disrespect that it nearly brings you to tears every time you meet with them? And if it was really all about Jesus or Jehovah, would they do the one thing that's guaranteed to make you feel even worse about The Truth? It's actually their truth, by the way, so stop calling their religion "The Truth" for pity's sake!
I don't think these are the things that good, selflessly motivated people should be doing. I'm sure that some of them do truly love you. But that doesn't mean they're coming to you with love in their hearts and a bag of lollipops in their mitts. Controlling our environment is a part of human nature - even yours and mine. Sometimes people let the need for control get out of hand. They may even slip into the habit of controlling others or using them to feel better about themselves.
Here's a list of motives that can cause uber-evangelists to ignore the signs that it's time to quit. Try to remember that Jehovah's Witnesses aren't the only evangelists who suffer from these symptoms.
Selfish Motives Based On...1. A Need For Control
This is what they think you should do. But you aren't doing that, are you? WTF?!? Now it'll eat at them like a bad itch until they "straighten you out" and whatnot. One thing about people with control issues is that no one wants to admit they have them. There are certain concessions that control freaks can't make to you or even themselves. If they ever admitted that they were mistreating you or crossing some boundary of respect, then they would also have to admit that they were doing this for their own needs. This would make them vulnerable, and you can't be in control if you're vulnerable. Instead, they prefer to tell themselves that they're doing it for your own good or because it's the right thing to do. This allows them to indulge in the whole "control freak assault" without feeling bad about themselves. In fact, it makes them feel pretty good. Here they are, sacrificing their time and sanity trying to impose their will on you and you don't even appreciate it! Darn you. Be forewarned: if you stand up to them, they're going to try to make themselves look like martyrs and then blame you for it. Don't let them. And try not to kill them. (If you can?) No judgments either way.2. A Need To Have Their Worldview Validated To Allay Their Own Insecurities
You know what they know about their religion. It's painfully obvious to them that they have The Truth or whatever you want to call it. Yet here you are, knowing what they know, acting like that isn't so obvious to you. But how could that be? Something just isn't right here. That something must be you, because they can't possibly be wrong. Maybe it's time for a heart to heart. Surely you'll see the irrefutable logic in their irrational assertions. While they're at it, it would sure be nice if they found out you were unhappy because of your decision to leave the Society. This would validate their worldview and lifestyle because that would mean they're happier than you are. (Score!) It would also be nice if you really did believe in their truth but couldn't hack the pressure of living up to their standards. (Meetings, field service, being hated by the world, being humble in the face of theocratic authority, etc.) In fact, maybe they need to believe one of these theories so badly that they're willing to twist everything you say or do so they can conveniently misinterpret it. Nice! Reasoning with them should be gobs of fun.3. Need For That "High" They Get After Making A Tough Sell
Say, do you still have that free electroshock therapy coupon your crazy uncle gave you at your wedding? No, not that one. The good one! Maybe you could just mail it to your Witness friend as a thank you for caring so much. All of mine really appreciated theirs. (I sent them out at Christmas time without a return address, so...)
This is a variation on the second motive I just told you about. This person may have an insecurity issue. If so, "selling" you their version of reality will reaffirm their worldview and make them feel all cozy inside ... at your expense, of course. If they can convince you that they really do have The Truth, then that reaffirms their beliefs and kicks their doubts to the curb. It can also be a variation of the first motive because persuasion is another way of controlling others.4. Personal Embarrassment Or Guilt Of A Mentor Because They "Failed" You Somehow
It could be someone in your family or even an Elder who took you under his wing. But you've gone over to the dark side now, and dag-gummit, that makes them feel like they didn't raise you right! It's time to defend their honor as a mentor and earn a few brownie points with the big "J" while they're at it. And after all they've done for you... For shame! (NOT)5. Need For Field Service Time
This is easily the pettiest motive you're likely to encounter. You'll know when it's there because they'll stop to look at their watch when they talk to you about how badly you've messed things up. In fact, if you're paying close attention, you may catch them looking at their watch before they get out of their car to berate you or on their way out the door after they're done. Don't be afraid to call them on it! Say something like, "Does that mean you're gonna be here for the full hour?" right as you catch them looking. I know it sounds pretty cold, but this can be a great way of letting them know that you aren't buying their act. Be sure to look at the clock and note the time for them if you do this (just to help them out, ya know).6. This Is Their Chance To Score Points With Jehovah And Secure Their Place In A Paradise Earth! Yippee! For Them Anyway (Boo Hoo For You)
The best thing about catching them in the act is that it will take some of the wind out of their sails before they start their pitch. And if they're clearly dressed for field service, then you can bet they're using you to pad their field service report this month. Yes, like so many of these motives, they are benefitting at your expense! Trust me when I say that they're sure you appreciate it. Don't be afraid to react appropriately. They're clearly not afraid to use you for their own gain.
You know Jehovah is watching them all the time, right? Even when they're showering. If they don't try to club you in the face and drag you off to the nearest Kingdom Hall, well, maybe Jehovah'll think they're some kind of slacker. He might not mail them that special bus pass to the New System if he thinks that! So, in their mind, they have to try and you're supposed to put up with it so they can earn their ticket to eternal life at your expense. (Keep checking the news reports for Armageddon ... here it comes ... any day now ... any day ... hello? ... is this thing on?)
Remember that it's usually a combination of these motives that causes most evangelicals to charge. But even if they swear they're just "doing it for you" or "because Jesus says they have to," the reality is that they are still pursuing a personal need at your expense. Why should their needs trump your needs? I can't think of a single reason.
It's just like I said earlier. It really is all about them. They're doing this to you, not for you. You have a right to defend your dignity just like everyone else. You aren't automatically wrong just because they say you are!
There are only six or seven million Jehovah's Witnesses in this world. There may only be one of you, but their are billions of others who disagree with them just like you do. Remember that, because that means there's more of you than there is of them.
So what's an effective way of defending yourself in these situations? I'll have more in my next Ex-Jehovah's Witness advice article.
Don't ya hate it when I do that?
-the Atheist Geek-