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10 common issues you may face after leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses

Loss of community

Probably the most important issue a lot of ex-JWs face is the loss of community. Whatever your experiences – most likely good and bad: Jehovah’s Witnesses certainly place a big emphasis on the community, strengthened by different types of gatherings, The Watchtower and Awake, shared rules and values. In the mean time, close friendships and relationships with those outside the religion are strongly discouraged. Whatever the true intentions of such rules and structures, the effect is the same: Witnesses are isolated as a group. Leaving this group ex-witnesses find themselves in a social vacuum, experiencing loneliness and possible mental issues as a result.

Building new community ties takes time but it can certainly be done. Your workplace as well as group hobbies are great places to meet new people. Big cities offer more possibilities than small villages and you might consider moving if your situation allows it. The internet offers yet new opportunities to make new contacts. Platforms such as reddit.com enable interest based communities where you can meet likeminded people all around the globe. In time, we’re also planning to organize online integration circles for ex-JWs and their allies through this platform. If you want to join, share your story or simply reach out for help – don’t hesitate to get in touch at info@nowitnesses.org.

Trust issues

Having been part of a JW community you’re most likely imprinted with the idea ‘the outside world is not to be trusted’. Now, as you leave (or have left) the JW community and start second guessing everything you’ve been told while being part of it, you might find yourself wondering: is anyone to be trusted? Is everyone just trying to manipulate you? Are others corrupted, possibly even without knowing it? This type of feeling may lead to paranoia and makes it harder to bond with people and expand your community.

One way of tackling this is by acknowledging your feelings and even voicing any doubts you may have. Opening up is scary, but it’s also the path to healing, discovering that the world is full of all kinds of people and developing sense of whom you can trust and build amazing bonds with.

Making your own decisions

Are you used to have decisions made for you? Between all the rules and strong community ties it’s easy to underestimate how much of your life is dictated. But once you freed yourself up suddenly all decisions are your own to make. It’s no longer enough to simply follow others and trust in a higher power, you start creating your own reality. And while this freedom may be one of the reasons you decided to leave JW in the first place it may also feel overwhelming. Suddenly you find yourself weighed down by the feeling of responsibility. You wonder whether you’re the only one unable to cope as others seem to do this adulting thing with so much ease. Help!?

The first thing you need to know is that most people are struggling at life. You often just see the glossy outsides, not the mess that’s behind it. It’s true: life is messy. People screw up. All the time. If you find yourself paralyzed, not knowing what the best option is, don’t forget it’s okay to make mistakes. You’re in a new environment and you’re learning, you’re growing. You don’t have to be perfect. Most mistakes can be fixed and sure, it’s easier if you get things right the first time around, but don’t let the fear of failing stop you where you are. Research your options, then pick one. You’re going to be just fine.

Re-evaluating your values and beliefs

If you’re doubting or leaving the JW community you most likely disagree with at least some of the values and beliefs. Ideas that shaped your identity and your definition of right and wrong unravel. You discover more and more inconsistencies. You doubt some of your old values and beliefs, fully reject others. As you do, you start wondering: if I no longer believe this, what do I believe?

Rediscovering yourself can be scary and confusing. You may find yourself trying out different ideas and changing your mind all the time. And you may wonder: “If everything I hold for true keeps changing, is there anything that is actually certain?

It’s tough to have your ideas reshaped over and over again and whatever feelings arise in the process – it’s fine. In the mean time, it may help to think of yourself as a scientist: you base your beliefs on ideas you hold true for the moment, but in light of new evidence you may have to change your view of the world. That’s not a bad thing. It doesn’t mean you were wrong (or that you’re a bad person). It just means you’re growing. Be patient with yourself and don’t forget the enormous amount of courage it takes to take the steps you’re taking. Your courage is an accomplishment in itself and new insights are your reward.

Loss of a sense of purpose

One of the main benefits of any religion is getting an answer to the big questions. Where do we come from? Is there life after death? What is the point of living anyway? If you see life as a means to get into an eternal paradise – that’s a pretty powerful motivation. So what do you do when it all falls away? Do you find yourself wondering about the sense of it all? Especially in times of adversity and mental struggles (such as a burn out or a depression) you may find yourself wondering why you have to put in so much effort. For what?

As with values, a sense of purpose is personal and deeply unique (some might even say there is none) and this page doesn’t attempt to provide you with one. Something you may want to consider is that if you no longer believe in a destination (paradise) it’s becoming all about the trip (life). Don’t let it go to waste. Take your time to discover what makes you happy and allow yourself to enjoy whatever it is you’re doing. Also, if you’re struggling with serious mental health issues or self-harm – do reach out for help. Managing your mind is a battle in itself and having allies (or medication) may actually make a big difference.

