I AM COUNSELING A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS COUPLE. How can I help the abused spouse face her Jehovah’s Witness husband and her religion?
“I am a therapist working with a couple who are both Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have absolutely no experience with this belief system, and although I am a Christian, I have found it difficult to fully grasp some of what I have been hearing from these two. My question pertains to emotional abuse and divorce. One of the partners feels that the other is being emotionally abusive, and she has a long history with the Jehovah’s Witness religion. She is worried that by leaving her husband (who does not see how his behavior is impacting his relationship with his wife, and tends to blame her), she will lose all of her social connection. The upshot is that if she leaves her husband, her life changes, and this is keeping her in an abusive relationship. What do you suggest I can use to help her. She is terrified to leave, but also terrified to stay.”
As a marriage therapist, you are likely aware of the fact that abusive marriage relationships have two components. One is the abuser who uses power tactics to control his spouse through psychological, emotional and/or physical abuse. The other is the abused spouse who enables her abuser by giving in to his demands and refusing to uphold proper boundaries within the relationship. The result is that he is never forced to face the consequences of his abusive behavior. As this abusive cycle continues, the abused spouse is made to feel that her abusive husband’s behavior is “normal” or that she “deserves” to be treated in this way.
The cycle that you see in this type of marriage is similar to what occurs in the abusive religious system of the Jehovah’s Witness organization. You hit the nail on the head when you said that it is the fear of leaving the Watchtower that keeps Jehovah’s Witnesses from doing anything to obtain freedom that would go against the policies of this organization.
Unfortunately, the abusive marriage situation you are dealing with is not uncommon in this religion due to these policies and the spiritually abusive structure of the Watchtower organization. All you need to do is to read the testimonies of some of the ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses on our website and you will see that what this lady is facing is not unique to her situation. There have even been cases where Jehovah’s Witness spouses have been killed or seriously injured because the Jehovah’s Witness elders told them that if they leave their spouse, they would be “disfellowshipped” from this religion and this would seal their spiritual fate as those who would “die” at God’s future judgment in the Battle of Armageddon. Thus, they ended up compromising their physical and emotional health, to retain spiritual “security” in the organization.
SO, WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?
We will suggest that the solution to this dilemma is similar to what you have to do in educating the abused spouse about her rights in upholding respective marriage boundaries that when crossed, bring the necessary consequences. She needs to understand that the Watchtower religion’s “fear and guilt” tactics are merely mind control techniques used by the organization to keep her trapped into complying with their demands. Knowledge is power. She needs to come to the place where she understands that the Watchtower Society is not God’s “channel of communication” and that their demands on her have nothing to do with whether or not she is acceptable to Jehovah God. Once she sees the evidence that the Watchtower is not God’s organization, their threat that she will “die” at Armageddon if she leaves, will loose its power over her.
Now, as far as her concern that if she leaves, she will lose her Jehovah’s Witness friends and family. She is right in understanding this. Yes, she will loose her social connection because the Watchtower policy dictates “shunning” for those who leave the religion, but in leaving, she will have the opportunity to gain, not only a personal relationship with the true God of the Bible, but also a worldwide network of Ex-Jehovah’s Witness friends who understand what it is like to leave the Watchtower to serve the true God. Our network can be a real support to her and help make up for anything she will leave behind in this religion.
WHAT ARE THE STEPS TO FACILITATING FREEDOM?
1.) First, you will need to study the basics doctrines and policies of the Jehovah’s Witness religion and how to break through the Watchtower organization’s mind control so that you will know how to approach the couple you are reaching out to. The following are a few resources on our website that will be helpful for you in this regard:
- JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES – Their History, Beliefs and Practices
- ADVICE FOR COUNSELORS OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES
- HOW TO GET THROUGH TO JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES
2.) Next, you will need to provide the abused spouse with information that will help her critically evaluate the spiritual system she is involved with. You will have to do this with extreme caution because Jehovah’s Witnesses are programmed to avoid anything critical of the Watchtower organization. So, if you start by directly pointing out problems in her religion by presenting literature that directly criticizes the Watchtower or that is written by Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses, she will get defensive and may stop counseling altogether for fear of letting “Satan’s thinking” into her mind. So, you will have to do this in an indirect way. We suggest that you start this process by first asking her to read the following book on spiritual abuse. Since this book discusses how to evaluate the spiritual health of a religious system without mentioning the Jehovah’s Witness religion by name, she will not feel threatened to read it. It will also allow you the opportunity to draw the connection between the emotional abuse she is facing in her marriage and the emotional abuse in her religious system.
- THE SUBTLE POWER OF SPIRITUAL ABUSE: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen
3.) After she has begun to read the above book and you sense that she is starting to open up to critical evaluation of the spiritual environment of her religion, you may present the following article on how to recognize a cult and see how she reacts to it. Again, since this article does not directly criticize the Jehovah’s Witnesses, she may be open to reading and discussing it before she is willing to re-evaluate her Jehovah’s Witness belief system and consider leaving the Watchtower:
- WHAT IS A CULT? (4witness.org)
4.) Finally, once you sense she is willing to consider alternatives to her religious association, you can present her with the following questions, documentation and articles from our website:
- QUESTIONS FOR JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES
- I’M HURT AND CONFUSED BUT I’M AFRAID TO LEAVE…
- HOW DO I GET OVER THE LOSS OF MY JEHOVAH’S WITNESS FAMILY?
- TESTIMONIES OF EX-JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES
- Tressa’s Story – “After much physical and emotional abuse, my marriage of twenty-two years ended in divorce, and because I was the one who filed, I was disfellowshipped from the Watchtower organization…”
- Trish’s Story – “When I was 18 years old, I married a man I would remain married to for 24 years. We had 4 sons together, but I also suffered 5 miscarriages. This was not a happy marriage as there was a great deal of emotional and verbal abuse. Something the organization does not outright condone, but does nothing to combat or remedy when it does occur. Eventually, I decided any organization who wanted to support that kind of conduct didn’t need me anymore. I had to leave him. I told him that he could have custody of the religion, and I was keeping the kids!…”
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