Reverse Disfellowshipping

Note: This is a longish post written for ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses.  It probably won’t interest anyone else. 

There are three phases to escaping Jehovah’s Witnesses. The first happens while you’re still in the cult but having doubts, doubts that are accompanied by the fear of what will happen if you leave and are suddenly cut off from all your family and friends.

Phase two is when you leave, either abruptly or with a carefully planned fade. You are now an ex-JW, working on clearing your head of a lifetime of fear and bullshit designed to leave you an emotional cripple. This phase usually takes 3-5 years for born-ins, less for those who converted as adults. During that time you define yourself as an ex-JW, which colors everything.

The final phase is being an ex-ex-JW, where it simply doesn’t matter much any longer. You don’t think about it very often. It’s something in your past that you’ve put behind you as you continue to build your life in the real world.

But many people never reach the ex-ex phase. I have a theory about why they don’t, and would like to suggest a solution that might solve their problem.

I offer my own experiences as an example.

I escaped when I was about twenty. It was a difficult decision and I took a long time making it. When I did, I was able to use their “two or three witnesses” doctrine against them, so they couldn’t disfellowship me.

My whole family was in deep, but because I hadn’t been disfellowshipped they were still allowed to associate with me.

I spent a year unemployed, in a ratty apartment, surrounded by as many books as I could carry from the library, books that covered all kinds of subjects. If anything interested me even a little I took books out and learned about it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was deprograming myself.

I got a job, fell in love, and worked on building a life. My girlfriend, Nona, and I occasionally visited my sister and her new JW husband, and my father and his new JW wife. (My mom, who was also a JW, died just before I escaped.) We all got along well. We simply avoided subjects like politics and R-rated movies.

When I went to tell my father that Nona and me were engaged, he had something to tell me first. There was a New Light, and they had been informed that people who were dissociated, like me, had to be shunned as if we had been disfellowshipped. I told him about our engagement, and said it would be a shame he’d miss the wedding.

This upset Nona more than it upset me. She’s always been very close to her family and just couldn’t understand how mine could be so hateful. It bothered me, of course, but not as much, as it wasn’t entirely unexpected.

Life went on. We got married, and eventually decided we wanted kids. Soon we were expecting twins.

It was a Monday night. We were scheduled for our first Lamaze class on Wednesday. Nona was a little more than six months pregnant. Her water broke, and we rushed to the hospital.

She gave birth to our twin daughters the following night, just before midnight. (They missed being born on different days by one minute.) Jill weighed about three pounds. Emily was a little over two. They were smaller than most of the dolls in a toy store.

We were scared, the kind of scared that leaves you numb. Would they survive? Would they be OK if they did? We visited them every day in the baby intensive care units, where they were kept in incubators, getting oxygen and food through tubes. The joy of being parents was mixed with the endless worry over them.

And then…my family showed up. My father and step mother, his mother (my grandmother, a really nasty piece of work) my sister and her husband all came to the hospital en masse, all smiles and sweetness and light, volunteering to help and pitch in and be part of our lives again. Well, not our lives. The lives of Nona and the kids. They still refused to speak to me. They even avoided looking in my direction.

Now the stress of having very premature babies was compounded by the stress they added with their nonsense. I put up with it for about two weeks, which was about a week and a half longer than I should have, before I decided to put an end to it.

Nona made some pretty blue and lace dresses for the girls, so they would look as cute as possible, and we invited all of my family to the Infant ICU. They doted over the kids and held them a little and made all the cutesy little comments and noises people always make around babies. I let them enjoy themselves for an hour or so, and then I dropped the hammer.

I told them this was the last time they would ever see my daughters. The stress they were adding to the situation was unbearable and we wouldn’t put up with it any longer. We were done with them.

Shorty afterward I felt like a weight I hadn’t been aware of was lifted from my shoulders. It was almost a physical sensation.

I had Reverse Disfellowshipped them, although it would be decades before I heard that term.

I knew that if we’d allowed them into our lives the stress would never end. While growing up I’d seen several instances of JW relatives “building a fire under the kids” to suck parents back into the cult. Sometimes it worked. Although I was sure I was impervious to such attempts, I couldn’t allow them to put family through that. I wanted them to have normal lives.

And so we did. We celebrated birthdays and holidays and did all the fun things that normal people do while raising a family. The absence of my JW family was more than made up for by the attention my kids got from other relatives. They spent time with the few non-JW relatives on my side of the family and a lot of time with Nona’s parents and relatives. They never knew any of the JWs, and their lives were better for it. As for me, I seldom thought about my JW past – it was over and no longer mattered much. I was an ex-ex, and life was good.