Too much time

People tend to spend as much as they get. A student may get by with only $500 a month, but once this same student gets their first job the spending goes up and suddenly they find themselves spending $2000 a month. It’s the same with time. We’re used to stuffing as much as we can into the 24 hours we get. Sleep, work, chores, relaxation. Being part of the JW community you also spend hours and hours on practicing the religion. Bible study. Preaching. Attending events. Then, as you leave, suddenly: free time.

Having too much free time may be as exhausting as having too little, especially if you’re struggling with finding a purpose. You sit on the couch wondering what to do next. You may even subconsciously sabotage your own life, giving you problems to solve and new tasks to invest your time in. And since we’re not used to boredom you may find yourself suddenly spending days browsing Instagram or binge watching Netflix.

Now there’s nothing wrong with Instagram or Netflix, as long as you’re not using them to fill up a void. If you think this might be exactly what you’re doing, you may want to consider a different approach. Pick up new hobbies or learn new skills. How about carpenting, photography, or learning a new language? Initially you may find yourself wondering about the point of it all, the activities feeling shallow and empty. Allow yourself to try them out anyway and discover what makes you feel energized. Taking care of how you feel will help you navigate your post-JW life in the best possible way.

 

Risk seeking behavior

 

What happens when you’ve been told you’re not allowed to do certain things your entire life and suddenly you’re off the leash? It’s easy to forget yourself and dive in all the new possibilities head first. It’s like stopping with a diet and stuffing yourself with donuts. Like finally being able to drink legally and blacking out from all the beer.

Once you free yourself from the constraints of JW you may discover many things you weren’t allowed to try before, ranging from sexual experimentation to trying out substances and following your desires wherever they may lead you.

Experimentation is only natural and it’s great you finally have the ability to explore. Don’t forget you have the rest of your life to do it. You don’t have to try everything at once. You can take things slowly and be both adventurous and responsible towards yourself and others. As the newness wears off you’ll discover which new experiences will become a bigger part of your life and which ones were a one time thing. Treat yourself as you would a teenager: allow yourself to play around with your freedom, but try to do so in a safe way.

 

Regrets about the past

Depending on the amount of time you spent with JW you may discover lots of regrets. Maybe you put religion before education and with you’d gotten that degree in mathematics. Maybe you got married with your first girlfriend (or boyfriend) and didn’t get to explore your sexuality. Maybe you stayed in your community rather than traveling and really exploring the world. 

You might struggle with traumas, too. Maybe you were born in an abusive family and child protection never got involved. Maybe you experienced sexual abuse. Maybe there were instances of humiliation and power disbalance. Maybe you had to repress your sexuality.

All these experiences can leave scars and make you grow resentful. You may feel like a big chunk of your life has been taken away from you. And whatever feelings arise from this – they are valid, all of them.

Unfortunately, there is no way to turn back time and change your past. It’s here to stay. And it’s up to you to decide how to move forward. You may want to focus on the lessons you’ve learned while with the JW and build from there. You may make new choices going forward. If you’re still alive, it’s not too late to change your life around. If you feel like you’re drowning in the past, it’s also a great idea to seek therapy. A therapist can help you make sense of your past and craft a plan for the future.

Feeling of self-blame

Right up there with the feelings of regret are the feelings of self-blame. “I should have left sooner”. “I brought this onto myself”. “How could I have been so blind?”

The truth is that what seems so obvious now may not seem obvious when you’re surrounded by people who all think in a certain way. If you never got to consider alternatives to your belief, if you’ve always been told others are not to be trusted – how could you know better? And even if you did – it’s a big leap to actually leave everything behind and choose a new life. 

You’re human. Be compassionate towards yourself: you did the best you knew how to do. You deserve a high five for eventually having the courage to say goodbye to the path you were on. And a big hug for making it through. You’re not to blame for your past. Instead, pour your energy into building a better future.

Dealing with people from your past

So you decided to leave. Whether it’s official and you’re excommunicated or you’re keeping a low profile and simply stopped going to gatherings – you may still see people you know from the time you were part of the JW community. Maybe it’s one of your parents trying to make you see reason. An old friend telling you they’ll pray for you. Running into people you know who suddenly look the other way and pretend they don’t know you. Or just someone you’ve seen around, throwing you a look of pity or disapproval when you bump into each other at the supermarket.

Dealing with these people can bring up a lot of emotions: sadness from losing close friends or family, frustration at their inability to see things your way, pain from being confronted with your past over and over again.

It hurts to go separate ways with those you care about and feel their judgement. Try to define for yourself what you need from your social contacts to stay sane and happy. Define your boundaries. You can’t change others and they can’t change you. But you finally have the freedom to keep your distance to the community you left. Don’t feel guilty for doing so. Self-care is important and you can only manage patience and compassion for those you’ve left behind once you’ve built up your life and confidence. We really hope this page helps you do just that.

