When Trust is Broken

This was originally posted on my WordPress blog, but since the information is relevant to the mission of AAWA, I was asked to reprint it here. Original version of this article can be found at: http://originalthots.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/when-trust-is-broken/

broken-trust“I don’t know how to make friends.” “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to trust again.” “I feel socially backward.” These are just a few of the statements I hear from former Jehovah’s Witnesses who have parted ways with the faith.  The root cause always comes down to one thing:  trust has been broken.

When you’ve lived in a situation where your “friends” are foisted on you and pre-approved by church management, and where your behaviors are dictated by higher ups, there’s not a big need for social skills.  What few social skills we did absorb came from watching others at school or work.  But, since we weren’t able to rub elbows and socialize with those folks, we could only assume why they behaved the way they did – for better or worse.

The only trust we were told to have was in the god Jehovah, and in his self-appointed governing body of men who sat in their tower in New York making pronouncements on the JW membership.  We were also supposed to trust that our “brothers and sisters” had our backs, since we had to trust them when the war of all wars broke out at Armageddon.

trustFor most of us exJWs, our trust was broken along the way.  For some, they realized they could no longer trust the Watchtower leaders to provide accurate information, having had many doctrinal flip-flops over the past century.  Yet others were emotionally and physically abused by those in authority, or those leaders swept abuses under the carpet, leaving members vulnerable.

Upon leaving, many of us felt the worst of betrayals.  Our “brothers and sisters” no longer supported us, often hurling unfounded accusations our way in an attempt to sully our names.  And flesh and blood chose doctrine and church leaders over family.  While in some terribly vulnerable situations, we were left with no emotional support whatsoever.  In addition to these breaches of trust, many have also felt the pain and confusion of losing their faith in God altogether–they feel betrayed by their own Heavenly Father.

So, how does one move through this kind of hurt and breaches of trust to build relationships again?  I can only share what worked for me.

As an extrovert, I draw energy from people. Some would say I’m a social butterfly.  So, to be cut off from family and a lifetime of friends was excruciatingly painful.  I needed people in my life like a duck needs water.  But, I didn’t trust anyone.  To alleviate some of this isolation I made superficial friendships with co-workers, but these relationships didn’t have much depth…and I needed that.

I began dipping my toe in the trust pool by sharing bits and pieces of my experience as a JW, even going so far as to tell a few that my family shunned me.  I still carried embarrassment, guilt, and shame, but soon realized those feelings were misplaced as I began sharing my story.  The reaction from listeners was usually outrage and disgust at the situation–not me.  I saw people who were righteously indignant on my behalf, and it was freeing.

About 3 years after I was disfellowshipped, I joined a non-doctrinal congregational church.  I figured if any religion understood religious oppression, it would be the Congregationalists.  This was an extremely supportive community, of which I was a member for over a decade.  I became a greeter for Sunday services, helped on a planning committee, and other activities.  At one point, to further my trust and relationship building, I joined a prayer shawl group, where we knitted or crocheted shawls for those who were going through a health or relationship crisis. I slowly built some friendships–you notice it was not overnight.  I began to learn who exhibited behaviors that were supportive, and those behaviors that I did not want or need in my life.

FriendsMy biggest learning about myself was that church was filling a giant need I had for community, and I could find that community in any number of places.  I left the church, but kept my friendships. As most of you know, I have a passion for gardening…so, I joined a burgeoning garden club. During this time, I made a couple of fantastic friends that I can always count on.

I’ve also made some excellent friends throughout the exJW community. As I travel around with my job, I’m often able to make a little side trip to connect with folks that I’ve chatted with online for years.  That is ALWAYS a joy!

The bottom line is this:  friendships and relationships can be built again.  Trust can be built again.  It doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a slow process.  And, slow and steady is a great way to do it. [vimeo http://vimeo.com/7148987]One of my favorite authors was Stephen Covey, and he had a great analogy about building trust, using the metaphor of an Emotional Bank Account  in which we make small deposits over time. Take your time to build that trust.  I would also add that it takes courage to avoid relationships with people that don’t have our best interests at heart.  And, in that regard I’ve had my fair share of failures…but learned from them all.

Be patient with yourself, and enjoy the journey.


Posted on by November 18, 2013

About Steph Le Gardener

I'm a former 4th generation JW who's been out since 1992, re-creating my world and family of the heart. I keep busy with my work for a not-for-profit organization which specializes in education for senior leadership in healthcare, as well as my many hobbies, including: gardening, crafting, nature photography, reading, and writing. For nearly eight years, I've been an active voice in the ex-JW community, supporting those who have found their way out of cult life, and now I add my voice with others as an active volunteer for Advocates of Awareness of Watchtower Abuses (AAWA). I can be reached at writers@aawa.co.


When Trust is Broken — 12 Comments

  1. Very heartwarming, I too found myself at a loss when I decided to Fade from the Organization. I see the people who have the most problems are those who have been kicked out (disfellowshipped). Because it was not by choice that they are now being shunned and etc. for the most part and they really are loners and takes a long time for them to truly gain trust in others again it is so sad and because they have no social skill they do sometimes surround themselves around negative things such as drugs and alcohol and unsafe sex practices among other things and put themselves at risk. For those of us who have faded I think that many of us prepare beforehand, we make friends at work and with people we knew while growing up including exJW’s and know that we will be shunned by the people we thought were supposed to be our friends simply because we have decided to stop going to the meetings and live our life the way we see fit. Luckily I had become inacvite in my young adult years and came back became a ministerial servant then faded. I hope this very nice article reaches many of those who would truly benefit from something like this.