Somewhere along the way I’d thought a novel about a Jehovah’s Witness who becomes a vampire would be funny, but none existed, so I had to write it myself. Blood Witness took a long time to write, and even longer to edit and polish into something worth reading. I shopped it around to some agents, but none of them were even remotely interested, so it sat on a hard drive for years, having only been read by a few friends.

In the mid-nineties podcasting was invented and I got involved by creating my own show. Shortly afterward authors started doing podcasts of their books – podiobooks. After enjoying a few I decided to dig out Blood Witness and record it.

I had been active on-line since the days of dial-up BBSs. I was aware of ex-JW web sites and forums but never spent any time on them.  It was great that people could get help and support from other escapees, but as an ex-ex they didn’t interest me.

Blood Witness changed all that. I went on to several sites to promote the podiobook. Not wanting to be a spammer, before posting about the book I got involved in some of the conversations. And I got sucked in. There were so many people out there, hurting so badly, that I couldn’t resist trying to help.

I quickly discovered that people who have been out for a while are divided into two camps. There are those who are happy and who have moved on with their lives, mostly unencumbered by their past. But there are others who have been out for ten, fifteen, sometimes twenty or more years, who are still haunted and obsessed by it.

The reason, in almost every case, is that they are still in contact with their JW family, especially their parents. Just as they start feeling good about themselves their parents pull some passive aggressive crap that rips open old wounds and makes them miserable all over again.

They let their kids visit their JW parents, always wary of the indoctrination they know grandma and grandpa will try to sneak into every conversation. They walk on eggshells, hoping their kids won’t mention a birthday party or a Christmas present. They are miserable.

This, my friends, is why I’m such a huge fan of Reverse Disfellowhiping.

One of the recipes for a happy life is learning to identify toxic people, realize they’re making your life suck, and get rid of them. Few people are more toxic than JW relatives whose only goal is to pull you back into the cult by making you as miserable as possible as often as they can. If you have kids, they will use them as weapons in their holy quest.

Some of you are thinking “But they’re family!”

So? If someone in your family was a molester, or physically violent, or horribly abusive, would you still stay in touch with them? Would you let your kids see them? Is the emotional abuse they’re heaping on you and your family really all that different?

Some of you have been able to maintain a healthy relationship with your parents – they’re not hardcore JWs, will treat you well and respect the boundaries you set. That’s rare, but if you’re fortunate enough to be in that situation, great.

But for most of us the only way to be completely free is to get away from them. Reverse Disfellowship them. Tell them you’re done with them, completely and forever. Then block their e-mails, ignore their phone calls and refuse to have anything at all to do with them, ever. It may be the second hardest thing you’ve ever done. (The first, of course, was leaving the cult.) It will hurt at first, but the pain will fade and you can become truly free – an ex-ex-JW, someone who has put their miserable past behind them and is now moving forward and enjoying their life.

18 Comment(s)

  1. Dave,

    All those year in the Herftones and I never knew you were an ex-ex-JW. I had some good friends growing up who were JWs and it was always a strain. Some of them are back in the cult, others have broken away. Much division and bad feelings. I, myself, was a cult member, but only of your garden variety fundamentalist Christian God-talks-exclusively-to-us sort of place. I got thrown out for thinking for myself. Not quite as bad as your experience, but shunning is still shunning.

    Michael Harling | Jun 30, 2012 | Reply

  2. Once I became an ex-ex I did’t hide it but I didn’t bring it up often, either. I remember discussing your cult experiences over cigars, but am surprised I never mentioned mine – I thought I had.

    We’ll save it for the next cigar, my friend.

    Dave Hitt | Jun 30, 2012 | Reply

  3. I Can’t tell you how much I enjoyed Blood Witness. As an ex ex I also felt a weight had been lifted when I realized I wasn’t going to be struck dead just because I was no longer in the Truth. You guessed it, that was the book that trapped me for some 27 years.

    J Williams | Jul 1, 2012 | Reply

  4. Fascinating insight! Its true that while I still had my own personal issues to deal with (like any human being)following my own recovery from a JW upbringing, the stress in my life was greatly reduced when I eventually found the courage to cut down contact with my JW mother to one or two phone calls a year. I have noticed, though (and I hope no one takes offense at this), that I can easily get drawn back into my old state of more or less permanent indignation by my involvement in exjw groups… I’ll be happily trundling along being an ex-ex and then, Bam! Some forum thread or other sucks me back into that mindset because I feel outraged on behalf of someone else who is suffering as I once did. Not that that’s wrong in itself, but it can end up taking over my life for weeks at a time as I participate in anti jw campaigning in one form or another.

