Before I give anyone the wrong impression, I want to acknowledge that not all Jehovah’s Witnesses are openly abusive toward former members. Still, ex-Witnesses are generally frowned upon by believers who see them as “bad associates” to be avoided. Since Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that they have the one and only “True Religion,” rejection of that religion is one of the worst sins their members can possibly commit. Even ex-Witnesses who keep to themselves and avoid criticizing the Society are often seen as little better than apostates. When combined, these attitudes can lead to tense situations where people can say and do some really stupid things. Especially to people they love.
Why Do So Many Witnesses Mistreat Former Witnesses?
There are many causes for this problem. Consider the following:
- First, the only Witnesses likely to have any long term contact with former believers are family members or others who are very close to them. Unfortunately, they are also more likely to take their rejection of the Watchtower Society personally and lash out.
- Second, ex-Witnesses are easy targets. It’s not uncommon for Jehovah’s Witnesses to take advantage of former believers by using them to pad their service time, get their service time started/stopped, or to practice their evangelizing techniques. They may inappropriately expect ex-Witnesses to put up with this without complaint.
- Third, faithful Witnesses often make the same mistake as other fundamentalists: they not only assume that their religion is the one and only “Truth,” but they even assume that this should be obvious to everyone with any sense. In their mind, anyone who knows what they know about their particular brand of “The Truth” can’t possibly reject it for good, honest reasons. The Witness honestly feels that there has to be something else wrong and assumes that the “wayward” person must have ulterior motives which need to be exposed and dealt with. If that means nagging the ex-Witness mercilessly about it, then it’s worth it if that means correcting the problem.
- Note that the former believer’s knowledge of “The Truth” can also present a serious problem for the Witness’s confidence in their religion … but we’ll talk more about that one later. For now, just consider the following question: which is the easiest way for one of Jehovah’s Witnesses to deal with a friend or loved one who has left “The Truth:” 1) to accept the ex-Witness’s claim that they have lost faith in the organization, which forces the Witness to seriously deal with criticisms about the Watchtower Society, or 2) to assume that the ex-Witness is in denial about their true reasons for leaving the organization, which are probably the result of some human weakness they possess?
- Finally, when doubting Witnesses first become disillusioned with the Society, some congregations seem to go haywire in a mad dash to “save them” from “the world.” This can lead to a surge of phone messages, inappropriate attempts at intervention, and other acts of desperation that can go on for weeks or even months. Since these efforts are rarely coordinated in any way, this can lead to a hundred or so people just throwing themselves into the task of “saving” the ex-Witness. I can personally vouch for how annoying and even frightening it can be to have a hundred or more people gunning for you all at the same time! Most Witnesses never realize how much misery they are causing when they do this. It definitely leaves a lasting impression on ex-Witnesses who experience it.
I hope this article will help former Witnesses understand why they are being treated so badly. I also hope it will help some Witnesses recognize their own patterns of abuse and avoid them.
Signs Of Abusive Behavior From Witnesses
Witnesses who are guilty of bullying ex-Witnesses aren’t the only ones who need help identifying the signs of abusive behavior. Many former believers become “enablers” who actually feed into the cycle of abuse by making excuses for the abusers or otherwise helping the process along. These ex-Witnesses can become so caught up in the process of abuse that they fail to recognize the beast for what it really is. As you can imagine, many former Witnesses have serious problems with self-esteem. This makes them ripe candidates for so-called “enabling.”
Here are some of the more abusive behaviors that Witnesses who bully will often employ. If you are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who has treated former believers in the following ways, then I urge you to take a really long, honest look at yourself. You are actually doing more harm to your cause than good. And you may be hurting someone you care about very deeply, an act that can permanently ruin relationships with people you love.
1. Unreasonable levels of guilt or blame
The following statements are cruel, accusatory, and overtly manipulative. They’re exactly the kind of things that ex-Witnesses will hear from abusive Witnesses who are behaving badly.
- How could you do this to Jehovah, Jesus, the Society, your family, etc.?
- Why are you blaming Jehovah for the flaws of a few imperfect men?
- Is this how you repay us for all we’ve done for you?
- When are you going to stop this foolishness and do what you know is right?
- We were so sure that Jehovah had big plans for you. How could you throw all that away because some people were mean to you?
- Why do you hate God so much?
- You know, people were asking about you at the meeting today. They wanted to know why they hadn’t seen you in so long. I was so embarrassed that I didn’t know what to tell them.
- Some old friends asked how you were doing. They wanted to know when you were going to start going to the meetings again. What should I tell them?
- What will we tell your grandfather when he wakes up in the New System and he wants to know why you aren’t there to see him?
These are the sort of things people say when they are trying to lash out or punish someone (usually a loved one) who has hurt or disappointed them. I’ve heard each of them, either aimed at me personally or quoted from other former Witnesses who are being bullied. They unfairly condemn the ex-Witness in an attempt to dominate and control them emotionally. Abusive Witnesses will keep repeating these accusations with little acknowledgement of the victim’s rebuttals or feelings until, finally, the ex-Witness just doesn’t bother objecting any more. Eventually, the victim may actually start to believe them.
