Many ex-Witnesses have to deal with Witness relatives or friends who go all preachy on them from time to time. The evangelist may not notice it, but these little “conversations” (their word) tend to get ugly and abusive pretty quickly. They always seem to deteriorate from, “I want to convince you to come back to us,” into something more like, “I hope you feel ashamed of yourself for making me and Jesus cry!” I’ve never been able to figure out if the Witnesses pulling this kind of stuff are simply unaware of how much personal anger they’re dumping on people or if they actually think it’s justified. I suspect it’s a combination of both.
Whatever the case, this can quickly become a cycle of abuse that can plague ex-Witnesses for the rest of their lives. I’ve heard many Circuit Overseers gripe about apostates who won’t leave the poor, helpless Watchtower Society alone. But what about the Witnesses who henpeck and shame ex-Witnesses for years just because they stopped seeing the world as they still do?
The fact is that ex-Witnesses usually have good, honest reasons for leaving the organization. Yet they remain human, and sometimes humans freeze up when confronted with a list of charges and recriminations. Especially when our accusers won’t take anything we say seriously because the Watchtower Society is always right in their opinion. This cycle normally starts right after we’ve left the Society, so they end up catching us when we’re still confused about our feelings. We don’t always realize how damaging it can be when authority figures repeatedly shame us, or when they demand we justify our opinions just so they can dismiss them as childish and petty. This can be really damaging when those authority figures are our own parents, family, and friends.
Somewhere, deep down, this kind of treatment tends to make people feel dirty about themselves. We only make it worse when we “enable” the abuse by making excuses instead of defending our rights and dignity. Some common excuses include:
- “But they’re only preaching to me because they care about me. Right or wrong, they’re only trying to help. How can I get mad about that? Well, it’ll be over soon.”
- “They have no choice. Jesus commands them to convert others. I guess I’ll just put up with it until they feel better and leave me alone.”
- “They’re fanatics, so nothing I say will make a difference anyway. Why bother?”
The truth is that these are all bogus cop-outs that feed into the cycle of abuse. If you think this way, or know Witnesses who use them as excuses for bad behavior, then I really hope you’ll read the next section.
The Excuses Aren’t True!
“But they’re only preaching to me because they care about me. Right or wrong, they’re only trying to help. How can I get mad about that?”
If they cared about you, then why are they making it so personal? And why are they treating you like crap? I’ve seen bullies on a playground behave this way, but not caring, loving people who only want to help. The fact is that they are uplifting themselves by feeding off of your shame. It feels good to be right and to make someone else feel wrong for disagreeing with you. It can feel even better when you make the other person feel totally ashamed of themselves for it. It not only reaffirms the abuser’s fragile world view, but it makes them feel powerful. Think about it: don’t they always leave you an emotional wreck even as they stride away more confident and self righteous than ever? That’s because they drew that power from you.
Even worse, I think most of them really believe that they are doing this because they just care about you so darn much. That means they are actually patting themselves on the back while they heap all that guilt and resentment for making them treat you this way on your head. The reality is that they’re simply building themselves up while they tear you down. Don’t let them. You have rights. You have dignity. Protect them and your abuser will usually lose interest.
“They have no choice. Jesus commands them to convert others. I guess I’ll just put up with it until they feel better and leave me alone.”
“That’s right! You’d
better listen to this
sermon or the Witness
gets it in the face!!”
This is wrong on a lot of levels. The real truth is that they do have a choice. There are over two billion Christians in this world and many of them aren’t pushy evangelicals with an agenda or a fragile ego. In fact, I’m willing to bet that many of them take responsiblity for their actions instead of passing the buck to Jesus. Which is exactly what Witnesses who use this line are really doing.
Even if you want to honor this sort of thinking, that’s no excuse not to stand up for yourself. If this is the Witness’s first attempt to convert you back, then there’s nothing wrong with bantering back and forth about it for a few minutes so long as they don’t get abusive. You might want to read my article on handling conversion for tips on how to deal with this properly. Make sure you cut things off if they get carried away. Always tell them that you don’t want to have this conversation again if they misbehave and warn them that this is a prerequisite for further contact between the two of you. And whatever you do, don’t accept the, “it’s not my fault, blame Jesus!” cop out. Hold them responsible for their behavior this time and every time. You’re only encouraging them to lose control and to take advantage of you if you don’t.
“They’re fanatics, so nothing I say will make a difference anyway. Why bother?”
Sadly, this one is probably true … more or less. Whether you like the word “fanatic” or not, Jehovah’s Witnesses are definitely true believers. I consider it a waste of time trying to convince them that their belief in the Society is wrong, though some ex-Witnesses seem determined to try it anyway. Even if we’ll never get any where with most Witnesses, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stand up for ourselves if they try to bully us. It’s worth bothering with because it protects our identity, our self esteem, and our dignity. We don’t have to tear down Jehovah’s Witnesses to feel better about ourselves. We just have to stand firm and defend our rights until they grow weary of the attack. If you can do this, you’ll be all smiles when they leave. Not because you did something bad, but because you held your own. The Witness confronting you may leave feeling disappointed, but they needn’t be crushed by guilt and shame the way you might have been had they gone unchecked.
When it comes to standing up for yourself, it shouldn’t be about them. It’s really about you.
Why Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses Should Stand Up For Themselves When Witnesses Attack
- Protecting your self esteem from injury.
- Protecting your identity and sense of who you are (instead of letting them tell you who you are).
- Reaffirming your reasons for casting off your old world view for a newer, healthier one.
- Letting them know that you don’t accept the labels they’ve heaped on you.
- Letting them know you don’t feel ashamed for disagreeing with them or thinking for yourself.
- Letting them know that you didn’t do anything to them, Jehovah, or anyone else. You simply made a decision, which is your right as a human being.
- Letting them know that you are actually happier as a non-Witness (despite their assumptions – and hopes – to the contrary)
- Letting them know that the abuse isn’t acceptable.
- Letting them know that the abuse isn’t going to work any more.
- Freeing yourself from their control so you can get on with your new, better life.
Any one of these are acceptable reasons for standing up to them. Preaching at you, denouncing you, and accusing you of petty misdeeds are not God given rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses or anyone else. No one has the right to feel better about themselves at your expense. Why should you let them get away with it? Start standing up for yourself.
NOTE: This is related to one of the first articles I wrote for AGN, except this one should suck less. I hope. I’ll do a couple of related articles soon that complement this one, so stay tuned.
-the Atheist Geek-