The psychological damage from growing up as a Jehovah's Witness

I just recently found out about some of the more unsavory aspects of this religion. Since I imagine there are others on here who still think of them as the weird but harmless door knockers, I figured I’d share this:
It Happened To Me: I Grew Up Jehovah’s Witness

An excerpt:

I feel a lot of empathy for this girl, since it was never her choice to get mixed up in this crazy doomsday cult - not to mention all the other people who are victims of childhood indoctrination into toxic beliefs.

Dougie Montie will be along shortly with his thesaurus and he’ll set you straight on some things.

Well, all as maybe; but growing up in any — deservedly — unpopular religion, such as Mormonism, the Moonies or being a Young Communist in 1960s America ( or being a Young Kulak or whatever the enemy du jour was currently back in the USSR ) was never going to be, nor purposed to be, a walk in the park.
It was difficult for Edmund Gosse as a small Plymouth Brother in the 1860s, and difficult for some actress brought up in Moral Re-Armament in the 1960s. But it breeds character — as thousands of crazed mumbling wrecks wandering the streets arguing with imaginary companions can attest.

On the other hand there is no guarantee things would turn out differently in an altered life-path.

I really don’t blame the rank and file JWs who believe in this stuff. I think of them as basically being victims. Since the JW organization actively discouraged them from seeking higher education, how would most of them even be able to evaluate the beliefs that they’re being pushed into following?

The article I linked also talks about how JWs get immigrants to join the group by giving them an “instant community”. I find that quite exploitative.

I don’t blame immigrants for jumping at the chance to join a group where they can find people who speak their language and such.
All of my scorn is directed at the men in power who are pushing these toxic beliefs on people and who seem to intentionally look for vulnerable people to victimize.

Both the Jehovah’s Witness women I knew growing up went completely insane and self-destructive by their later teenage years. Serious drug abuse (mostly cocaine), stripping, sex with dozens of guys, mostly abusive guys, psychiatric commitments, and by their early 20s they’d both been to jail at least once.

I realize it’s an incredibly small sample but I don’t have any doubt their ridiculous upbringing was the primary cause of all their problems. Aside from the effect it must’ve had on their childhood, their religion kicked them out as soon as they started going crazy, so they lacked any support system that would’ve hopefully put them on a better track.

I’m not sure I even know any JWs. I’m assuming this is one of those things where you would know, because they would tell you? Like vegans and crossfitters?

Looks like there are only a couple million in the US:'s_Witnesses

A friend of mine in high school was (and presumably still is) JW. He told about their belief that when the world ends, 144,000 souls will be let into heaven. Not 144,000 living people, but 144,000 souls from among everyone who has ever lived.

I asked him why he thought he was worthy of being one of the 144,000 and he said, “Because I’m JW.” But aren’t there more JWs than that on Earth right now, I asked. Umm, well you see, what happens is, umm.

This is a false equivalence. Ex-Mormons have a lot of complaints about the restrictive values, but their experiences are not parallel to JWs. Nor are the Moonies or Young Communists. There is a rough semblance of kind, but that’s like saying oranges are apples because all are fruit.

Every culture and subculture has means, sometimes subtle and sometimes overt, of getting people to comply with the herd. When your group differs from the mainstream, these are harder to deal with. Sometimes it’s harder because your group is oppressed (e.g. minority groups). Sometimes it’s harder because your group has a narrower band of accepted behaviors—a lot of the religious groups are like this.

JWs are on the extreme end of this continuum, and their everyday practices are abusive and damaging. Nobody seems to want to hear this: every thread like this, someone always pops up to say, “Oh come on—it’s not that bad. Not that I have any inside knowledge, but I’ve met a few and they seem okay; if it were as awful as you say, I’d have known before now.”

I only have the experiences of my mother and a couple of cousins, and of course the collateral second-hand damage I experienced, plus the members of the family who are currently JWs, and of course all the elderly relatives who died because they weren’t allowed cancer treatment in hospitals. So maybe I’m wrong, but I have a decent sample size over a forty-year period, and I’ve known other people who grew up Mormon (many left, some did not), though I have to admit no Moonies or Young Communists. The groups are not at all alike.

My mother was told, growing up, that the 144,000 was already full, and though there was a heaven, she would never be allowed to go. Imagine being told that as a child! (Edit: Great-Aunt Edith is one of the 144,000, though. She must be one of the last still alive, in her 90s now.)

My neighbor was born and raised a JW. He was ex- communicated at the age of 63! As I’ve gotten to know him I am saddened by the lack of critical-thinking skills that they pushed on him.

Don’t JWs believe that the Earth will eventually be turned into a paradise, so not being one of the 144,000 isn’t that bad?

That is correct. You only get the second tier, but it’s supposed to be awesome, especially compared to what’s in store for non-JWs.

Some years ago, some JWs came a-knocking at my door. They had a red hard-cover book they were selling, which purported to be a line-by-line explication of Revelation. They didn’t tell me they were JW, but it was immediately obvious after just a glance at the book. They were only asking $3 for it.

I bought it immediately.