    C M

    • You’re right, C.M., some do turn to unhealthy behaviors in order to cope with the trauma of disfellowshipping. It takes some time to develop those social and coping skills that will help us through those difficult times. With persistence it can happen. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  2. Hi Steph . The “gas” ran out for me too by the time I left the ORG in 1992 also . 1970 , at 20 years old , was when my early adult life with them began . I have since got to know many additional Christians among the other nooks and crannies of the rest of “Christendom” .

    TRUST : For me this is what I will do in a relative sense regarding other people . I’ll attribute trust toward them , though not IN them , until I learn how not to trust them . Eventually I learn more on what confidence to place in who . At 63 now , it has become convincing that there are no human “organizations” to trust to the point that the WTO expects from their adherents . They are truly an inordinately controlling movement . The leaders handle the broken trust that they have caused very much like American politicians . They want to save face . They rarely if ever admit to mistakes they have made . They are trustworthy in several ways that are the size of a gnat , and their errors are the size of a camel . . . so much like the Pharisees who made their subjects cow-tow to them .

    Thank God we have the Son to trust in !

    And thank you for the article and for your work endeavors at this site .

    bro dan

    • Dan, you make an interesting analogy regarding the WTS and politicians. You are correct in that they are all about saving face, at the expense of those who have been emotionally abused by this organization. Thanks for your post!


  3. Wow Dawn ! 51 years . I know that life as a witness is a safe haven so much of the time . Women came to my door in answer to my prayer for direction with my faith in the Bible and in God . They brought the W & G mags with a 1970 handbill which showed the meeting times and place . That was 2 or 3 blocks from my apartment .

    I had been made an elder in just a few years after baptism . As the years went along I gradually lost trust in the organization . Then one day I woke up to the fact that if YHWH chooses , He can “bring us in” to the “Organization” , and then later move us forward from there . This is what I have experienced . I have learned to pray more and more often , and to trust our Father and Brother more , after the Watchtower . . . Your smile , ” 🙂 ” , tells me you understand this the same way .

    Just considering the various things that Paul said would not separate him from the love in Christ : broken trust and betrayal of humans can’t separate us from Christ either .

    And HAPPY we remain !

    bro dan

  4. Steph,

    Thank you for your analysis. Sometimes you need Words To Say It. Sometimes you need other persons to pinpoint, to describe what is going on. In my case, it is about w a s going on. Why did my mother join this cult in the 1950 s? Why did I enjoy this cult as a Child and teenager? Why are people attracted to a cult that is preaching human extermination? Practising shunning? Forcing members to literally die rather than receiving adequate medication? Encouraging Children to refrain from education? What are the driving forces behind this, there must be some kind of attraction – people seem at least very happy inside this cult?

    When I once tried to summarize this, I came to this list:

    The tormented person gets relief
    The disoriented person gets a compass
    The confused person gets wisdom
    The acrimonious person gets happiness
    The frozen person gets warmth
    The untalented person gets skills
    The pushed around person gets a status
    The grieving person gets hope
    The unnoticed person gets a medal
    The abandoned person gets a family

    Indeed, that is what cults are about – to get a family. But what is the good thing about a family. Well,there are many good things with belonging to a family, But surely one of the best is what you pointed at, Steph: The wonderful feeling of trust, that not only you can trust other persons but also that they trust you. You feel trusted in a family, you feel even more trusted in a cult, by the effect of multiplication.

    When you wear the same badge or sign, then you even experience the overwhelming feeling of invincible and rock solid trust – “millions of people who trust me cannot be wrong, this is fantastic”. .

    What you describe, Steph, is the trauma, the damage of this trust being broken. I now realize better why my transition into the real world was quite smooth – I had lived a part-time life in the JW cult. With my non.jw dad and non.jw big sis and my “normal” comrades in school and in the neighbourhood, I learned to trust the “worldly people”, they were never strangers to me. So when I broke up, I just stayed in their companionship and stopped walking into the concept-based cult bunker of the JW three times a week for my doses of artificial happiness experiences.

    When I read your analysis, Steph, I understand better why I liked being a JW fanatic. And this is important, if you do not understand the attraction of a cult, then you cannot understand why there is terror created by people who look nice.

    Understanding the mecanisms of cults is not a fringe phenomenon, it is a key to understand ourselves, us humans, the Homo Sapiens, the knowing human. Who is prone to let go of this faculty of knowing things by just receiving this fantastic feeling of belonging to a big family where you are tied together by mutual trust.

    In a cult, you get a reward, that comes with a leash. Outsiders only see the leash, insiders only feel the rewards. But in order to understand the leash, you must understand the rewards, and you, Steph, have contributed greatly to this. Trust is a key element. True trust is wonderful, fake trust is lethal.

    • Klas, I think your list is very insightful. And, I agree that understanding cult dynamics helps us understand how we ended up in one, whether through conversion or birth. Thanks for your post!

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