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How your Jehovah's Witness past can still impact you today.

Updated: May 19, 2023

Events from earlier times in our lives are likely to influence our behaviour, thoughts or reactions when certain situations arise later in life.


A simple example of this could be if we were frightened by a spider when we were younger.

If it is not dealt with at the time, there is a good chance that we will be very wary with spiders in the future. For some, the extreme fear will repeat itself while, for many, it would show itself as more of a dislike or caution, rather than outright terror.


Either way, the event from the past is impacting on the behaviour today.


Sometimes the influence of past events is more subtle and harder to identify. While still making life difficult, it can be hard to make the link and figure out what is behind the unhelpful behaviour.


This is especially true for ex Jehovah's Witnesses.


When working with ex Jehovah's Witness clients to help them with their recovery, I try to illustrate this point and tend to use the same example each time to show what can be going on psychologically for many people. It just so happens that the example I tend to use seems to be one that my clients often struggle with in real life, so it does a good job of highlighting their situation and goes some way to helping them understand why they have this particular problem.


Here is the example I use.


Anyone, not just ex Jehovah's Witnesses, can seek out counselling for any number of reasons. Maybe, for example, they lack confidence and find it hard to say no to people. Perhaps this leads to friends or work colleagues taking advantage of them and they find

themselves agreeing to things they really wish they hadn't. For some, this lack of ability to speak up can cause enough discomfort in their life that it leads them to seek counselling, to work on themselves to try and figure out why they are like this and what they can do about it. Certainly something that counselling can help with.


As we have said before, if you find yourself behaving or reacting in a way that is not helpful for you, it is likely to be a result of something from your past. If the person in question happens to be an ex JW, it is pretty much certain that their upbringing has had a massive influence on how they respond in these situations.


Think about it this way - In order to not be taken advantage of in those situations, you need to be doing something differently. You need to simply be able to say no. Of course, it's not that easy and there is a reason you find it hard to decline a request.


Think about life as a Jehovah's Witness. It is very structured and rigid. The rules are laid out to you from birth and it is quite clear what is right and wrong. Equally clear are the penalties that are dished out if you do something that is deemed to be wrong. If you are in any doubt as to whether something would be acceptable in the eyes of Jehovah, it's probably best to err on the side of caution and assume it's wrong.


But now dig a little deeper and consider the effect this can have and the implications for later life.


By blindly accepting the rules, you do not allow yourself the chance to consider your thoughts on the subject. You do not develop critical thinking skills where you look at the pros and cons of what you are being told and decide whether you agree and what is best for you. In fact, the very idea that you may think you know better than the doctrine is going to be seen as unacceptable and likely to attract severe repercussions. In turn, this act of suppressing your thoughts and opinions is likely to lead to further self suppression, especially when combined with the constant messages from the JW organisation that only they know what is right and it would be wrong to disagree. And you certainly should not voice any disagreement.


Years of this leads a person to believe that they are less important than anyone else, that their opinions don't matter and they should never put their own needs first. Cruelly, this self suppressing mindset is encouraged by the organisation as it is exactly what is required for you to be able to act in a way that seen as you being a 'good' Jehovah's Witness, by fellow congregation members, elders, and Jehovah himself. So the more you suppress, the better JW you are.


Hopefully, you can see that this mindset, although necessary to comply with the JW doctrine and expectations, is not helpful to anyone who ventures out into 'The World' and is trying to navigate life outside of the confines of the Jehovah's Witness organisation.


With this in mind, consider the difficulty that an ex JW can have when faced with requests from others. Yes, it would be better to say no when it's not convenient or you just don't want to do it, but remember what is going on in the brain of a former Witness.


It is still likely to be very deeply ingrained that your opinions don't matter, that you should not speak up and that the other person's needs are more important than yours. It may feel very selfish to say no and selfishness is a big negative in the eyes of Jehovah's Witnesses. And all of this doesn't even account for the fact that you are also likely to be considering the implications of what could happen if you were to say no and the person didn't like it. Will they reject you or expel you from their life? All of these deeply held beliefs and understandings from years earlier of what things mean did not simply evaporate from your head the day you decided to leave. They will remain there until they are identified and challenged.


When you consider what life is like as a Jehovah's Witness, is it any wonder that even years after leaving, it would still be hard to say no and stop letting people take you for granted?

This is just one example of how spending time as a JW can impact so many areas of your future life. Life skills that everyone else takes for granted can seem totally alien to an ex Jehovah's Witness. Many ex JW's describe a sense of feeling 'unequipped' for life, and, to a certain extent, this is true. They have not been equipped with a full box of tools to work on life in the outside world.


My work with ex Jehovah's Witnesses using the Recovery Workbook focuses on these areas and tries to help the client see what's going on, why things can be difficult and show how it was done through the use of powerful and effective psychological techniques that were imposed upon them during their time as a Jehovah's Witness.


For more information on the help and support I provide visit www.exjwcounselling.co.uk


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