Why I Remain Hidden as an Ex-Jehovah’s Witness, and It’s Not What You Think

Being an ex-Jehovah’s Witness is very different than being an ex-Catholic or leaving the Buddhist faith or just not going to your family church anymore. Many ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses walk a virtual landmine of existence after leaving or being disfellowshipped (excommunicated), and many of them, like me, remain anonymous online and elsewhere. We hide behind fake names and profile pictures and remain vague about our location, age, and other details of our identities. Visit any ex-JW Facebook page or website and chances are you’ll see dozens of obvious aliases and fake profile pics.

For most ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses, this is done because of the risk of being shunned by their family. When one of Jehovah’s Witnesses officially disassociates themselves or is disfellowshipped, they are completely shunned by everyone they know who is an active JW, including parents, children, siblings, grandparents, and grandchildren. Friends in the congregation also shun them completely, and this means completely, no matter your relationship to the person; no emails, phone calls, text messages, or any other communication. Many report that after being shunned, they are not invited to their children’s or sibling’s weddings, or are invited but not allowed to speak to anyone, and some also hear about major family events such as a death, wedding, or birth of a child through a third party.

Jehovah’s Witnesses claim on their website that only those who repeatedly break the bible’s moral codes are disfellowshipped, but this is a gross inaccuracy. A person can be disfellowshipped for speaking out against the organization and its policies, for asking too many questions, for associating with those who are disfellowshipped or disassociated, and a list of other supposed crimes against the religion itself. Bill Bowen, a former elder in the religion, was disfellowshipped for disagreeing with their policies and practices on pedophilia, not for any moral crime, and he is just one example of how that can happen.

This is one reason why many who go online stay anonymous, as this allows them to ask questions, get support for their concerns, and speak out against the religion without this threat of being found out by their congregation and subsequently disfellowshipped. They can express themselves without the risk of losing their family.

This Isn’t About Me

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While the threat of shunning may be the most common reason for remaining anonymous online, my reason actually has little to do with me. No, I don’t want to be shunned by my siblings, although they rarely talk to me anyway so it’s not that much of a motivation. My mother has never, and I mean never spoken a positive word to me in my life and I refuse to be around her anymore, so in effect, I’m actually shunning her. My stepfather is not a JW and like my mother, has always been abusive and cruel to me, so he’s not part of my life either.

The reasons I stay anonymous really have nothing to do with me personally. If it were my choice, I would “come out” in full force, make public appearances, get more involved with ex-JW movements, and let my voice be heard far and wide. However, the reasons I stay anonymous are actually out of concern for my family and because of their mental and emotional health. I stay anonymous for them, not for me, and I don’t mind saying that this is something you’ll never see or hear about Jehovah’s Witnesses doing. Let me explain.

While my mother has been anything but kind to me my entire life, living with my abusive and violent stepfather also drove her to several suicide attempts and time in psychiatric wards. His explosive temper left her with anxiety, depression, and virtually no self-esteem. She has problems making friends and socializing and is constantly anxious about being around other people. She has few social skills and struggles in those types of settings, has a hard time holding a job, and often feels isolated.

My mother’s only strength in her life is that she identifies as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and this makes her feel good about herself. Yes, my mother’s attitude can be called self-righteousness, but the only time she feels comfortable and secure is when she’s at their Kingdom Hall or with a small handful of other JWs. The only thing that gives her any measure of self-esteem is identifying with the religion and being a part of it.

The Witnesses have fully indoctrinated my mother so that she firmly believes that any day now, any minute now, Armageddon will come and everyone on earth who is not a JW will die a terrible, horrible death. The fact that I am not an active Witness is difficult enough for her to think about on a daily basis, but if she knew that I regularly visited ex-JW sites online and maintained this site myself, or read the words I’ve said about Jehovah’s Witnesses and their policies, I’m quite sure it would push her over the edge mentally and emotionally.

It may be easy to think I’m being overly dramatic, but as said, my mother has attempted suicide many times before and has a long history of using antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, and is very delicate when it comes to trauma or anything that upsets her small world. Because she so firmly believes that Jehovah’s Witnesses have the only true religion, it’s difficult for her to admit that I’m not part of it in any way; having to admit that I’m actively against it would probably be traumatizing to her, and might upset her long-held beliefs about the religion.

Keeping myself hidden is also done out of regard for my brother and sister, as they too are fully indoctrinated and very involved in the organization. My brother’s wife and her family are active and respected in the religion and my sister’s entire life revolves around her preaching activity, meetings, and friends inside the religion.

If my siblings knew that their sister was an active “apostate” as they like to call ex-JWs, it would no doubt be terribly embarrassing for my entire family. Chances are people ask my brother and sister and my mother about me, and having a family member who has faded from the organization is somewhat shameful, like a turncoat during a time of war. If they realized that I have gone beyond just faded and actively speak out against the Witnesses and their policies, it would probably be mortifying for them.