    When I’m in my ex-ex frame of mind, I have no interest in joining any crusade to destroy the WTBTS (although I DO believe in simply telling the truth about how dangerous they can be where and as seems appropriate, e.g. speaking out about the issues highlighted in the recent Candace Conti case) because I believe that even if we succeeded, there would only be another 2 or 3 cults springing up in its place. Cults are a symptom of human neediness rather than its cause. Personally, I believe it is more effective in the long run to empower individuals to develop and make the most of themselves so that they are less likely to feel the need to turn to a cult or similar to fill the void inside them. (Yes, I know that sounds a little idealistic, but its what I aspire to in my own small sphere of influence.) Nevertheless, when I get involved with exjw’s I can’t seem to help being drawn back in. That is entirely my own issue of course, no one else is to blame for my reactions, but I thought I’d mention it as you seem to have had a related if not identical experience when you first ventured into the online community of exes. I am learning to be more circumspect about the nature and extent of my involvement.

    I do believe these communities are an invaluable resource for those in the throes of leaving and through their healing afterwards and I find it personally fulfilling to be able to provide a measure of support to others going through what I once did. Its just that I do sometimes still struggle to get the balance right.

    Clair | Jul 1, 2012 | Reply

  5. I should put a voting system here in comments. I’d definitely upvote your post, Clair.

    Yes, continued involvement in exJW groups can actually be an impediment to recovery for some people. It’s impossible to avoid being outraged by people’s stories, which are all different yet all the same.

    It’s not uncommon to see forum posts from people saying “Thanks for the help, I’m done, I won’t be coming around here any more.” Bravo! That’s a cause for celebration; an indication that they’re now an ex-ex, and leaving the forum is their way of moving on.

    Dave Hitt | Jul 2, 2012 | Reply

  6. Dave,

    I like this article. It is an interesting take on the disfellowshipping issue. You talked about people who leave and are miserable because they keep in contact with their JW family. I know one person who is the only one out of his family who is a practicing JW (he was disfellowshipped a few times but later was reinstated). None of his family, his brothers or father practice the religion. His mother was an active JW before she died. He told me in one of his disfellowshipped states that he “even though he doesn’t believe the JW crap he wanted to go back so that when his mom was resurrected he could see her again”. You talk about your alive family keeping you miserable but this person’s dead JW mother was keeping him miserable! He doubts the cult and doesn’t want any part of it but he continues to stay in… His dead mother is keeping him from living a good life. A miserable life indeed!

    Shannon | Jul 10, 2012 | Reply

  7. good post and you did the right thing. the sad part is the jws do this without even thinking they are doing something malicious (not all of them.) they feel it’s the “right” thing to do. i feel already at the ex-ex point, even though, technically, i just left the cult. i was raised in it for 25 years. but for the last 10 years or so i was in it, i was coasting along simply to please family and friends, and had fear of leaving. but i didn’t believe it. enough was enough. how could i keep living a lie? now i have very limited contact with family, but fortunately they are not the type to continually harass me about leaving. they have a more humanist view. i am still their son, brother etc. but i still find myself resenting being raised and coerced into this belief system which I DID NOT CHOOSE. coming out and looking at websites from ex-jws used to scare me (apostates! oh my!)…now i can’t believe and regret i didn’t find my way out sooner. keep up the good work. the internet is a massive tool for getting people out of such cults, and i hope the trend continues. and the way i see it, if people want out, they will get out. the world is fresh and new again since leaving the jws.

    etherland | Oct 21, 2012 | Reply

  8. Dave,

    Thanks for this post. I largely consider myself an ex-ex-JW. I used to be active on the ex-JW forums, but when the conversations there just ended up being re-hashes of the same subjects over and over again, I lost interest for the most part, as from my perspective it’s just beating dead horses (though not necessarily from someone recently out).

    Right now, my wife and I are trying to have a child, and one of the biggest things I’ve thought about is how I’m going to handle the situation with my parents. I’m not disfellowshipped (I stopped associating with JWs, so the elders never pursued me despite having ample opportunity), but they refused to come to my wedding all the same. Like you, my wife and her family are/were far more upset about it than I was/am.

    The thing is, I don’t feel an emotional bond with my parents. I don’t think I ever have. Sure, I had some good times and some heart-to-heart talks with them, and they helped me out a lot when I was younger, and bailed me out more than a few times. But I find it kind of strange and even scary that I never seem to have any desire to see them. Sometimes I feel like I should see them, but only out of obligation. My mother is the only one to ever contact me. I’ve been married to my wife for three years, and my father has yet to meet her. Honestly, I don’t think he ever will.

