Victims to Victors
Panel Discussion form the 2016 ICSA Conference in Dallas TX
Life After the Cult: Struggles and Successes
Families: Then and Now
Growing up in a cult forces people to define family in two ways. First there is the biological family one is born into. Like most people, that family cares for the physical, educational and spiritual needs of children. Sadly, often the emotional and psychological development are ignored as well as any integration into the larger community outside of the group.
The second definition of family in broadened to the family of cult members, where often people are referred to as brothers and sisters. Socialization outside of the biological family is limited to members of the cult group. There is strong pressure that socialization will not be permitted outside of this group.
It is within these two families that most cult children are raised. Their beliefs and values are controlled by the larger group and those who break the rules about associating outside of the larger group can be disciplined or even cast out. This serves to control the young and maintain their allegiance to the group. They get very little information from outside the group other than what they might pick up in school. Children are taught from a very young age to ignore any information that counters the cult beliefs they are being raised with. And they are taught to shun other children within the group who are not meeting certain standards of behavior. Recently there has been a greater move towards home schooling which serves to isolate the children even more from the larger community outside of the cult.
Cults take a further step to control the children in cult families. If older children fail to follow the rules they will be disciplined, emotionally and physically, or even cast out of both the family and the cult family often years before the law permits. Children can be shunned by members of the cult and limitations placed on even what the family discusses with the child who has been labeled an unrepentant sinner.
Like abusive families, children raised in cults are taught to never disclose what happens in the group to anyone on the outside. A strict no-talk policy is enforced with threats of punishment. They do not make friends with non-believers.
They do not participate in their holidays or other celebrations. They are limited in what they can participate in at school regarding celebrations and extracurricular activities. Between the isolation and the no-talk rule these children remain very apart from and detached from the non-cult world. This doesn’t give them a lot of options if abuse does occur at home or within the cult.
Sadly, it isn’t until many of the children are no longer minors and can legally leave the family home that they begin to contemplate a life outside the group. Then they are forced to struggle with issues regarding how to make friends, compared to the ready-made friends of cult members. How to trust people and who to trust. Many have severe trust issues or trust indiscriminately only to get hurt. In many ways, they feel like foreigners in a new country. There are simple traditions of the country they are in to learn, a different non-cult vocabulary, decisions about which beliefs and ethics or moral standards they want to keep and what they need to explore. Sexuality which is often a major issue in cults and becomes a minefield of if, and when, and how they want to be sexual. For those who are still virgins well into their 20s and 30s it is almost embarrassing to admit their sexual naivete.
Like most people raised in cults, people who leave the Jehovah’s Witnesses have all these issues to deal with. They find that they have issues with various kinds of relationships at work, at home, and with friends. After coming from an environment where the elders enforced all the rules published by the Watchtower Society (now jw dot com) they need to learn to make decisions about what to wear, who to have as friends, where to work, even what kind of car to buy. I am quite surprised by the number of ex-JW men who buy motorcycles, something that would have been reprimanded as a Witness.
Many decide to go back to school and learn a trade or career. Many learn hobbies for the first time. They now have time for things like hobbies and going out with friends. Some explore other religions. Most begin to really research the Witnesses and all the things they were taught. And they are angry when they discover they were lied to about so many things.
One young man who left a charismatic group blocked out the whole experience. Eventually he had problems with an authoritarian boss who was much like the leader of the group he had been with. He had to learn the skills needed to deal with this person. He went back to school. He learned new skills to interact with people and to cope with his issues. And he learned acceptance.
A young woman raised in Scientology had a lot of problems with communication after she left. She had to assess her beliefs, what did she want to keep and what did she need to find to replace old beliefs. Eventually she realized she had to stop all contact with anyone still in the cult. With only a poor home schooling to her credit she struggled to exist often having to live and rely on relatives. She had a lot of trust issues and had to learn to deal with them. All these issues can be resolved with the proper help and support.
I have seen all of this and more with ex-Witnesses. They struggle. Some turn to addictions and hopefully learn that any addiction will not help them. They need to rise above their past and learn how to function in a healthy manner in the real world today.