More Than the Witnesses Have Ever Done

Some don’t have a high opinion of those who hide their real identities online or they may immediately question my real motives, but one thing to think about is that having this consideration for my family is more than I’ve ever seen from Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves. My mother’s depression and anxiety and suicide attempts were the result of being stuck in an abusive marriage, yet my stepfather never put a gun to her head and threatened to kill her if she left. She was always free to leave as far as he was concerned. However, the Witnesses are the ones who told her that she was required to not only stay, but to be more submissive and more loving to the man abusing her. They told her that if she wasn’t an obedient and submissive wife, even to this violent and abusive man, she would no doubt die at Armageddon.

Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t care at all about how living with this man affected her, even when she was in a psychiatric ward. They didn’t care that their harsh and hateful standards nearly killed my mother, and that she was unable to function on a daily basis without a handful of pills, much less was she healthy and happy. No, they simply decided how she needed to behave and decided what was best for her, and put those demands on her without a second thought. They did the same for me, a child growing up in that household; as I’ve brought out in other posts, they care very little about how domestic violence affects the children in the home. Never, and I mean never, did the elders or anyone in our congregation express any concern for my well-being when I was a child in that terrible situation.

Despite the fact that my family isn’t exactly what you would call loving and close, I just can’t have that same attitude. I can’t thumb my nose at my mother or my siblings and tread all over their feelings and their world without a second thought. This isn’t to say that I won’t one day decide that I need to do what’s best for me and live my life as an ex-JW on my own terms, but for right now, I’m still keeping them in mind when it comes to the decisions I make. Their feelings are still important to me, and taking them into consideration is more than I ever saw from the congregation as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Of course that’s also part of the reason why I’m now an ex-JW, which is oddly ironic, but I’m sure they don’t care about that either.

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24 replies »

  1. to the anonymous writer: So many jw sit on the fence and do not want to get in “trouble” so they hide who they really are in order not to get disfellowshiped. In saying that, I do not believe that ppl who disguise themselves (on the internet or in their daily lives) can really link themselves with being an ex jw. It really seems it is more like an excuse so you can sit on the fence and enjoy both worlds… not disappointing anyone in your “circle” and keeping them and yourself “happy”. well I hope you get the courage to be yourself and not let anyone depict who you are and what you should do… BE FREE

    • Yes I am now free. None of my children were baptized, thank Jesus for that. I remember the phrase sitting on the fence when I was in the cult. Peace and love to you. Now we have Jesus and they can not take him away from me.

      Pearline

  2. I left when I was 20. I was essentially born into the religion. I went through a traumatic self destructive phase after leaving which lasted around a decade. Growing up, I noticed various inconsistencies within the organization’s doctrines, but I suppose, didn’t have the internal strength at the time to really acknowledge them, other than to occasionally think to myself “thats weird” then get distracted by something else. Shortly after I left, I knew that I needed to experience life in order to know how to live it. Unfortunately, I had absolutely no idea how to do this. I was so afraid, and still feared Armageddon. Basically, things were sadly very wrong in my life from the get go and in my family. So for the last ten years I’ve been a sitting duck for any old abuser/s to take advantage, being so emotionally underdeveloped, naive, sheltered, alone, afraid. I have been isolated for the vast majority of my life, alienated. I realise now that up until last year I still bore the guilt of leaving the organization, of not living up to wts/family’s standard of “perfection”, and would do what I could, without comprising my ideals. It was a balance that I could never succeed in. I stumbled quite by accident on the scandals and controversies surrounding the organization. For the first in my life I was compelled to do independent research on wts. While it validated my thoughts, feelings, perceptions all these years, it opened my eyes, and I felt terror. I am the only one in my family that is not a witness, never baptised. But that actually doesn’t make much of a difference once you take the stance I have. I cannot unknow what I now know. My heart goes out to my mother truly. She is under immense strain in many ways, and is isolated so she cannot seek help. Like the article, the only self worth she derives is from identifying with jw’s, and the watchtower is sucking the life out of her with its unreasonable demands. She won’t leave. She is a woman of strength, loyalty and integrity. And wts uses this to their cruel advantage with millions. And now she CAN’T talk to me anymore. The rest I don’t really give a shit about, but my heart breaks for my mother. And her first grandchild is soon on the way…. Its truly not fair. I’m so hurt.