10 common issues you may face after leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses

Loss of community

Probably the most important issue a lot of ex-JWs face is the loss of community. Whatever your experiences – most likely good and bad: Jehovah’s Witnesses certainly place a big emphasis on the community, strengthened by different types of gatherings, The Watchtower and Awake, shared rules and values. In the mean time, close friendships and relationships with those outside the religion are strongly discouraged. Whatever the true intentions of such rules and structures, the effect is the same: Witnesses are isolated as a group. Leaving this group ex-witnesses find themselves in a social vacuum, experiencing loneliness and possible mental issues as a result.

Building new community ties takes time but it can certainly be done. Your workplace as well as group hobbies are great places to meet new people. Big cities offer more possibilities than small villages and you might consider moving if your situation allows it. The internet offers yet new opportunities to make new contacts. Platforms such as reddit.com enable interest based communities where you can meet likeminded people all around the globe. In time, we’re also planning to organize online integration circles for ex-JWs and their allies through this platform. If you want to join, share your story or simply reach out for help – don’t hesitate to get in touch at info@nowitnesses.org.

Trust issues

Having been part of a JW community you’re most likely imprinted with the idea ‘the outside world is not to be trusted’. Now, as you leave (or have left) the JW community and start second guessing everything you’ve been told while being part of it, you might find yourself wondering: is anyone to be trusted? Is everyone just trying to manipulate you? Are others corrupted, possibly even without knowing it? This type of feeling may lead to paranoia and makes it harder to bond with people and expand your community.

One way of tackling this is by acknowledging your feelings and even voicing any doubts you may have. Opening up is scary, but it’s also the path to healing, discovering that the world is full of all kinds of people and developing sense of whom you can trust and build amazing bonds with.

Making your own decisions

Are you used to have decisions made for you? Between all the rules and strong community ties it’s easy to underestimate how much of your life is dictated. But once you freed yourself up suddenly all decisions are your own to make. It’s no longer enough to simply follow others and trust in a higher power, you start creating your own reality. And while this freedom may be one of the reasons you decided to leave JW in the first place it may also feel overwhelming. Suddenly you find yourself weighed down by the feeling of responsibility. You wonder whether you’re the only one unable to cope as others seem to do this adulting thing with so much ease. Help!?

The first thing you need to know is that most people are struggling at life. You often just see the glossy outsides, not the mess that’s behind it. It’s true: life is messy. People screw up. All the time. If you find yourself paralyzed, not knowing what the best option is, don’t forget it’s okay to make mistakes. You’re in a new environment and you’re learning, you’re growing. You don’t have to be perfect. Most mistakes can be fixed and sure, it’s easier if you get things right the first time around, but don’t let the fear of failing stop you where you are. Research your options, then pick one. You’re going to be just fine.

Re-evaluating your values and beliefs

If you’re doubting or leaving the JW community you most likely disagree with at least some of the values and beliefs. Ideas that shaped your identity and your definition of right and wrong unravel. You discover more and more inconsistencies. You doubt some of your old values and beliefs, fully reject others. As you do, you start wondering: if I no longer believe this, what do I believe?

Rediscovering yourself can be scary and confusing. You may find yourself trying out different ideas and changing your mind all the time. And you may wonder: “If everything I hold for true keeps changing, is there anything that is actually certain?

It’s tough to have your ideas reshaped over and over again and whatever feelings arise in the process – it’s fine. In the mean time, it may help to think of yourself as a scientist: you base your beliefs on ideas you hold true for the moment, but in light of new evidence you may have to change your view of the world. That’s not a bad thing. It doesn’t mean you were wrong (or that you’re a bad person). It just means you’re growing. Be patient with yourself and don’t forget the enormous amount of courage it takes to take the steps you’re taking. Your courage is an accomplishment in itself and new insights are your reward.

Loss of a sense of purpose

One of the main benefits of any religion is getting an answer to the big questions. Where do we come from? Is there life after death? What is the point of living anyway? If you see life as a means to get into an eternal paradise – that’s a pretty powerful motivation. So what do you do when it all falls away? Do you find yourself wondering about the sense of it all? Especially in times of adversity and mental struggles (such as a burn out or a depression) you may find yourself wondering why you have to put in so much effort. For what?

As with values, a sense of purpose is personal and deeply unique (some might even say there is none) and this page doesn’t attempt to provide you with one. Something you may want to consider is that if you no longer believe in a destination (paradise) it’s becoming all about the trip (life). Don’t let it go to waste. Take your time to discover what makes you happy and allow yourself to enjoy whatever it is you’re doing. Also, if you’re struggling with serious mental health issues or self-harm – do reach out for help. Managing your mind is a battle in itself and having allies (or medication) may actually make a big difference.


