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Advice For Ex-Jehovah's Witnesses:
Why Some Jehovah's Witnesses Are Abusive Toward Ex-Witnesses - Part 2
Continued from part one.12/8/07
But Aren't These "Abusive" Witnesses Simply Trying To Correct Wayward Members?
When Jehovah's Witnesses in good standing approach former believers about a loss of faith in "The Truth," they often start out with a friendly, conversational tone. But things tend to get out of control when the Witness starts building a case to win over the inactive one. The conversation can become adversarial as the Witness switches to a tone of righteous indignation, then gets openly insulting as they accuse the ex-Witness of being weak, petty, or even spiteful in their refusal to conform. (See Signs Of Abusive Behavior From Witnesses) It seems that nothing will satisfy the Witness until the former believer is completely demoralized.
Finally, the Witness leaves, satisfied that they did what they felt was necessary to "straighten out" the wayward one. It may not have worked, but they did the best they could on Jehovah's behalf. Their conscience is clear. Meanwhile, the former believer is left with strong feelings of despair and guilt. Not for having left the Society. This sort of treatment usually does more to reinforce the ex-Witness's doubts than curb them. No, it's because the one-time believer froze instead of standing up to their abuser the way they probably should have done. Note that most Witnesses seem to interpret this silence as a sign that the ex-Witness agrees with their accuser. In reality, it's the way many abused people react when they've become completely demoralized and just plain beaten down.
Ex-Witness who are treated this way will never, ever set foot in a Kingdom Hall again! Not even if their life depended on it, which - according to the same Witness who just left them reeling - it does. If that isn't bad enough, this is probably just one of many confrontations the ex-Witness has had over the years. They resent it a little more each time just as anyone surely would. This resentment usually makes them more intolerant of Jehovah's Witnesses who want to preach about "The Truth" at them. Doesn't this defeat the whole purpose of the Witness's visit?
Maybe. It depends on which purpose you're referring to.
I have little doubt that most Witnesses approach former believers with the intent of helping them in their own way. Since they firmly believe that the ex-Witness will be denied everlasting life for their disobedience, Witnesses in good standing honestly feel that they are trying to save this person's life. The problem is that their way of handling the situation simply doesn't work. In fact, it seems obvious to any observer that their behavior is only making matters far worse! No one wants to be condemned, judged, or hassled over their beliefs or even their lack of beliefs. The motives of the person judging them make little difference. There are far more passive and effective means of encouraging someone to join another faith who clearly doesn't want to join. Aggressively berating someone over religious differences will never convert them to that faith, especially if they are former members who have already grown dissatisfied with it. Yet most Jehovah's Witnesses seem to consistently get it wrong, especially with family or other former believers they were close to.
Why would they treat ex-Witnesses this way when it's obvious that it will only sabotage their goal of converting them back to the Society's faith?
The human mind is a funny thing. Human brains are actually hard wired to be very unreasonable at times. We often rationalize selfish motivations into more altruistic ones and shrug in confusion at the harmful results of our actions. Then we wonder how things went wrong, often ignoring the glaring evidence that is all around us and even within us. Believe it or not, all humans do this. No one is immune.
One good example is the way some parents react when their child forms a relationship that doesn't meet with the parent's approval. Some parents will harp on issues like this one repeatedly, even twisting conversations about unrelated matters to the problem of "that friend" or "that boyfriend/girlfriend" they dislike. Does the nagging work on their children? Not on your life! It's actually more likely to push the child away from the parent and even closer to the untrustworthy friend. So nagging not only fails to achieve the goal of distancing the child from the unwanted associate, it actually makes things worse by encouraging the opposite of what the parent wants!
Sound familiar? Jehovah's Witness who nag and bully former Witnesses about their lack of faith in the Watchtower Society have a lot in common with parents like these.
Going back to my example, I suspect the parent's real motivations are more complicated than they seem. The parent may believe that they are selflessly concerned for their child and only want what's best for them. They probably excuse their abusive behavior by seeing it as a selfless attempt to get their kids to "see the light" about their new friend. But if nagging rarely works, they are actually sabotaging these efforts. Why would they do this if they were truly thinking of their kids first?
One possibility is that the parent's concerns aren't entirely selfless. Some people let their own fears and worries get the better of them. These emotions could be controlling the parent's actions, causing them to act destructively and irrationally despite their better judgment. Or the parent may have control issues which are causing them to see simple differences of opinion as a sign of rejection or a lack of respect.
In both cases, the parent is probably looking for reassurances. This leads them to act abusively and to use nagging, shaming, and conditional love to force those reassurances from their child. Some parents continue to mistreat their children well into adulthood, often without realizing that their behavior isn't about their child - it's about their own insecurities.
This doesn't mean that the parent doesn't love their child. But they are letting selfish motives win out over the selfless ones while also using the latter as a front. Excuses like "I just want what's best for you" may make it seem like they are acting selflessly, but these are really just a way of giving the parent permission to indulge their insecurities. Note that many abusive parents only exhibit hang ups like these with their children and may not be overly anxious or controlling to others. It may seem strange, but humans often treat loved ones the worst. It's just one of those unreasonable things that people do.
This may be hard for many of them to accept, but I believe many Jehovah's Witnesses who bully and nag former believers have motives similar to these. Like it or not, they are doing more harm than good by every measure. Even their own. Understanding their true motives can help them stop being abusive to loved ones who no longer share their beliefs. If this isn't motive enough for Witnesses to change, then they should remember that their destructive behavior is actually pushing their loved one further from "The Truth" with each encounter. An improved understanding of destructive motives can also help former Witnesses to understand why their loved ones are treating them so badly. This can help them realize that it has more to do with the Witness's insecurities and than their own choices. (More on this will be coming up a little later)
Conclusion Of Part Two
Many former Jehovah's Witnesses allow themselves to be bullied and taken advantage of by the Watchtower Society's believers. Especially when the Witness is a close friend or relative. They may excuse the Witness's bad behavior as a selfless attempt to do what's right. (In the Society's opinion, at least) It's important for ex-Witnesses to realize that this sort of evangelism isn't as selfless as it seems. Everyone has a right to live their own life and to form their own beliefs. Jehovah's Witnesses obviously believe that their religion is "The Truth," but everyone has the right to disagree. Their faith is not a universally accepted truth, nor can it be proven objectively. Ultimately, it's simply their opinion and nothing more. No amount of faith can make it a fact.
I urge any Jehovah's Witnesses who might be reading this article to seriously consider the points I have presented. Part three will look at subconscious motives in more detail.
-the Atheist Geek-