The One Thing That Jehovah’s Witnesses Taught Me

When you’re raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and you later leave the religion, chances are some will try to get you to return and become an active member once again. They may threaten you with shunning, or try to “reason” with you. Those who try to reason with you may talk about the “good things” you learned as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, the hope of earth becoming a paradise for all Jehovah’s Witnesses, the morals they teach, and so on.

Let me tell you the one thing that Jehovah’s Witnesses taught me that will apparently stick with me forever. The one thing that I learned from the first day I walked into their Kingdom Hall at age 5, and the one thing that is still with me over 40 years later. The one thing that I learned from years and years of attending their services and assemblies, from being surrounded by other Jehovah’s Witnesses, and from adhering strictly and faithfully to their teachings.

I learned loneliness.

Jehovah’s Witnesses taught me loneliness, and they taught the lesson well. They began teaching me this lesson when I was a child and didn’t stop until I left the religion, and it still sticks with me today.

Some who are Jehovah’s Witnesses may argue that you can’t be lonely as a JW because you’re surrounded by a “worldwide brotherhood” of men and women “united in worship of the one true god, Jehovah,” or some other mindless tripe they’ve learned to repeat endlessly. These phrases sound well and good, but they just don’t hold up under closer inspection.

To explain how and why Jehovah’s Witnesses taught me the lesson of loneliness, I could talk about demographics. Congregations of JWs are kept small on purpose and may include around 75 persons in total. With only about 75 people in a congregation, there are usually just one or two who are of the same age and in the same situation as you (married versus single, working versus stay-at-home, etc.), and what are the chances that those one or two people will have so much in common with you that you can be real friends? Unlike other religions, Jehovah’s Witnesses have no formal programs for organizing social groups or events of any kind, so meeting new people and forming friendships was something you had to do on your own. Their emphasis has always been on sermons and studies, and never on fulfilling the need for socializing among members.

I could also talk about being a woman as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their official rules and policies aside, officially women were commonly dismissed and ignored. Being single never helped matters any, as married women had their husbands and families to care for and to spend time with. Mothers especially seemed to find it difficult to make time and space for single women, so even if there were women around your age in your congregation, once they were married and pregnant, you were invisible.

Loneliness inside the congregation is also learned because of how often Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught to shun other members who are perceived as not doing enough or not living up to vague, man-made standards. Note the Shunning category for how often they do this in their publications. As a shy child who was horribly self-conscious, I hated participating in their meetings, even though I had a voracious appetite for study and always obeyed all their rules to the letter. However, my quiet nature made it easy for people to overlook me.

I might also talk about how things were worse in my home because of my parents; my father was never one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so many other couples in the congregation avoided us as a family because they didn’t feel he was good association for them. My mother was plagued by emotional problems and was very harsh and judgmental to people, which also didn’t help. When other families talked about how they got together to enjoy some fun, I would be left standing there, awkward and alone, always the odd one out.

Being lonely for all these reasons would be enough, but the real reason I learned this loneliness while one of Jehovah’s Witnesses is the emotional vacancy and distance they create and even nurture for many of their members.

This emotional scarring began early on for me, as my father’s violent temper was revealed over the years. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach women to tolerate this type of abuse and to be more loving to their husbands when they’re abusive, in the hopes of impressing them with their behavior and converting them. This sounds good in theory, but in reality this would often just encourage my father to be even more abusive. He knew he could do anything he wanted and there were no consequences, as a matter of fact, the more violent he became, the more loving my mother was obligated to act. Of course this just encouraged him to be even more abusive! The never-ending circle in my home of abuse and violence, silence and submission, and then more abuse and violence resulted in my mother attempting suicide on more than one occasion, and she was in and out of psychiatric hospitals starting from when I was age 11.

Unequipped emotionally to handle his outbursts and abuse, my mother also found an outlet for herself by turning on me, taking her frustrations out on me or goading my father into abusing me. After all, if he was screaming at me, he wasn’t screaming at her. This caused a huge form of emotional loneliness in my own home. I was the odd one out with the congregation and then with my own parents, becoming the lightning rod of hate from both of them, an easy target for anger and abuse. I have no memories of closeness with either of my parents, only memories of screaming, anger, blaming, name-calling, insults, degrading comments, teasing, ridicule, and so on.