It was fabulous (literally!) reading! If you like ancient Greek or Norse or Roman mythology, with all the drama of all the gods and their battles and jealousies and hurling thunderbolts around and all that, then you would certainly enjoy this book too.

Every page took just one or two verses of Revelation and expounded on that with a full paragraph (or several) of elaborate explanations, greatly expanding upon the actual text, with the rest of the page being filled with those marvelously elaborate fanciful drawings that they do. It was a wonderful read, filled with action, blood and gore, that evil seven-headed ten-horned monster (they drew it looking like a multi-headed leopard sort-of), the Whore of Babylon, the heroic horsemen, the apocalyptic battle with the Anti-Christ and the serpent getting chained up in Hell – the whole works. The book thus went through the ENTIRE Book of Revelation, line-by-line, from beginning to end.

Of course, by buying the book, I also doomed myself to getting repeat visits from them every month or so thereafter. After about the third visit, I politely told them I wasn’t interested, and they politely never bothered me again.

Not to defend for one moment, this ghastly cult; but my understanding has been that JWs don’t believe in eternal punishment. Their scenario as I understand it, is that their faithful will live eternally, in one “department” or another; whereas non-JWs will just be annihilated and go into eternal nothingness – a fate which has never struck me as something greatly to be feared. (I don’t know much about the JW faith, and may have this wrong.)

(In response to Dr. Drake’s post: Senegoid posted whilst mine was “processing”.)

Their literature seems to say that even for the non-saved non-JWs, it isn’t all THAT bad.

Somewhat like the Calvinists, they apparently believe that it is fully pre-ordained who those lucky 144,000 souls will be who get into heaven. They will get to spend eternity playing harps and singing praises to God. Sounds boring. All the rest of the godly believers will live forever in a new paradise on earth.

They don’t seem to believe in a Hell quite like standard Christianity does. They believe that when you die, if you aren’t saved, you are just . . . dead. No afterlife at all.

ETA: More-or-less ninja’ed by vontsira.

Some while ago, I worked fairly briefly with a colleague who was a Witness. She was a quite bright and intelligent woman – had not been brought up JW, but had found her own way to the faith. (As is well known, intelligent and thinking people can believe stuff which most folk consider both crazy and crass.) She appeared to me to be toward the more liberal wing of the JW faith, insofar as that might be possible.

She mentioned to me one time, that she herself did not expect to live eternally: she thought it probable that come death or the Apocalypse, she would just be snuffed out – unconscious forever. I was rather floored by hearing that from her. It was a job where a high degree of concentration was required – not a lot of opportunity for chewing the fat with colleagues – and I never got the chance to follow up on this matter, and to enquire what led her to this conclusion; and why, if this was her “take”, she continued to bother with the JW stuff and its restrictions on one’s life.

Also, according to my neighbor, Star Wars (the original movie) is based on Revelation chaptered 12.

Of course, he’s never actually seen the film.

You’re right that they don’t believe in Hell. However they spend a ton of time trying to terrify their followers about how gruesome it will be for non-believers during Armageddon.

For example, At the bottom of this page: Watchtower quotes that only Jehovah's Witnesses will be Saved there is a video where they go on at length to their followers about how there will be dead bodies everywhere in the End Times. Wild animals and birds will eat the corpses of people like you and I. However there will be so many dead bodies that the animals won’t be able to eat them all. Thankfully Jehovah will make sure the JWs aren’t traumatized by all the death. It will just be like how they feel when a serial killer is executed.

Notice also he makes a special point of mentioning that homosexuals will be among those who are killed by Jehovah. I don’t think a lot of people realize how very anti-gay the JWs are. I have run into a lot of stories about kids raised in the JWs who were shunned by their families for being gay.

Could have an upside for a non-JW who was a nature fan / environmentalist / distressed about mankind’s impact on the planet. At least for a short while, the animals would take a sweet revenge…

You’re essentially correct that ultimately those of us who don’t believe in their religion will just cease to exist. As I commented above, they spend considerable time trying to make the process of being killed by Jehovah if you are a non-believer sound like a horrible thing, and that’s basically where the “punishment” comes in. Any day now, Jehovah will start slaughtering all of us who don’t believe and the streets will be piled high in dead bodies. Here’s an example of the sort of thing they tell their followers, taken from this page :

Of course, here we are many decades after that quote and “The End” still hasn’t happened. “The Generation That Will Not Pass Away” originally referred to their teaching that Jehovah would destroy the world before the generation of people alive in 1914 died (but of course now they have had to revise that teaching now that almost everyone from 1914 is now dead). However, they still are very much trying to lead people to believe that the world’s destruction is imminent and that horrible things are in store for anyone who is not JW then.
It’s so obviously crazy if you are not part of the cult, but I feel bad for those who are stuck in the middle of their brainwashing and really do live with the thought that there is imminent destruction coming. Especially the poor kids born into it, who really know nothing else to give them a reality check.

A love of animals is actually is one of the “hooks” they use on people. According to some of the ex-JWs I’ve run into, they actually encourage people to think that in the JW paradise, you’ll be able to do things like ride a lion. In Jehovah’s paradise there will be no violence, even from meat-eating animals, of course.