Claiming Your Repressed Authentic Identity

By Richard E. Kelly

Finding and claiming one’s repressed authentic identity will not be easy for most adults who were raised as children by Jehovah’s Witness parents. First, there’s familial undue influence—close family members trying to reshape the child’s personality—and then there’s the non-familial cult-like identity being imposed upon children by Watchtower’s “new personality” policies and apocalyptic beliefs.

However, it can be done and Bonnie Zieman’s memoir, Fading Out of the JW Cult, makes a strong case for how it can happen. But what makes her story so special is that the protagonist is an experienced psychotherapist. While sharing her story, she explains the psychological manipulation at play in trying to shape her personality.

FADING-Out-of-JW-CultIn my opinion, Bonnie’s 2016 memoir is a must-read book if you’re an ex-JW, in particular if you are a woman, an active JW, you have recently left another high-control cult-like group or anyone who wants to understand how cults (intentionally) and family (mostly well-intentioned) manipulate children and teenagers of members at the grass-roots level.

If David Letterman was reviewing Bonnie’s memoir on his Late Night Show, he would normally present ten reasons for why the public should read her book. But because we have familial and non-familial (a cult) at play unduly influencing Bonnie, I have decided to enlarge the list to fifteen. Let’s begin with #15:

15. You will meet Bonnie’s paternal grandfather, who was the epitome of a true believer, putting his three young sons in an orphanage so he could proselytize the teachings of Charles Taze Russell in eastern Canada. Not a good omen for Bonnie’s father (familial) and his potential parenting skills

14. If you did not already know it, Canadian Watchtower executives do love their body massages as Bonnie’s young, naïve massage therapist mother discovered.

13. Believe it or not, Armageddon was just around the corner in 1941, but Bonnie’s parents ignored Judge Rutherford’s warnings not to marry or have children because the end was so close. You will be delighted to learn how they chose to spend their time, instead of preaching doom-and-gloom for non-JW believers at Armageddon.

12. Bribing Bonnie with six sticks of grape gum, then just a very little girl, to go out in the Watchtower Street preaching work will leave you wondering, “What was her mama thinking?”

11. Bonnie’s mom could have easily been an accessory to a major crime. But with a little luck, and not Jehovah’s invisible hand, “being lucky” saves the day.

10. The story of Bonnie’s childhood friend, Bobby, will tear at your heart-strings, an experience that proved to be a significant coming-of-age wake-up call.

9. Bonnie’s baptism experience is an indictment of Watchtower’s blatant use of undue influence on children by JW parents. You will love Bonnie’s mom, but not on this occasion, although it’s really the cult’s psychological manipulation.

8. If you think that you can trust good, Bible-trained young men to behave on dates, one chapter in her book will definitely change your mind.

7. In a chapter called The Slap, Bonnie and her father awaken to the reality that dysfunction is a major bi-product of Watchtower’s culture, although neither of them knew it at the time; the invisible hand of Watchtower at work.

6. A chapter about Bonnie getting married ‘properly’ according to a died-in-the-wool cult elder in her husband’s family could only happen in JW La-la Land.

5. If you have the misguided belief that Watchtower leaders are all kind, loving and benevolent, Bonnie describes a dinner scene with a circuit overseer that should jolt you to your senses. Unfortunately, behind-the scenes behavior like this are not that uncommon because of the nature of Watchtower’s pyramid-like culture.

4. If you think Watchtower’s long-time VP, Fred Franz, was not crazy, Bonnie will set you straight several times in her book. Fred Franz, I believe, was plighted with a severe case of Asperger’s Syndrome, and he was allowed to set policy and prophesy future events for Watchtower without any accountability.

3. When a person leaves Watchtower or any repressive organization, he or she must be prepared to negotiate a long and challenging learning curve if they want to find and claim their authentic identity. Bonnie’s book is an excellent road map to show readers how it can be done in spite of massive amounts of misinformation and emotional abuse.

2. For me personally, the total lack of human feelings and emotions (the cult identity) by hard-core true-believers is brought home to roost in chapter 36. While reading this chapter, I was reminded that anyone who chooses to attend and confess at a JW Judicial Committee Meeting should never go alone. A good attorney and someone from the press should be there with them, although if those were the conditions, it could mean the Waterloo for these kinds of Watchtower-style kangaroo courts and sinister undue influence.

1. In Chapter 2, Bonnie tells the story about The Gift, a talk delivered by a District Overseer at a 1978 Montreal convention. It was an unplanned gift, that had it been filmed live and preserved, it would have brought Watchtower to its knees and shown the public how Watchtower psychologically manipulates its members. You can read all about “the gift” and much more in Bonnie Zieman’s excellent memoir, Fading Out of the JW Cult.

While I have been accused of being a dreamer, perhaps Bonnie’s book will be the first of many salvos that will ultimately alert the public to the sinister use of undue influence by Watchtower leaders and alert JWs themselves to the Watchtower’s expectation that they must repress their authentic identity and that of their children.