Witnesses who use passive aggressive tactics like these are probably motivated by a subconscious desire to hurt or shame the other person. Spouses, parents, and other close relatives are the ones most likely to abuse their “wayward” loved ones this way. Note that this isn’t something that’s unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Anyone can be guilty of this form of abuse.
2. Unfairly invoking absolute authorities to force the ex-Witness to accept hurtful labels or accusations
Most Jehovah’s Witnesses see the Watchtower Society, Jehovah, Jesus, and their Bible as absolute authorities. When I say “absolute authorities,” I mean that they are not to be contradicted. What they say is final, and once they’ve spoken, the discussion is over. Case closed.
Abusive Witnesses will often quote these absolute authorities to make an accusation or label “stick” to their victims. Since they are invoking an irrefutable authority, the victim is supposed to simply accept the statement (and the judgment that goes with it) as is. If the victim doesn’t take this lying down, the Witness will usually ignore the victim’s efforts to refute their verdict or dismiss them as irrelevant. After all, the absolute authority has spoken and so the matter has been decided. What else is there to say?
There are a lot of things wrong with this tactic. I’m not just talking about the emotional abuse this imposes on the victim. I’m talking about errors in simple logic. I suggest you study this list if you know someone who uses them against you. Even if you don’t have the courage to point out these flaws to an abusive person, knowing them can help minimize the pain they can cause.
Note that, like the previous tactic mentioned, this isn’t something that only Jehovah’s Witnesses do.
- It presumes that the victim is obligated to accept the source of authority as absolute because the abuser believes it is absolute. In reality, no such obligation exists.
- It presumes that the source of authority really is absolute and irrefutable when there is no such thing in any objective sense. (After all, why should the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses be treated as superior to anyone else’s?)
- It presumes that the abuser’s beliefs are “more true” than those of the victim, when in fact anyone’s religious beliefs can be wrong and everyone has a right to disagree with them.
- It presumes that there is only one way to apply the authority’s exact words, or that no exceptions are possible regardless of circumstances.
- It presumes that the Witness has a perfect understanding of the source of authority, as well as the knowledge to apply it absolutely. In reality, if the source of authority is Jehovah, then only He knows how to apply it perfectly and absolutely.
- It often ignores statements made by the victim that actually contradict the source of authority or even disprove it outright.
- This is actually an attempt to force the abused to submit to the abuser rather than the absolute authority itself. The abuser is simply using the source of authority as a weapon against their victim because it puts the abusive Witness in complete control of the relationship. It also expresses a disregard for the rights and opinions of the abused.
I realize that some of these points were redundant. You should use the ones that best apply to your situation.
In any case, this tactic is clearly another way that an abusive person can try to assume control over another. It can ultimately be summed up like this: “I’m always right and you’re always wrong. So just deal with it.” Does this sound meek, humble, or reasonable to you? Or does it sound like a means of gaining power over someone else? (We’ll talk a little about this need for control later)
3. Objectifying the victim
We objectify people when we stop seeing them as individuals with rights, feelings, and opinions all their own. One way of objectifying someone is to simply pigeon hole them into a group or a label so we don’t have to spend much time figuring them out. Another is when we see them as a target (for conversion, for instance) or an opportunity (padding one’s service time when the victim has other things to do) instead of treating them with respect and dignity. As you will see in the examples below, Witnesses who objectify former believers will often take advantage of them by using them for personal gain. Here are some ways that abusive Witnesses often objectify former believers.
- When they only visit the ex-Witness with the express intent of converting them instead of a genuine desire to spend time with them as a friend or loved one.
- When they visit the ex-Witness under the pretence of friendship, but obviously just wanted to use the former believer to get their service time started or stopped.
- When – in the course of trying to convert the ex-Witness – the abusive Witness only asks to hear the former believer’s views so they can try to dismiss or disprove them.
- When – in the course of trying to convert the ex-Witness – the abusive Witness repeatedly ignores the victim’s statements or rebuttals. For instance, if the former Witness claims to be an atheist, the abusive Witness will ignore the obvious implications by accusing the victim of hating God or will try threatening them with death at the Great Tribulation to “straighten them out.” (Why would an atheist be impressed with such things when they obviously believe in neither of them?) This also suggests that the Witness isn’t really listening or considering the victim’s words very carefully.
- When they unfairly sum up the victims motives in broad, overly simplistic terms. “You’re just blaming Jehovah for the way others have treated you.” Or, “You’re just using this as an excuse to enjoy worldly pleasures.” Etc.
When one person objectifies another, they are actually devaluing them in a big yet subtle way. They are basically saying that the other persons thoughts, feelings, needs, and priorities aren’t as important as their own. Witnesses will often insist that they are doing these things for selfless reasons, but they may actually be gaining something at the expense of the other person. This is obviously not the way to treat someone you care about. But it is a convenient way to exploit them for personal gain or to dismiss the former believer’s motives for leaving the Watchtower Society.
Conclusion Of Part One
Basically, if the Witnesses in your life are treating you this way, then it’s important to understand that they are being abusive and controlling. It’s also important to understand that you have a right to stand up for yourself as described in this article. If you can’t convince them to stop their abusive behavior, then – in the long run – you may be better off cutting them out of your life. It can be difficult, but sometimes it’s for the best.
If you are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who is treating a former believer this way, then you may want to do some real soul searching before it’s too late to fix your relationship with them.