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Psychological Manipulation on show in the Kingdom Hall (If you know where to look)

A few weeks ago, I visited the local Kingdom Hall for the midweek meeting.

Naturally, in working with ex Jehovah’s Witnesses, I hear a lot of their own perspectives of what their meetings were like. I also hear them tell me that as we work through their recovery together, they start to see things differently. They maybe look back at their time in the Hall through different eyes.

So, this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to go through the experience myself, to see how it looks and feels through my own eyes, with my vision undistorted in any way by previous doctrine or beliefs.

I looked online to see what the subject of the meeting would be and watch the videos in advance, just like all the other Witnesses that would be at the hall that evening would be doing.

I was greeted at the door by two very polite Brothers who commented on the fact they had not seen me before. I politely acknowledged them and entered the hall. The countdown clock on the big screens told me we were two and a half minutes from the start of the meeting.

I took my seat and could sense that many of the people already inside were curious about the new person in their midst. A couple of people took the time to come and introduce themselves and say how pleased they were to see a new face.

I had not been prepared for the fact that you follow the service on your device and a kind Sister sat close by allowed me to use her iPad while she followed along on her phone.

What I was looking for was where the indoctrination happens. When do the ‘thought reform’ components show themselves and strengthen the grip on the members?

Well, to the uninitiated eyes and ears, they are not there. It is all very pleasant. The whole time there was very unthreatening, and probably felt very warm and comforting, particularly if you happen to be in a slightly vulnerable time in your life where friendship or support is lacking in some way.

However, I was looking through eyes that were keen to spot things that others would not. My ears were attuned to moments when members were being psychologically manipulated.

Even though it seemed, on the face of it, very innocent, these elements of thought reform began to show themselves.

As the various passages were discussed and members ‘answered up’, I couldn’t help thinking that it required no thought on the part of the person offering their input. It was like a comprehension exercise for 12 year olds.

Q - “Did Nehemiah use his authority for selfish gain?”

A – “No, neither he nor his brother ate their food allowance as governor.”

“Well done, that’s a very good answer” comes the response from the platform. But I could have given that answer, even if I’d never seen a bible in my life. I was looking at those exact words on the iPad screen in front of me.

But so what?

By answering any of the questions in this way, you are reinforcing the word of the bible to yourself and everyone present. There is no discussion, you are just told it is correct. The Elder telling you what a great answer it is reminds everyone that it is right to agree with what you are reading. It also makes the person answering feel good that they have been praised. They are likely to want to have that nice feeling again and they learn that the way to achieve this is by repeating whatever answer is written in front of them. This applies to both adults and children.

This particular passage may not seem too controversial, but this is the method for every single meeting, every single passage, every single message. This process of simply regurgitating the words and not critically examining them, can become a habit. You just accept what you are told about what the words mean and how you should live your life accordingly.

In thought reform terms this is something called ‘Mystical Manipulation’ and ‘Sacred Science’.

I watched a role play with two female members of the congregation acting out the scenario of knocking on a door and speaking to the householder. Two things struck me about this.

1. It felt quite unrealistic. The householder was very receptive to hear what the person had to say about the bible and how it explains our evil world today. She also encouraged the caller to return to talk more. I can’t help but think that leaves the members unprepared for when it doesn’t go that way. That exact series of events seems exceedingly rare.

2. It lasted EXACTLY 3 minutes. To the second. Just as the notes said it would.

This highlights how much time and effort needs to be dedicated by the two women in the days and weeks leading up to the role play to ensure it lasts exactly the right amount of time. In addition to bible studying, preparing for meetings, preparing answers, going on ministry, manning the cart, etc this is another demand on the time of the individuals.

In terms of thought reform, this is called ‘Milieu Control’.

It is my understanding that there is a sense that in order to be seen as a good Jehovah’s Witness, you should answer up an appropriate number of times in the meetings. What constitutes an appropriate amount is likely decided by the Elders who will certainly make you aware if you’re not quite hitting the targets.

This is another element of thought reform and it’s called ‘Demand for Purity’.

I couldn’t help noticing a family a couple of rows in front of me. The mother was very enthusiastic during the song singing and encouraged her two children to join her in her enthusiasm. They didn’t seem that keen from my point of view. The young girl, maybe around 12 years old, was struggling to stay awake (it was around 9.30pm by this time), The young lad, perhaps about 14, seemed totally bored. Instinct tells me that they would probably prefer to be doing something else. But they can't voice that. Even if they admitted they were not necessarily enjoying the time at the hall, they would still likely be told that they must go. They must put their devotion to Jehovah first. (I am obviously speculating completely here but I hear enough from ex JW clients to believe I am probably right)

This insistence that you must push through your reluctance and do as Jehovah would wish is, no surprise, another element of thought reform. This one is called ‘Doctrine Over Person’.

All of these instances of how the congregation were being psychologically manipulated were very subtle and I suspect someone with zero knowledge of this sort of thing would not necessarily have spotted it and understood what was going on. But what I wanted to see was an obvious example of the control. I wanted to see if there was something that was so obvious, anyone could see it. Well, anyone who isn’t a practicing Jehovah’s Witness.

And then it happened…..

The speaker on the platform was talking about the visit of the Circuit Overseer a few days earlier. He reminded the congregation about how they helped with tips on how to stay ‘spiritually strong’ and the importance of keeping up your ministry work. He also pointed out how selfless they were in giving up their time in their role as CO’s.

“We should all feel grateful for the time they spent with us, shouldn’t we?” he proclaimed from the platform and I look around at a room full of nodding heads.

Right there, in that moment, the entire congregation were told how they should FEEL.

They were not simply reminded of what the CO’s did and let them make your own mind up about whether it was useful for them. They were told how they had to FEEL about it. And everyone complied.

Again, in isolation, nothing too sinister. But in every meeting, in every hall, every week, tens of thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses are being TOLD how to FEEL.

They are told how they should feel about Jehovah and the things he has done. They are told how to feel about ‘worldly’ people. They are told how to feel about non-baptised witnesses. They are told how to feel about disfellowshipped witnesses. They are told how they must feel about EVERYTHING.

From birth, your ability to think for yourself is systematically removed, until you simply accept everything you are told as ‘The Truth’. Without critical thought you are unlikely to examine the doctrine and make your own mind up about whether you feel it is humane or fair, let alone even true. This is why it is so hard for anyone to escape from the Jehovah’s Witness organisation, and why those that do ‘wake up’ and leave can find life so hard and face real challenges to recover from the experience.

For more information on thought reform, Wikipedia is actually a great place to start, and you can read more by clicking here.

For more information on counselling and recovery for ex Jehovah’s Witnesses click here.

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Then your feelings are right bearing witness to yourself so move on. It’s more pitiful to hear a crying baby than a wolf at night. The problem is all you apostate have mental issues and ca t stay away from real witness. You always want to voice your crying pitiful voice to someone. Perhaps move on and stay away from what you don’t like. But you all stick around like ticks and complain. There must something special. As for me and my household, we shall serve Jehovah.


The social dynamic is part of the indoctrination too. Its a gradual wedge of "Oh these people are nice and freindly". The two brothers at the door greeting you, people introducing them selfs to the new face, that "kind" sister sitting next to you lending her tablet, is all part of it. A warm and welcoming group of people with kingdom hall smiles to reel the nieve and vulnerable into their warped beliefs with mild love bombing. Much more insidious than at first glance.

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