Too much time

People tend to spend as much as they get. A student may get by with only $500 a month, but once this same student gets their first job the spending goes up and suddenly they find themselves spending $2000 a month. It’s the same with time. We’re used to stuffing as much as we can into the 24 hours we get. Sleep, work, chores, relaxation. Being part of the JW community you also spend hours and hours on practicing the religion. Bible study. Preaching. Attending events. Then, as you leave, suddenly: free time.

Having too much free time may be as exhausting as having too little, especially if you’re struggling with finding a purpose. You sit on the couch wondering what to do next. You may even subconsciously sabotage your own life, giving you problems to solve and new tasks to invest your time in. And since we’re not used to boredom you may find yourself suddenly spending days browsing Instagram or binge watching Netflix.

Now there’s nothing wrong with Instagram or Netflix, as long as you’re not using them to fill up a void. If you think this might be exactly what you’re doing, you may want to consider a different approach. Pick up new hobbies or learn new skills. How about carpenting, photography, or learning a new language? Initially you may find yourself wondering about the point of it all, the activities feeling shallow and empty. Allow yourself to try them out anyway and discover what makes you feel energized. Taking care of how you feel will help you navigate your post-JW life in the best possible way.

Risk seeking behavior

What happens when you’ve been told you’re not allowed to do certain things your entire life and suddenly you’re off the leash? It’s easy to forget yourself and dive in all the new possibilities head first. It’s like stopping with a diet and stuffing yourself with donuts. Like finally being able to drink legally and blacking out from all the beer.

Once you free yourself from the constraints of JW you may discover many things you weren’t allowed to try before, ranging from sexual experimentation to trying out substances and following your desires wherever they may lead you.

Experimentation is only natural and it’s great you finally have the ability to explore. Don’t forget you have the rest of your life to do it. You don’t have to try everything at once. You can take things slowly and be both adventurous and responsible towards yourself and others. As the newness wears off you’ll discover which new experiences will become a bigger part of your life and which ones were a one time thing. Treat yourself as you would a teenager: allow yourself to play around with your freedom, but try to do so in a safe way.

Regrets about the past

Depending on the amount of time you spent with JW you may discover lots of regrets. Maybe you put religion before education and with you’d gotten that degree in mathematics. Maybe you got married with your first girlfriend (or boyfriend) and didn’t get to explore your sexuality. Maybe you stayed in your community rather than traveling and really exploring the world. 

You might struggle with traumas, too. Maybe you were born in an abusive family and child protection never got involved. Maybe you experienced sexual abuse. Maybe there were instances of humiliation and power disbalance. Maybe you had to repress your sexuality.

All these experiences can leave scars and make you grow resentful. You may feel like a big chunk of your life has been taken away from you. And whatever feelings arise from this – they are valid, all of them.

Unfortunately, there is no way to turn back time and change your past. It’s here to stay. And it’s up to you to decide how to move forward. You may want to focus on the lessons you’ve learned while with the JW and build from there. You may make new choices going forward. If you’re still alive, it’s not too late to change your life around. If you feel like you’re drowning in the past, it’s also a great idea to seek therapy. A therapist can help you make sense of your past and craft a plan for the future.

Feeling of self-blame

Right up there with the feelings of regret are the feelings of self-blame. “I should have left sooner”. “I brought this onto myself”. “How could I have been so blind?”

The truth is that what seems so obvious now may not seem obvious when you’re surrounded by people who all think in a certain way. If you never got to consider alternatives to your belief, if you’ve always been told others are not to be trusted – how could you know better? And even if you did – it’s a big leap to actually leave everything behind and choose a new life. 

You’re human. Be compassionate towards yourself: you did the best you knew how to do. You deserve a high five for eventually having the courage to say goodbye to the path you were on. And a big hug for making it through. You’re not to blame for your past. Instead, pour your energy into building a better future.

Dealing with people from your past

So you decided to leave. Whether it’s official and you’re excommunicated or you’re keeping a low profile and simply stopped going to gatherings – you may still see people you know from the time you were part of the JW community. Maybe it’s one of your parents trying to make you see reason. An old friend telling you they’ll pray for you. Running into people you know who suddenly look the other way and pretend they don’t know you. Or just someone you’ve seen around, throwing you a look of pity or disapproval when you bump into each other at the supermarket.

Dealing with these people can bring up a lot of emotions: sadness from losing close friends or family, frustration at their inability to see things your way, pain from being confronted with your past over and over again.

It hurts to go separate ways with those you care about and feel their judgement. Try to define for yourself what you need from your social contacts to stay sane and happy. Define your boundaries. You can’t change others and they can’t change you. But you finally have the freedom to keep your distance to the community you left. Don’t feel guilty for doing so. Self-care is important and you can only manage patience and compassion for those you’ve left behind once you’ve built up your life and confidence. We really hope this page helps you do just that.