Before anyone tells me to just forgive my parents, note that this type of behavior continued long after I became an adult so that even to this day I cannot talk to either of them, as the yelling and insults still continue. Needless to say, there is still no emotional closeness between us; they’re strangers at best, and my abusers at worst.

Being lonely in other relationships is also something I learned as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Because of the patriarchal, misogynistic teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses that simply told women what to do and what was for their benefit without ever actually asking them how they felt, women typically learned to simply squelch their real feelings and emotions when around men. Not only did this teach men to become oblivious to the feelings of women, but many of the men I knew in the religion delighted in bossing around the women and would tease them about having to be in submission, or would scream and berate them in front of others, knowing they could get away with it. The few men I dated inside the religion also had this “I’m in charge and this is what I say” attitude, so that it didn’t matter what I felt even if I did dare express myself. This too created an emotional vacuum and made me feel distant and isolated, even when in a relationship.

To add to this loneliness inside the congregation and at home, Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that making friends outside the religion was a huge no-no. “Worldly” people as non-JWs are called were presented as dangerous, immoral, and influenced by Satan, not to mention ignorant, out to hurt you, and going to die at Armageddon. This causes a huge separation between Jehovah’s Witnesses and non-Witnesses, even family members. Needing to keep myself separate and being taught this attitude about people made me feel alone when at school or work, when shopping, or when doing anything else in my life that involved non-JWs. So, I had no friends outside the religion and no friends inside the congregation, and was isolated and abused at home as well.

Some might jump all over this and assume that I didn’t do my part in reaching out to others or in taking the initiative to make friends. Let me stop those people right now and tell them that I worked very, very hard to call people and ask if they wanted to go out or socialize in some way, to show concern for others, and to create fun events for families and their children. What I found is that most Jehovah’s Witnesses were more than happy to take, but not give. They would come to a get-together I would have, eat my pizza and drink my punch, play cards with others, and then leave. They would show up for an afternoon at the bowling alley with their kids, and then leave. In some cases they would hardly even converse with me when playing cards or bowling or whatever else. I would never, ever hear from them again. This too caused not just a physical loneliness but an emotional distance, as I never, and I mean never remember feeling close to one single person while growing up as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Being lonely about other people is hurtful and painful enough, but Jehovah’s Witnesses also taught me to be spiritually lonely, despite their claims of worshiping a “loving” god. When you are constantly told to do more, are constantly judged by your preaching activity and participation in services, and left to fend for yourself in an abusive home without the elders of your religion saying one word to you, and I mean not one word, you learn that you worship a distant, cold, harsh god. My mother was in a psychiatric hospital after overdosing on pills, and they didn’t think to ask the 11-year-old girl if she needed any help at home. They would have families over for cards or movies, and never thought to invite the single woman with no one at home to talk to, the one who had to work and pay her own way and completely take care of herself because her mother was mentally ill and her father was an abusive, violent animal. These are the same men who demand obedience because they are “appointed by god.” It is impossible to feel connected and secure with a god whose supposed earthly channel of communication neglects you so often.

So there it is. The one thing that JWs taught me, and taught me well. They taught me to be lonely. They taught me that I was dispensable, invisible, inconsequential, and unnecessary. I had no friends in the religion and have no idea how to make friends now. I sacrificed my right to have normal relationships and to bring children into this world because of being put in a corner and isolated in my own home and in my own religion, and now I feel nothing emotionally but gaping emptiness. I sometimes read of other ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses who have moved on, who have married or who have children, and it literally, physically hurts. I see people at work with their friends and their family and I hold in the tears just until I get home. Some days I only make it to the parking lot. I sit in my apartment feeling disconnected from everyone around me, just as I did the first time I sat in the Kingdom Hall, just as I did every time I was around Jehovah’s Witnesses, and just as I did the last time I went to one of their meetings. They taught me to be alone and to be lonely.

