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Why is it so hard to recover from a Jehovah’s Witness past? – Ask Father Christmas.

If you have lived a portion of your life as a Jehovah’s Witness, you may have realised that the effects of that time are still lingering. Just because you no longer attend meetings or believe the doctrine doesn’t mean that the psychological impact simply disappears.


The reality is that some of the effects of that time in your life have the potential to negatively impact you for a very long time. Fortunately, this can be addressed and it may help your recovery to look at what happened to cause it in the first place.


This may be a strange question to ask a former (or current) Jehovah’s Witness but why do you think children believe in Father Christmas?


The reason will be because they were told it was true and encouraged to accept it as true. Then, of course, as the child gets older, they realise that the concept may have some flaws. Does he really travel the entire planet, visiting every child on a single night? Maybe the child is beginning to question it but there will still be a time when it’s not worth the risk to not believe because it could mean they end up on the ‘naughty list’ that year, so better to be safe than sorry and carry on believing it.


Eventually, the weight of evidence becomes too much. The child has to accept that it is not true at all. Luckily though, that doesn’t mean ‘no presents’. It just means they now understand where the presents came from all along but the outcome remains the same.

So, lets look at this more closely. Just because the child heard that Father Christmas is real, why did they automatically believe it?


The information had three vital elements.

1. It was consistent

2. It came from a trusted source

3. It was not contradicted


Consider the importance of each of these elements in leading the child to accept that Father Christmas is real.


Firstly, the message was always the same. It’s a jolly man in a red suit with a big white beard. He has a list of all the children in the world and if you have been good, you will be on the list to receive a present. Everyone on the list will get their present and he will deliver it personally, but only if you are asleep. He will be transported on a sleigh being pulled by reindeers. He will drop down the chimney to deliver the packages but even if you don’t have a chimney, he will still find a way. This is a very consistent message and no matter who is telling it, it’s always the same.


But that isn’t enough. Can the child trust where this information is coming from?


Absolutely.


Parents, grandparents, brothers. sisters, aunties, uncles, friends. These are all the people they trust the most, so of course the information can be deemed reliable.

But there is still a chance the child won’t necessarily believe it, and that is if it is contradicted by an equally trusted source. If half the people in the child’s life say it is true, but the other half says it’s not, the child is likely to be confused as to what to believe and may not blindly comply.


However, if there is nothing or nobody contradicting the message then doubt is unlikely to enter the child’s mind. After weighing up all the evidence, it seems there can only be one conclusion - It must be true.

Then as a child reaches a certain age, doubts start to appear. There is contradictory information. Maybe friends at school know something about what’s really going on and they discuss it with them. Perhaps an older sibling decides to reveal something about the reality of the situation that causes them to doubt the validity of what they’ve been told. Whatever it is, this new contradictory information, also from seemingly trusted sources, leads them to analyse the situation more closely. Are there holes in the story? Does it all add up? Why was I told it, if it’s not true? Is there a reasonable alternative explanation if I decide this is not true after all?


Then, inevitably, the child accepts there is a new reality. It is, in fact, the adults that provide the gifts and the whole deception was designed to encourage good behaviour, plus a little excitement and anticipation. The new information is taken on as true because it is also consistent, from trusted sources and isn’t contradicted.


It’s likely you are seeing similarities between this example and what can happen to a person being raised a Jehovah’s Witness, but I want to focus very specifically on those three conditions.


As a young Jehovah’s Witness, you were told a lot of things about what is real, how you should think and act, the consequences for non-compliance and about ‘The World’ in general.


Depending on where you are in your recovery journey, maybe you have spent time wondering how you almost blindly accepted certain things that you now understand are so obviously not true, and you may have believed these things well into adulthood, not just until you were maybe just 7 or 8 years old.


Fundamentally, the situation is no different to the child being told about Father Christmas. The message was consistent, from ‘trusted’ sources and was not contradicted.

So, of course, you are going to believe it. Why wouldn’t you?



Think about it.

The messages were so consistent. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


As far as the source of the information being ‘trusted’, in addition to possibly your parents, you were hearing this from Elders, the Governing Body and, ultimately, Jehovah himself. Could a source be any more trustworthy?


