Advice For Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses: When Jehovah’s Witnesses Attack!

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:

  1. “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.”
  2. “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.”
  3. “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

  1. Protecting your self esteem from injury.
  2. Protecting your identity and sense of who you are (instead of letting them tell you who you are).
  3. Reaffirming your reasons for casting off your old world view for a newer, healthier one.
  4. Letting them know that you don’t accept the labels they’ve heaped on you.
  5. Letting them know you don’t feel ashamed for disagreeing with them or thinking for yourself.
  6. 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.
  7. Letting them know that you are actually happier as a non-Witness (despite their assumptions – and hopes – to the contrary)
  8. Letting them know that the abuse isn’t acceptable.
  9. Letting them know that the abuse isn’t going to work any more.
  10. 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-

About The Atheist Geek

The Atheist Geek is a former Jehovah's Witness turned secular humanist. He's a lifelong sci-fi geek and a writer wannabe.
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4 Responses to Advice For Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses: When Jehovah’s Witnesses Attack!

  1. Allison says:

    I am a single mom that has been away from the organization for two years now. I have definately been harassed by members of the cong. They have followed me around town, pushed articles on me at work, called my phone so much I had to change my number. My own parents and exteneded family have tried to turn my daughters against me, and believe me, I am a great mother, and my girls will attest to that!

    I have been called in to numerous elders meetings in the past, defending myself and my children from those contentious, jealous ones in the congregation. The funny thing is I was doing nothing inappropriate at all. I was working full time, pioneering, had the book study in my home, and raising my two children to love Jehovah and trust in him.

    Now I suffer from depression and anxiety from this horrible experience. I am not disfellowshipped, yet my children and I are treated like we are. I just don’t understand the control.

    My girls and I model, and someone just reported me to CPS for having them on a modeling website they think is inappropriate. First of all, who’s the parent here? Of course CPS told me it was ridiculous.

    I appreciate your comments about not letting them abuse or bully us. I guess I never thought I would be in this position. I’ve never posted a comment on a site like this, and I still love Jehovah. I’m just trying to figure all of this out right now.

    Allison

    • Hi Allison. I’ve been where you are when it comes to the depression and anxiety from being judged, always looking over your shoulder, and all that “good stuff.” It sounds like members of your family are Jehovah’s Witnesses, including your parents. And–if I’m getting it right–they are among those with the not-so-great attitude, unfortunately.

      As far as cutting down on the harassment goes, I would try to focus on the source of it all. Most likely, there is a particular person or a small group of people who are driving a lot of it. Family is often the culprit, or near family. Is your father an Elder or former Elder? Do you have relatives that are? Any Elder’s wives that your mother happens to be close to? Are any of them real “busy bodies” that gossip and don’t know when to leave well enough alone? These are the places to start.

      If you think you can pinpoint whoever is fueling this behind the scenes, you may be able to have a chat with this person or persons. It’s probably between 1 and 3 people. Bear in mind that some people just can’t reasoned with. But this could help reduce your problems or help them to go away much more quickly. Even if your Elders are known for for this type of behavior, it’s still likely that it all comes from a particular source. You may–or may not–be able to locate that source and convince it that it is doing more harm than good. It is worth trying, especially given the level of problems you are experiencing. You’ve got it even worse than I did!

      At least CPS didn’t take the complaints seriously. But that seems like the sort of tactic you’d hear from someone who’s a little unhinged. Do you know anyone who go that far to MAKE you do whatever it is they’re forcing you to do?

      To try to offer you further help, I will ask other people who frequent the site to read your post. Maybe they can offer you better advice. You’re making me wonder if I should add a forum to the web site for issues like this. 🙂 I would suggest you check out some of the ex-Witness forums online, but I don’t know if you’d take that advice since it sounds like you’re still favorable toward the Society. Many Witnesses and semi-practicing Witnesses are afraid of these groups “corrupting” them, but they are exactly the sort of people who could help give you advice and support. Two of the best are Jehovahs Witness Discussion Forum and JWR

      Let me know what you think.

  2. Selena says:

    I really appreciate your posts. I have faded from the congregation about 6 months ago. Anyway I have been looking for information on how people like me have coped. There are very few websites that help you move past the guilt and fear you feel when you leave. Most have some bitter hatred for the society and are bent on taking them down. Good luck with that, but I needed information from like minded people. Ones who have woken from the fog of superstition. I ran across your articles on about.com and they really helped me. From this website I have found comfort from other sources as well. Thank you very much.

    • Hi Selena. Thanks a lot for posting your comment. It’s always good to know that someone is listening and that I’ve been helpful to some of them. You’re right, most ex-Witness site tend to focus on why the Society is bad or just fan the flames of rage. I’ve tried to do a little better than that here.

      Your post is timely as I’m working on some entries and a few minor improvements to the site that might be of interest to you. Including some for the angry ex-Witnesses you meet online. Stay tuned, I hope to have one of them up in a day or two with several more to follow.

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