    But anyway, I’ve been seriously contemplating the nature of the relationship my parents are going to have with my children, and thanks to this I think I’m going to decide on “none.” I never realized it, but the reason I’m probably so well-adjusted compared to a few years ago is just like you said, because I have no relationship with my parents. You’ve also removed the tinge of guilt I feel over it.

    There is no realistic situation where my parents won’t attempt to get to me through my children, and my children deserve better than to be a mere instrument of manipulation. There is no doubt in my mind my parents wouldn’t use them at every opportunity. I’ve seen them do it with other peoples’ kids. They don’t respect a parent’s right to raise his/her kids how they see fit (short of placing the child in harm’s way), they don’t respect boundaries. Getting people into the cult is priority one, and it will always be priority one.

    They kept me away from a large portion of my extended family. I barely have a relationship with my non-JWs aunts, uncles, and cousins, because my parents never let us so much as stay the night with them, for fear of something happening and they save my life with a blood transfusion. I never got the full experience with my extended family, so why should I give them that experience? They don’t deserve it!

    Brian | Oct 24, 2012 | Reply

  9. >> But I find it kind of strange and even scary that I never seem to have any desire to see them.<<

    I'm the same way – I don't have any feelings for them, positive or negative, and there's a strangeness to that. I should have at least some emotions toward them, but I don’t, and that feels just a bit weird – but not enough to worry about.

    The ex-jw forums are pretty repetitive. I only hang out at one of them (JWR) occasionally, just so I can offer a word of advice from time to time. It’s always encouraging when someone says, “Thanks, but I’m leaving, because I don’t feel like I need this place anymore.” They’ve let go of their obsession with what they used to be, and are getting on with their lives.

    My kids are happy, healthy, well-adjusted adults who had a good childhood. I can only imagine the all the tensions that would have been created if I had allowed the JW side of my family to be a part of their lives. It would have been all downside, no upside at all.

    Dave Hitt | Oct 25, 2012 | Reply

  10. I couldn’t do that. It does hurt still, fourteen years later, whether I have brief contact about my kids or not, but I feel like I’d be stooping to their level. I wont be anything like them. I’ll be the bigger person. They know if they speak sny jw crap to my kids, that’ll be the last time they see them, though. I did make that clear.

    amy | Apr 16, 2013 | Reply

  11. Wonderfully well thought out discussion about reverse disfellowshipping. I will not share company with people, related or not, who actively or passively judge me or my kids for leaving. Funny story. I left without being df, my adult kids were leaving as well and they helped me. 5 years later, 2 JW came to ‘visit’ me. They claimed to want to speak to me about a man in the church, really a lovely man, who had died suddenly of cancer. I had been friends with this man’s family and did and still do have a lot of respect for this man. He was one of the good guys and there are some in the organization. They tried to talk me into officially disassociating myself. Cracked me up. My house was decked out for Christmas and my peace and happiness was evident, to me anyway. It is so important for me to build the life I want.
    I rarely think about JW anymore. I do think if you were raised in ‘it’, getting away free is much harder. Thanks for the thoughtful discussion.

    Alice | Oct 8, 2013 | Reply

  12. Dave,

    I had thought perhaps you had been involved with a religious group but never investigated it. This is only my second time reading your posting. The first was back in 2010. I came across you again today looking for a totally unrelated subject and was surprised that your blog presented itself.
    I wasn’t surprised when I found the WTBS to be in your background.
    Unfortunately, the experiences shared by most who leave the organization are not uncommon. They leave one error often to continue in another. They go from the pride of the organization that corrupts persons, to the pride of their own hearts which is even more destructive.
    If I were only to believe one thing espoused by the Bible it would be this, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked : who can know it?”
    I had neighbors across the street for several years who were JW’s. They had two young children who if not dressed to the nines and headed to what we later learned was a “Kingdom Hall,” would be outside in their play clothes, confined in their yard, unable to play with our children.
    We had 5 daughters and two sons who kept the street noisily filled with shouts of play, delight, and laughter. I never saw those two youngsters ever show any sign of emotion other than what I believed a longing to be engaged in similar behavior. They certainly never smiled, and would hardly ever speak.
    I did not know why they behaved this way, but did know the parents had comings and goings of persons at the home regularly, obvious meeting nights.
    They always carried little briefcases and looked more like attorneys or professional people.
    We became aware of their belief only when my wife was approached at the mailbox by the woman who began a carefully controlled introduction of herself and suggesting they would like to get to know us better. There had never been any friendly banter as neighbors other than the briefest acknowledgement, a wave or “How are you doing?” and going on our way.
    I found that was soon to emerge as a problem, “Who do you see doing what we do?”
    It was after a visit one afternoon that I began to understand their true purpose. It ended unpleasantly. That was not an intention of either myself or my wife, it was just that an obstacle to any meaningful interaction reared its head. I could have handled it differently perhaps, but was not informed. I proceeded unwisely.
    Afterwards, I began to seek to understand their motivation, and became amazed at the startling revelation that was to come.
    We never did establish a relationship with this family and only found out later that we were described in unfavorable terms by them.
    I did quickly gather that their first cause is not to bring persons into the “Kingdom,” so much as it is to provoke persons to works that appeal to pride. God is obviously used to motivate them, but not in sincerity. It is more like a “Respect of persons for advantage, having nothing to do with God at all. Jehovah is just a hook to bait persons.
    I believe the need to be “chief,” a common human trait, is really what motivates them. I don’t know f I am the only person that believes this, it is just my personal perspective. It is the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, masked by seeming good intentions concealing who they really are.
    Is there ever a witness who doesn’t desire to be acknowledged by their congregational elders or have the approval of them?
    They certainly don’t care if their neighbors approve of them or not, preferring to shun those neighbors once they have been sufficiently rejected in their own view and according to their literature.
    Human emotion is a compelling force and to be able to disassociate one’s self from such a group is cause for anxiety as you have pointed out when the outcomes are both known and unknown..