  3. I was abused by my own father, a presiding overseer elder in the congregation, and the other elders knew my mother & I were being abused. I relive the trauma even as an adult in my 30’s. It had a direct impact on my future life. Yet my father and his 2nd wife say he had no impact on my mental health. This from the 2nd wife that was abised and we still have pictures of her with bruises, she called the police numerous times but my dad always got off on charges. He got off on child pornography possession charges. Yet he has not been disfellowshipped from the congregation. He isn’t active but he is still a baptized one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. And he is still preying on the vulnerable (single moms with little girls). The WTS doesn’t care! I contacted them many times by phone and letter and they treat me like I’m crazy. I’m not crazy! Even children’s aid has record of me being abused when I was very young – being beat by a leather belt until I was bloody and black and blue and then being forced to be bathed by my father in steaming hot water when I was 10 years old as he touched and watched me. He was an elder then. The WTS and other organized religions need to be held accountable if they are not addressing issues that come up in their congregations. They need to listen to their congregates, to report child abuse, and put out those predators!!!!!!! Lives are being ruined because of secrecy!

    • Wow I’m really sorry that you had to experience that abuse Rebecca. You’re right on every point. Horrific. Well done to you for speaking up. You sound like a very strong woman now. All the best to you xo

  4. I feel your pain and I sent this to my family so they could see in summmary what they missed (over 7 years in a Nutshell!

    Please share the video!!!!

    • I loved your video! I related completely! It is a sad situation for sure but you are now building your own family just as I have. I wish for you a life of love, forgiveness, freedom, and a spiritual path toward a Higher Power of your own understanding.

  5. Hello. I understand completely where you are coming from and I sympathize with you. Hope your mother is doing ok. My husband and I left the organization after 30 years. My husband was an elder. His father (now dead) was a self confessed child molester to his own daughters and granddaughter. When the granddaughter told what grandpa was doing to her, he denied it and said she was too sexually knowledgeable for her age (around 5). The elders met, decided to disfellowship, but at the last minute chose to privately reprove him. We left, our four children left and many other members of this family. We do not go to church regularly. We went occasionally but my husband does not trust organized religion. As an elder he learned all the tricks of their dealings. Please know that we understand your situation and stand behind your decision.

  6. Hi all. Thank you for sharing. Been there. I left 25 years ago at 19 and Tried for years after to keep a relationship with my family. It just proved impossible. No matter what one does tjeu are always right. It was making physically ill just having to.keep.listening to their preaching the self righteousness the constant complaining about their misserable existence. Eventually I had to do what was right for me. I still sometimes think about them because really its such a waste of energy, of emotion of time if life basically. May you be given the strength to endure. Take courage in the fact that you have not walked this path alone. And yes I am using my real name because f@€k em.

  7. I totally understand where you are coming from. I intentionally put myself on a path toward disfellowshipping 30 years ago but it has taken me until now to be able to talk and write freely about my experience and my thoughts about being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Through the years I have had “light” contact with one of my parents and several siblings that are still active members of the organization but I know that has or will come to an end. I’ve been in fear of my Witness relatives having any idea that I didn’t believe it was still “the truth” despite my separated state. I fear no more. I know there are likely millions like us out there that need someone to talk to, to commiserate with, to empathize with. I’ve started my own blog site to share my stories and thoughts with the hope that others will feel free to share too, but alas I know so many will choose to remain quiet and anonymous. I’m glad I found this site. Keep sharing, and maybe someday we can all live out in the open as a free and open society of people in our own right. My site is https://separatedfromtheflock.wordpress.com if you would like to take a look.

  8. Being bought up from the age of 6 as a JW , I left home at 17 to escape the rigid and unreasonable expectations to not conform to the “system” as it was in the early 70’s. Although a very bright student I was told that university was not an option as Armageddon was coming in 1975. My siblings including my twin sister who remained in the org shunned me and continue to do so. This has caused me a lot of trauma and affected my decision making processes so much that at the age of 59 I am only just coming to terms with myself. I don’t think I will ever get over the feeling of guilt that was instilled in me as a child.

  9. I completely understand. After 15 years I still use a pseudonym even though my parents know that I left they still can’t believe I quit believing. For any of my family to read my social posts would cut off the few who still communicate with me.
    ​“The most useful piece of learning for the uses of life is to unlearn what is untrue.” ~ Antisthenes

  10. After being raised a JW by a devout believer, I chose to leave the religious and thus was “disassociated.” My mother and sister, pious that they were, immediately shunned me, as per JW doctrine. In so doing, almost four decades later, they have also lost out knowing my child and grandchildren. The JW relatives would have been toxic for the rest of us, though, so it worked out in our favor. 🙂

  11. Just finished reading two books on the Jehovah’s Witnesses that are the best I’ve ever read, couldn’t put them down. I thought you might be interested in reading them:

    Jehovah’s Witnesses, What Lies Behind The Truth

    The Watchtower Society, Organizational Misbehavior

    Both books are by Gabriel H Ibarra. You can buy them only on Lulu.com. Type the name of the author. Excellent books. You’ll never regret reading them, worth every penny. Pass the word or forward this email to those you think might be interested.

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