Claiming Your Repressed Authentic Identity — 12 Comments

  1. I left this religion in 1983 because I became a father and did not want my children to be denied a blood transfusion and be raised in an anti-social way like I was. This led to a custody fight that went to the state Supreme Court. I got custody and even though they maintained a good relationship with their mother, now that they are adults they are shunned by their mother, They were never baptized. I have three brothers who are required to shun their children. I have three nieces that were actually put out of their houses with no place to go. One niece went to a person her mother was conducting a bible study with and that women took her in. The two others, the state provided homes for them to live through foster care. One 15 year old was forced to sneak looks at her younger sister from a distance, When her mother died from a brain tumor she was viciously shunned when she came to say goodbye to her mother. She has never recovered and although she struggled for many years to get on with her life, today she lives as a homeless person. We provided a home for two of her children for a few years, but they have had to live without extended family that we all generally take for granted. This can all be verified by speaking to my brothers who are all very active Jehovah’s witnesses. Recently one of my nieces said that there is getting to be more of us than of them. The coercion and shunning is not working, and in fact the quality of their membership will only decline, Recently, I ran into an old friend that I had when I was a member of this religion, and he informed me that he was now an atheist, but was keeping it secret because of fear of being shunned. .
    They are blackmailing their members with the destruction or their family. All of us need to continue to inform the public and also be available to help members and former members. m

    • Daniel. I am so sorry your family is going through this. Like so many who choose to leave they almost all experience the shunning. And more and more I hear there are many who want to leave but feel trapped due to the shunning policy. We at AAWA are doing our best to let the world know about the human rights violations often committed on children who just want to be kids

    • My research on the validity of the Jehovahs Witness (WBTS) to be the direct channel through which God operates has proven to me beyond reasonable doubt that they are not as claimed and is untrue
      I see this as based on not only their own history but from my personal knowledge and personal experiences with them being raised since birth in this system of beliefs.
      I understand why there are distinct differences among those that are no longer a part of this religious organization.
      Largly 2 camps that I can see, that of the so called haters that I do not agree with but understand where they are at because of trauma they have undoubtedly experienced, and had nothing to replace thier misput faith and conditioning left them at odds with with how to proceed, and what to believe if anything…as well as the fear that they may still be either wrong or unworthy and definately abandoned by those that professed to love them and call them brother and sister.
      It can be said that there are those that have chosen to leave God and not follow Jesus this is sad and I pray for them as did Jesus. As well as those who leave when they disagree with teachings as being unscriptual and are unafraid to say so even tho at great cost to themselves… I believe the bible when it says believe and serve God rather than man!
      I base my decision on two main things;
      1. Thier own history and teachings being unscriptual, ever changing, and no attempt to admit wrongdoing, repent publicly as they require of thier followers ( making them hypocrites)
      2 Their inability to follow Jesus greatest commandment in
      Matthew 22:36-40 New International Version (NIV)

      36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

      37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”


      Matthew 22:37 Deut. 6:5
      Matthew 22:39 Lev. 19:18
      New International Version (NIV)
      Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

      This being proven over and over by how they treat not only each other but the general disregard for others, other than to recruit and convert. Any who disagree with thier teachings are treated abominolly and most important unscriptually.
      Important to note that they are Self Appointed not God appointed and this can be shown as true by there own inability to get prophesy correct in the timeline “they” set , change and set again as to thier calling themselves the “faithful and discreet slave”
      I am very sad for my own waste of years in and out of this organized religion of misunderstanding and self hatred for not feeling good enough or worthy enough of them.
      I was saved by prayer and appealing to God through his son, my redeemer to find my way through all religious propaganda by reading the bible doing my
      research (which is ever on goin)and opening my heart to just truth and understanding thru prayer relying soley not on my understanding or anyone elses but allowing myself to be lead by God alone thru Christ to understand his word.
      I suggest to you that you put your trust in God and his son to show you the way and to pray for all those lost in False religions and belief systems contrary to the word of God. Find community and fellowship with like minded Christians who follow the gospel and even then search your heart for truth and ask God for wisdom to understand then be patient for he will reveal all to us in HIS due time. Do not judge leave that to God keep watch over your own heart and behavior read his word apply it to your life EVERY day, trust in His love for you and you will have joy and peace
      God bless and keep you always
      God is Good All The Time
      Count on it!
      Free at last