But how about it being contradicted? You may have discovered by now that there is an avalanche of contradictory information out there. But were you granted access to it? If you happened to come across it, were the sources of the conflicting evidence to be deemed as trustworthy?

Definitely not! - This was ‘Apostate material’ or Satan doing his work?


And why would you believe it was Satan behind that information? - Because you were told it consistently, by trusted sources and, you guessed it, it wasn’t contradicted.


So then comes a burning question - How come an 8 year old can identify and then recover from the deception so successfully?


Simply, they were encouraged to do so. They were not denied access to the evidence that contradicted things. The parents would not want to raise a child that still believed in Father Christmas while going to High School. All the people involved in raising the child had an unspoken understanding that it would be far better for the child’s future development and psychological wellbeing if they didn’t approach their teens and on into adulthood still vehemently defending the idea that Father Christmas is real.


This gives a clue as to why an 8 year old can seemingly spot a deception more successfully than some intelligent adult Jehovah’s Witnesses.


As a JW you most certainly are NOT encouraged to question the validity of what you were being told. Blind acceptance was required, and if that could not be achieved, at the very least you needed to suppress any urges to enquire.


But how is it that, as an intelligent adult, you don’t just go seeking out the information yourself, without the encouragement.


Easy – The consequences would be catastrophic. You could lose everything and everyone in your life. The risk just isn’t worth it.


This all goes a long way to explaining why it is so hard to change your mind and believe something new, but what about the original question?


Why is it so hard to recover from being a Jehovah’s Witness?


Think, again, about the child that used to believe in Father Christmas. When the deception was revealed, the child was not traumatised at the discovery. The new information did make sense, which is helpful, but also, crucially, everyone was still around in their life, despite this new version of events. The child did not develop trust issues as a result of being lied to. Instead they continued to enjoy the support of those same people and life was pretty much the same as it was.


When the following Christmas comes around, the child is still feeling excited with anticipation because the same outcome is going to occur. The presents will still be there. The fact that it wasn’t a large figure in a red coat placing them under the tree feels irrelevant because the child’s psychological wellbeing and overall happiness wasn’t hinging on that story being true. Very quickly they adapt to this new normal and their overall sense of happiness in life is not diminished at all. Their identity remains the same.


A Jehovah’s Witness, however, is not in the same boat.


They are made to realise that not only their happiness, but their very survival depends on the fact that what they have ben told about Jehovah and the imminent arrival of Armageddon must be completely true. It’s what drives them to take on the identity of a good Jehovah’s Witness and satisfy the criteria to, hopefully, gain a place in the new system. The present and the future is very clearly mapped out and offered with a degree of absolute certainty. To be then plunged into a world, either voluntarily or by force, where the certainty is removed and the rules are unknown, can be incredibly difficult to deal with.


This is why it is so hard to recover.



It is not simply a matter of replacing one set of information with a new set of information. It is about trying to discover a true identity. There are existential questions about the meaning of life and death that previously seemed very simple and obvious. What is expected of you as a ‘Worldly’ person?


And this doesn’t even take into account the fact that many ex Jehovah’s Witnesses find that they are lacking in certain life skills that everyone else takes for granted, like how to speak up or putting yourself first sometimes. Even making friends or knowing how to interact in groups can be incredibly tough.


Most, if not all, of these challenges a person faces can be attributed to living part of their earlier life as a Jehovah’s Witness. These are not problems that tend to solve themselves or fade away.


For many ex Jehovah’s Witnesses the psychological effects are there for years, halting the person’s progress in life and stopping them be as happy as they want to be.

Thankfully there is help out there and greater awareness is certainly something that is going to be of benefit in the long run.


It is tough recovering from being a Jehovah’s Witness and some would say you never truly recover. But to achieve a state of mind where it sits silently in the background, rarely showing itself and doesn’t affect your overall happiness, is achievable. At least, that’s what I believe.


For more information on the Ex Jehovah’s Witness Counselling and Recovery Workbook visit www.exjwcounselling.co.uk



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