    Gary Bovey | Oct 8, 2013 | Reply

  13. Dave,
    Interesting story. My wife, having been pressured into the cult when she was eleven was disfellowshipped for the sin of conceiving a couple of years before she married the guy. Dragged in front of the elders, she refused to repent and got the boot.My wife is the only child of two 90ish parents, one of whom is in a nursing home. Since they now need my wife to assist them in certain matters, the elders have magnanimously allowed her parents (but not other jw family members) to talk with her.These guys are harder to quit than the mafia! Shes written countless letters indicating that she no longer wishes to be part of the cult, but it doesn’t seem to work.
    Know of any organizations that are involved in fighting the bastards? In Ontario? 40+ years of beeing shunned is a tad ridiculous don’t you think?
    Al Burns

    alistair burns | Feb 24, 2014 | Reply

  14. There are a few groups that are trying to fight them, mostly by spreading information about them. The most recent is AAWA. I wish them well, but have no desire to get involved. JWs will fade out in time – they’re numbers are dwindling as the internet makes it impossible to hide what they really are – but there will always be some new cult to replace it.

    I wouldn’t worry about being officially out – who cares what they think? Just wash your hands and be done with them. And personally, I would be just as callous with her parents as they were with her. I haven’t spoken to my father in twenty years, and have no idea where he is or what his health is. If someone were to show up and say “he needs you to attend to him,” I would make a little farting noise with my lips, and then go back to whatever I was doing at the time.

    Hittman | Feb 24, 2014 | Reply

  15. Really enjoyed this read. You can always tell when an ex has come
    Full circle. They write with an indifference that is only achieved by healing from the process you describe. Thanks for the article. It is a must read for anyone struggling to break free.

    Jennifer | Mar 28, 2014 | Reply

  16. Great read! I recently reverese-disfellowshipped my family. I wrote about it on the ex-jw group on Reddit. I had enough! The nonsense and stupidity just reached the tipping point and I loathed spending any time with my family as a result. I feel so much better for having done so, I feel a huge weight has been lifted. My life is no longer surrounded by negativity and ignorance. Jehovah’s Witnesses are a miserable bunch, as much as they want outsiders to think they’re a blissful group, they are not, quite the opposite. They spend their lives in constant fear and perpetual judgement of others.. they are a miserable bunch and they don’t realize it, but I do, and I want no part of it anymore. I realized that if my family wasn’t my family, if they were just friends, I would have ended that friendship long ago. The relationship was toxic to me on an intellectual and emotional level, and it was time to end it, family or not.

    Richard | Jun 15, 2016 | Reply

  17. I feel a huge weight has been lifted.

    And that’s not a metaphor. It feels like an actual, physical weight has been lifted from your shoulders, a weight you weren’t even aware was there. You feel lighter, unconstrained, with a bit more bounce in your step.

    Hittman | Jun 19, 2016 | Reply

  18. Thanks for this explanation. One of my siblings joined a few decades ago. It took 30 years for him and his family to decide to shun me without notice. I’m not part of this religion, so all that’s happened is that I their wishes. Simple as that. No contact. I respect the right to be stupid.

    Shunning is really only effective if both sides of the equation are into it.

    Visitor | Jan 20, 2017 | Reply

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