My father's parents were Jehovah's Witnesses. He was baptized in 1935. When I was seven, the Watchtower organization became the primary focus in my parents life. I tried to simply "walk away" from the Watchtower's control in 1974. I knew I had left the JWs, but had no idea that their teachings had not left me, but were in fact were still the core beliefs that I was using to run my life.
When I tried to be a Witness I experienced dissonance, that is an inner conflict which caused me discomfort and, at times, outright pain. Consonance and dissonance, as described by Festinger, Riecken and Schachter in When Prophecy Fails (1956) is what happens when my beliefs and my actions are in conflict. It works like this: My core belief is that the Watchtower is God's only means to communicate with all the people on earth, and that the only way that I can merit God's favor is to attend five group meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses a week, distribute their literature, try to recruit my friends, non-witness relatives, and everyone else I meet into the group, and to believe whatever is the "present truth." Yet I, for whatever reason, cannot do all these things and I feel like a failure, a traitor to God and, at times, unworthy to live. When I tried to "just get on with my life" and simply deny my Watchtower training, I experienced dissonance (pain). When I experience the pain of internal conflict I will always eventually try to resolve the conflict or medicate the pain.
When I feel rejected by God, then I usually feel unworthy and rejected by everyone else. If I try to run, I can't run fast enough or far enough, so I'm always restless. If I try to change the cause of the dissonance when I don't understand what the cause is, I almost always change the wrong thing. The last thing I look at are my core beliefs. My core beliefs are my reasons, my tests, my justifications, my security, and my very foundation. So I try to change my environment. I change jobs, houses, towns, friends, wives, and everything around me. To the world I appear radical, inconsistent, restless, irritable, and discontent. I have relationship problems and there always seems to be three crisis, the one I'm just getting out of, the one that I'm in the middle of, and the one I'm working to create. The worse my life goes, to a degree, the less the dissonance because, in a sense, I am proving the Watchtower right when they said if I ever left the organization I would experience similar fates to others who left. They had a rumor network that would keep the members up to date on the terrible things happening to group members who were disfellowshipped or dared to quit "Jehovah's Organization." I never once heard of anything good happening to a former member while I was a practicing member myself.
When I could not accept the behavior of the members toward me and each other, or accept all of their "present truth" teachings, and when the pain of staying in got greater than my fear of leaving, I had to leave. I believe that I was set up by the Watchtower to self-destruct. When I try to change people, places, and things around me and nothing works, I only have the following choices:
1. Go back to the Watchtower and see if the mind control works this
2. Go on trying to change people, places, and things around me, stay in turmoil.
3. Sink deep in depression and possibly commit suicide.
4. Medicate feelings with activity or substance.
5. Get in recovery, accept what was done to me, overcome it, and help others
I chose to begin recovery. I chose to accept what happened to me as unchangeable by me now. I choose to get some power in my life by facing my past and actually changing most of my core beliefs. Before I can start to change I must accept some things about myself. Perhaps among the hardest things to accept about myself was my lack of personal boundaries, my lack of self esteem, and my almost compulsive attraction to people who reject and abuse me.
My lack of boundaries caused me to do things to other people that were inconsiderate of their boundaries. Since I didn't have my own boundaries I could not see and respect other people's boundaries either. If I crossed the boundaries of another person and they were healthy enough to tell me, I would take their action personally as a rejection .. . and I can not stand rejection!
I set up a cycle for myself that I'll try to describe. If I was lonely, I would seek out a companion. The companion would be walking in an emotional mine field. Since I could not define my boundaries, my friend would go way past. Since I was inconsistent, what was OK yesterday was not OK today. Eventually my anger or fear would build up until I blew. My behavior could drive people away from me and I would become lonely, starting the cycle over again.
It feels good today to be able to keep relationships healthy and enjoyable. Today I can say "You called at a bad time, can I call you back?" or "I feel bad when you do that." or the big one "No."
My lack of self esteem was power. It was like rocket fuel to a fire.
It was my security blanket. It was my identity. It made me omnipotent.
I was justified! The absolutely worst thing that could have happened to
me was success. If things were going good, look out! I would sabotage my
best deals. Relationships, jobs, whatever, if it went good, it was doomed.
I would make sure it didn't last. Then I would say to myself in my pity,
"See! I told you. You can't do anything right," or "Everything you touch
turns into garbage."
Rejection ... Attraction
At one group home meeting I don't ever remember a week that this Witness man did not beat one of his children in front of all present. Never do I recall anyone speaking up in defense of the children. On the contrary, group members would reinforce the behavior and since he had been with the group longer than my parents maybe he served as a model of sorts.
My brother and I were, at times, praised at Witness group meetings in front of the "friends," then had to deal with yardsticks and fly swatters in the privacy of our own home. Home for me was not a safe place. Kingdom Halls were not a safe place for me, either.
Contact with people with the same experience has been a real benefit
[Gary's first wife died in 1971 due to the Watchtower's stand on blood transfusion. Read their story in the Free Minds Journal, March/May 1995 entitled, "Just Up the Hill A Ways."]
7201 E Madison St
Sioux Falls SD 57110
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