  2. I had enough with everything in 2010 when I had to sleep in my car go ten week during a freezing winter! I had lost my home due to unemployment. I was evicted – ( the back story is as a JW you are not allowed to pursue an education or a career, especially as a girl. You always do menial jobs, and spend time in the ministry. I have never accumulated any wealth , money in the bank, or developed marketable stills. This was Ok because Armaggedon was imminent! However, my generation are now 50 plus, and penniless. When I lost my job,I had nothing to fall back on, and in my forties could not find a job with no skills) I had become slack with meeting attendance and had not raised my two Children as witnesses. I wanted them to go to prom, play sports and attend college ( where they were.) I wanted birthday cakes and presents! I didn’t want them to face committees of men for indiscretions all teens make…. So I find myself sleeping in my car. My sister a devout Witness, has a large 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom, 3 level townhouse! She and her MS husband have no children (responsible child bearing in the time of the end- right?) she has never pioneered and always had a great job- she worked her way up in real estate. Her and her husband are well liked in the Cong. They are in the upper echelon of the hierarchy. Single, divorced sisters with kids, the infirmed, elderly and men with no position are at the bottom. So I asked her if I could come and stay with her in the spare room or large finished basement, till I could get back on my feet again. She refused! Really Christian! I was very sick and very cold. She still refused. She said I had made choices and brought this on myself! I was not disfellowshipped or apostate… Just weak- as they say. I remember sleeping in my car in a Safeway parking lot, and a group of witnesses on field service knocking on my window to share the WT&A with me. I was so ashamed I drove off. Her mother in Law, a devout JW, in the meantime, was virtually living in he basement- she had a large house, but insisted on taking extended trips to stay with her son and my sister. But I we not welcome, not even for a glass of water! I was her Sister! I needed her! She turned her back on me on in my greatest hour of need…I have been very stumbled by this. Not a loving or Caring religion! I eventually found a job, moved into motel, and a found an apartment. But not thanks to my JW family!

    • Liza Your story is all too familiar to many people who are technically still JWs. Be very proud of yourself for getting your life back together and rebuilding it without them. No it is not a caring religion. Unless you have some status and preferably money you are well accepted. It isn’t even the ones who devote all their lives to the WTS because if for some reason you stop everything you did previously is totally discounted. And you should be very proud of giving your children the opportunities you never had.

  3. So sorry and so wrong. Find a non denominational church they will willingly help you and support you in finding true faith and love in Christ as well as realistic social help

  4. My story is long and complicated. I was brought up as a JW. For years my parents especially my mother was always bible thumping. Never taught me about real life, never taught me about boys, never taught me about my body. never taught me how to manage money, manage finances, manage my life. My uncle, was a child molester for years, now serving 40 years in jail, I had another uncle who did the same to me for years, all of them brought up as JWs. My father, who I know in fact is gay, is still A JW. My mother is a self righteous JW and has refused to speAK or have anything to do with me since I left the religion at 18 yo. I’m now 41, with two children, and I’m gay. Basically what I’m saying is my whole family is jacked up because of this stupid religion. Doesn’t want anything to do with my kids, even though they have nothing to do with this mess. I know for a fact that I’ve tried to reach out on some occasions. About a year ago, I asked my uncle to ask her if she would talk to me. The answer is the same. She still refuses to talk to me period. I’ve struggled with this for alot of years. I’m wondering if I should give up completely even though she’s my mother. SHOULD I GIVE UP? STOP THINKING ABOUT HER? I often wonder if she would even come to my funeral. I often wonder if she even thinks about me and my kids. I dont want my kids exposed to that religion, ever. It completely tore my family apart and I don’t want the same for my family at all. I just want my children to know my parents but it seems that will never happen. I’ve been saddened by this even to this day. My parents are gonna. Ppl try to tell me that I should forget about them and move on. But could that do the same with their own parents? Everything I’ve been thru and learned the hard way. They were never there for anything, not even for the birth of my first child, who is now 14. Smh. I’m at a lost why any mother in her right mind wouldn’t wonder about her child. Regardless of religion

    • Disfellowshipping is the worse thing you can do to someone. It’s psychologically destructive and destroys families. This religion is about brainwashing, manipulating, controlling, judgemental, forceful.

    • Chris as long as your mother is a JW she will have “no natural affection” for you or your children. All feeling is drilled out of them so they cannot express the normal love they should have for their own child. When I left the religion my oldest child was 14. My mother pretty much ignored them unless she had an opportunity to preach to them or take them to a meeting. If your mother does have access to your children she will do her best to teach them her beliefs including how sinful and bad you are. Your kids don’t need that. If your mother cannot treat you lovingly why would you think she could do that to your children. Believe me, they are better off without her. Many children grow up without grandparents and they do just fine. They certainly don’t need “brainwashing, manipulating, controlling, judgmental and forceful” family members in their lives. It is hard but move on. I know I had to but with time it does get easier. I just have to remind myself that she can’t give them the love they need.

  5. I understand what you’re saying in point number four – human beings who set policy and prophesy need to be accountable and stable and that would go for anyone in a position of clergy. Just saying Aspergers (and Autism), no matter how severe have nothing to do with being “crazy”. And neither would they innately make someone unstable or incapable of being in said position.

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