Lesson learned. No, I won’t be coming back.

16 replies »

  1. Hi… any one out there who dated an ex-witness? I did for 10 years and my trip was horrific. please tell me someone is writing a book and needs honest content.

  2. Hello. I really enjoyed reading your post would it possible for us to email each other? I would really like to speak to you because I’ve been through this struggle and being baptized has been a huge regret since the moment i came up out of the water i feel alone depressed and i even find myself wanting to leave the religion for good and not look back. But i am scared because once you go out into the world things get worse for you and all i feel like doing is dying i feel like i have no life that i am trapped mentally i feel that i will never be a spiritual sister I’ll never get married or be like the other girls in religion. I am very sad inside and i hope Jehovah does see in my heart that i just want to live mylife i don’t want to feel trapped anymore. Were not supposed to be worried about friendships i was told we don’t go to the kingdom hall to make friends but to worship Jehovah that’s what we are there for to be friends with Jehovah. I’m afraid that if i date someone out in the world and keep my teachings to myself then i will be bloodguilty. I was inactive for 3 years and i did have a boyfriend i got a boyfriend because i just wanted to ne free i did talk to him a little about the truth but i was doing worldly things and he was abusive to me. I came back to being a jw but i don’t feel like i fit in I’m a worldly person in my heart i want to date go to parties with friends laugh not preach and read the bible all the time. If your not preaching or going to the meetings you have no witness friends and you are alone.

    • You’re not alone in your feelings, but remember that not going to the Kingdom Hall doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve given up on god, if you still consider yourself a Christian. You can and should find where you fit and not try to force yourself to be part of a religion that doesn’t feel right to you. I would suggest you just try to make friends outside the Kingdom Hall, maybe through work or school or by doing volunteer work, and just see how it feels to you. You might date if you meet a nice man but don’t rush anything or push yourself. If being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses doesn’t seem right, that’s usually a sign that it’s not.

      You can send me a message privately by going to the About page at the top, there’s a contact form you can fill out. It will send the message to my private inbox and we can chat through email if you want.

  3. I totally understand where you’re coming from. I’ve been baptized for over 20 years and have been inactive for the past three years. I came to my wit’s end when it comes to endlessly observing and experiencing hypocrisy, favoritism and the judgmental atmosphere in the congregation.

    Jw’s have taught me also how to be lonely. If you are active in the congregation but not ‘titled’ an auxilliary pioneer, pioneer, etc then you won’t be invited into those groups because you’re not putting in enough hours each month. Another example here of favoritism. I have been inactive for the past 3 years and i still don’t know how to make friends.

  4. You are aboslutely right. JW’s teach loneliness well. I too never fit in anywhere. Childhood was painful. There were no friends to be had at our hall and ‘worldly’ kids were taboo. As an adult, we had people over all the time and were noted for our hospitality, we did include the single sisters and we had basically an open door policy…if anyone wanted to come over at any time, they were welcome to. We often had people popping in at supper time unannounced and that was okay. The single sisters would come over and play scrabble or cards and have wine and laugh. Yet we were ALWAYS excluded from other JW families gatherings and would hear about it afterward. It was very painful. There was even a kids party and my son and I were the only ones excluded in several congregations because the organizing sister didn’t like my son, as he was better behaved than her son and she was jealous. THAT still hurts to this day. When we would go out in service, we would be stuck constantly with the undesirable people, the odd people, the elderly complainers. The elders and pioneers would take the fun people. It got to the point where we would show up really late so we wouldn’t have to take the sister who used WAY too much garlic and the one who didn’t speak much English yet again and the brother who took out his false teeth. Some of the people that were difficult actually were pretty nice if you got to know them, they were just odd. To this day, when I see one odd sister, maybe once every 2 or 3 yers, she races over to speak with me as no one else really ever bothered with her. Sad. I left the organization in 2011 and am happier now than I ever was, at least I’m not being under-whelmed at the lack of love by the congregation.