People now, who leave the Witnesses or any cult, have so much support and information available to them. I just finished reading Jon Atack’s new book “Opening Minds”, a superb entry book to understanding how people are controlled and manipulated into joining groups or who are even in an abusive personal relationship where they have pretty much signed their lives away and become what someone else wants them to be.
Understanding the past can help us forge a happier and much healthier future. Keep researching. Keep reading. Grow into the person you were meant to be.
Thankyou for this very helpful information…may all in your day be good.
Hello every my parent are jehovah witness and growing up my dad use to beat us to go and my mom kept me away from my entire family cause they were catholics as a teenager cause i refused to go to that cult i came home from school and changed the locks and made me homeless they chased all my friends away now im 40 and im single lonely SOMEONE NEEDS TO PUT A STOP TO THAT CULT AND WE NEED TO SAVE THE CHILDREN THEY DESERVE TO HAVE CHRISTMAS AND HOLIDAYS AND FRIENDS JEHOVAH WITNESS TEACHES THE PARENTS THAT IF THEY DONT WNT ANY PARTS OF THE CULT TO DISOWN THERE KIDS A TRUE GOLD LOVES ALL PEOPLE AND CHILDREN PLEASE STOP THAT CULT I BEG YOU
Adam We are doing what we can to expose them. People need to know, the courts need to know. Children are abused and neglected and you are absolutely correct. They need to be stopped
Adam….so sorry to hear your sad story…We feel for you, our lives have been affected by this cult to…You must reach out to other people who were once Wts…there are soooo many of us out there…You don’t have to be alone…many utube videos as to how JW.org has affected peoples lives and what they are doing by speaking out to help others like yourself be happy and enjoy life despite suffering negative effects from this religion.
I am sorry and said to hear your story and would refer a place where you can raise money for the cause to fight for justice.Like most people raised in cults, people who leave the Jehovah’s Witnesses have all these issues to deal with.
When I began to realise how mind controlling the Elders and the guidance from the GB were, dictating to children how to dress, harassing them about hair styles, preventing them from giving their talk that they had put so much time into preparin, because of how they appeared, all over time culminated in my having to decide this is not the life or future I want for my children. Many are fully aware of how controlling it is, but for fear of disassociation they allow it to continue.
I could see that my children had much more potential than my son’s all cleaning Windows or my daughter cleaning offices. I took my own stance, and encouraged my children to make a future for themselves that would be fulfilling, and could still serve Jehovah. But this was not working in my favour, as behind the scenes my children were been reproved and told otherwise when they were out of my ear shot with elders. For that reason and many others I slowly and finally saw that this is not a religion, this is a dictatorship. But sadly in light of what we see today, with the willfull protecting of child sexual abusers, and involvement with the U.N., it truly was a case of ” do what I am saying, but do not do as I am doing”.
I know there are very many right hearted servants among the congregations, but they are all now guilty by association. Guilty of far more hideous crimes than those most of us were shunned for and treated as apostates. But I am recovered and over all that now. I was able to “see the wood from the tree’s “.
So to you young people out there who are struggling with guilt and any sort of feeling of not having measured up, let it ti, just let it go. “The Letter of the Law was made too weighty for the people to carry” they too “will reap what they have sewn ” all in good time. Love and every good wish to you all. ❤
My name is Samuel and I had to leave my home at the age of 18 because I could no longer take living in a JW household I knew nothing of the outside of our small town , I learned to drive by force by age 15 and my parents restricted where I went and where to the point where they put a tracker in my phone to ensure I was going to a member of the Jw house or with one of my “friends ” that constantly spied on me in school and reported to the elders , it was hard leaving home and I still miss my family I have so many questions but after being in the jw organization and seeing them handle a man that had a wife marched into my home asked my mom to marry him and then later him and his wife came to apologize and it was all swept under the rug , the only thing that got me through was knowing I would have freedom I’m still with questions but I’m glad I had friends like a girl names carol from PA she had also gone through something similar and knowing I wasn’t alone made things easier then