    • My husband left the jw’s 32 years ago, got a divorce, he is now 65. and moved on for the most part. physically moved on. the mental abuse is still there and its a lot of work keeping it in check. its a daily war. he was taught the wife is a slave, speak when spoken to, and the ignoring is a beast. we have had lots of issues due to me never being a jw. never will be. he does go through the anxiety of being alone, and making friends is hard for him. trust issues are huge. we have been married for 20 years, and yes divorce has been talked about due to his teaching of ignoring, blocking me out. but he is slowly becoming the man Jesus wanted him to be. we are both christians, he’s active in our non religious church. life is beginning to treat him better. never give up, just keep working at it, and keep in mind you were taught abusive things, its not your fault, its theirs. put it where it belongs and that’s on them, shame on them. you are a good person, stay being that good person.

  5. The watchtower society practices mind control promoted by their rock and founder who by the way has Freemason knights of Templar symbols on his headstone which is shaped like a pyramid. Jesus said the truth is in front of you to see. There it is…..

  6. Alexandra,
    I have been reading your blog and your story really struck me.
    Would love to know more about the way you overcame loneliness.

    • Just keep aware of it. Put yourself around good hearted people. Not users, not takers but just want to be kind. get involved in charity

  7. Now I can see it was ten months ago or more that you wrote this. Wrote well, I might add.
    I think it is so strange that there is nobody else who has commented on your loneliness.
    I know why people won’t make comments to me. It is because I am NUTS. I do not blame them. But you Alexandra are normal and smart. So maybe this is hell. What do you think?

    • My personal blog posts are a bit buried on my page, they’re not the most important part of what I write so I think a lot of people don’t find them. I also think people agree but don’t know what to say. Some people are very lucky to have gotten out with a spouse or to have other family that were out, but others have had it a lot worse than me. We even have Facebook groups set up as suicide memorials for some who just couldn’t cope with the abuses and emotional pain they’ve felt.

      I just got done watching a video of a little boy in Syria asking a journalist for food. I have a roof over my head, steady employment, a few dollars in the bank, food in the kitchen, a car, and no bombs going off outside. I don’t mind expressing what the religion did to me but don’t like to complain too much either. Thank you again for your kind words.

      • Alexandra thank you for pouring your heart out-my husband and I are going through this right now-we were invited to a graduation party last week and it was very hurtful to just be sitting at the table with the other “undesirables” and watching everyone one else have conversations and fun…one of the loneliest feelings in the world is being in a room full of people but not part of it….we have lived in different states and it’s all the same-the first couple weeks everyone is nice and the fake invites (they never have you over) come then boom you barely get a hello… I feel for you and remain strong-I think I am done with this phoney gig…. I love our creator and his son and know that they will help you and I overcome this…💜

  8. Is Faruq replying to the wrong essay?

    Anyway, I understand the loneliness that is learned at the Kingdom Hall. I’ve seen more than my share of it. JWs are kept so busy and fearful that no real friends can be found there. I think what you wrote, Alexandra, is not exaggerated. Please know that I want to be with you through your tribulations. if I could I would.

    • You’re welcome. I do not mean it seems like hell because of suffering. I mean it seems like hell because it is so unnatural. It’s WEIRD and it does not seem real.
      I think you have a lot of patience. Patience is something real. Love is real. Wisdom is real. Anger is real. Hope is real. Happiness is real. Truth is real. I think that it is true people should talk to one another and not just talk to people who think the same way. That is weird.
      I think you should send some of your essays to newspapers. You write well and I wonder if you are college educated? By the way, in some instance f*ck seems to be the perfect word. I do not know why.

  9. Went out door-to-door a LOT but never had a Bible study that way. Did inherit 1 Bible study from a brhoter who wanted to turn that woman over to a female publisher, but the lady never progressed to baptism. Had another Bible study for awhile, me & another sister, with a guy at work but we eventually turned him over to the brhoters & he eventually DID get baptized too bad! A lot of RVs & ongoing discussions but zilch commitments from householders, ditto any/all family. So in 11 years as a JW (past tense), only that 1 guy actually joined the ranks.

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