OI have come up with a guide to helping others break free of the Watchtower, based loosely on Steve Hassan's book, Combatting Cult Mind Control and incorporating experiences of other JWN posters who have been successful in helping their family leave the Watchtower. I posted an earlier draft of this and got some great feedback. Here is the final version with some additional information and incorporating many of your suggestions.
Upon learning TTATT (The Truth About The Truth), your first impulse may be to attempt to share what you have learned with your family or close friends. Unfortunately this direct approach seldom works and you may find that you have done more harm than good. What actually works is the "slow drip" approach, taking the time to slowly let each individual learn to think for themselves.
Before starting such a project you should seriously consider whether this is something that is actually in the person's best interest. If someone is older, happy in their faith, has no doubts and no friends and little family outside the organization, it is unlikely you will convince them to leave and if they did they would be no better off. You will have to weigh your desire to help get them out against the reality of their situation. You might also want to consider if they could cope with the loss of their belief system. In some cases people have emotional or psychological needs that the religion is filling. If this is the case it might be more helpful to get them counseling before you attempt to get them to leave. You would never want to take always someone's support system before helping them get another.
You must also face the reality that it is not always possible to get people out, it's an uphill battle at best. The Watchtower uses mind control techniques to convince people that only they have answers and they have had hours every week over many years to reinforce that belief system. That is not to say it is hopeless, some people have successfully helped others to break free and there are things that work and things that don't, so if you want to have the highest chance of success you will need to proceed very carefully.
Before you begin such an attempt you need to understand the meaning of the term "Cognitive Dissonance". When people have invested years of their life into a religion, it creates a conflict when they are confronted with negative information about it. To accept the negative information would be to admit they were wrong, that they wasted their life on a lie. This idea is so painful that they will immediate seek to explain away this negative information to resolve the conflict in their mind. This is why confrontation with a cult member doesn't work and why they will accept obviously false explanations (overlapping generations for example).
Now that you know what doesn't work, you are ready to move on to what does.
#1 Build Rapport and Trust
Do not openly criticise the Watchtower. Most JWs have been trained to fear apostates, this fear defies rationality, but it is real. Especially if you haven't seen them in a while, you may want to hold off on sharing any information at first, just spend time talking about non religious topics. It's important that your friend or family member feels comfortable with you, that they see you are not a threat. If you tried to talk to them about things in the past and it didn't go well, then you will have to let some time pass and build up the relationship before attempting it again.
JWN poster Dogpatch used the family study to teach his family to think for themselves over a period of months. He would assign topics and let them do their own research. He met with each of them individually to let them know they could express any doubts they had with no judgement. Gradually they each began to open up and express their thoughts, thoughts they had been afraid to even acknowledge before.
My goal here was to never make conclusions for them. Rather, walk them through the material slowly and look at all sides and allow them to make a conclusion for themselves. I made no judgments, and did not make negative remarks about the congregation, the Watch Tower Society, or its Governing Body.
#2 Use Goal oriented Communication.
It's a good idea to think through your goals in communicating with your family. What do you think would work with them? What are their concerns? You could simply ask them why they believe Jehovah's Witnesses have the truth or what benefit they get from being a Jehovah's Witness. Their answer can help guide you to what may work with them. Different JWs will also have different concerns. If they are older they might be concerned about the many recent changes in the organization. They might remember the false predictions about 1975, whereas to someone in their twenties that is ancient history and meaningless. A younger person might be concerned with getting an education, or might be having problems finding a suitable mate A young mother might be concerned with the many requirements and demands on her time and the difficulties of taking children to the meetings and field service. Do not attempt to tell them all the evils of the Watchtower, focus on one or two things that you think will work specifically with them.
From JWN poster Open Mind: Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Know various topics inside and out. Review in your mind what presentation would be most effective for your spouse. When a particular brick has been loosened a little, be ready to revisit it at a future date.
#3 Help them Identify with their true self.
Every person in a religion like the Jehovah's Witnesses has two personalities, their cult persona, who they have to be to fit in with the organization, and their true self, who they would be if they had never been a Jehovah's Witnesses. Maybe that guy in the suit at the kingdom hall would really rather be in leathers, riding his Harley on Sunday morning. You would never know that, because most individuals have learned to hide parts of their personality that are not acceptable to the organization, but those parts are still there, even if long buried. Even a person who was raised in the religion has a true self, your goal is to help them get in touch with that true self.
Every JW, no matter how zealous, has thought at some time about what life outside the religion would be like and there is always something they would like to do in their life but can't. You could try asking them what they wanted to be when they were in school, or what they would have done with their lives if they hadn't been a Jehovah's Witness. This can help them recall long buried desires or ambitions, it will help them remember all the things they have given up to be in the religion.
#4 Get them to look at Reality from different perspectives
JW's live in a very isolated world, they never think about how other people view things. Use your knowledge of the person to get them to consider alternate points of view. A few areas that might be discussed:
- You could ask them what think think a non JW relative of someone who died due to refusing a blood transfusion feels about that loss.
- You could ask them to imagine that they were raised a Mormon, what would they think about Beth Sarim, the house built by the Watchtower for returning Prophets.
- You could ask them how someone in China would feel about being destroyed at Armageddon, since they never had a Jehovah's Witness come to their door.
- You could ask them how they think non Jehovah's Witnesses view the practice of shunning, or how they would feel if Catholic families shunned their members who became Jehovah's Witnesses.
Most Jehovah's Witnesses conflate leaving the organization with leaving Jehovah. Your goal should be to get them to see the two are not the same.
#5 Use Indirect Information.
We know that direct confrontation never works. Nobody likes to be told they are wrong, doing so will just stir up resistance to anything you have to say. In addition, the religion teaches a lot of "thought stopping" behavior. Anything critical of the Watchtower is considered "apostate", something that should not even be read or thought about, that is even to be feared. One way to sidestep thought stopping is to give them information in an indirect way. It's the difference between saying "look at that fire!" And saying "Is that smoke?".
From JWN Poster DesireousOfChange: In my experience, the only means of getting a JW to talk about issues is by asking "sincere" questions or discussing "sincere" concerns. This makes them do the research to find the answer, in their effort to "help" you. And they will discover that for most issues there is NO answer. If they take the questions up the chain-of-command to an elder, they'll discover you're not even supposed to ASK those questions. (Typical elder reply would be: "Have you been reading apostate material?")
Some subjects that might work:
- The generation teaching. The Watchtower has redefined the meaning of the word "generation" to the point it has lost all meaning. Most Jehovah's Witnesses could not begin to explain the "overlapping generation" teaching.
- Child Abuse policies and the Australian Royal Commission. The organization has had to settle a number of child abuse lawsuits, has lost many and has been fined for failing to produce discovery documents. They have been investigated by the Australian Royal Commission and been criticized for failing to notify the authorities in cases of molestation.
- Watchtower chronology based on 607 BCE as the date for the fall of Babylon and multiple wrong date predictions. Most JWs think that the organization predicted that the last days was going to start in 1914, when the reality is that they actually thought that Armageddon was going to start in 1914, they believed at the time that they were already in the last days, and it was all based on the fall of Jerusalem being in 607 BCE, when no reputable bible scholar believes that is the correct date.
#6 Help them visualize a happy future outside the religion.
You could ask them what things they would do if they weren't a JW and you could choose to do anything. You could ask them what different choices they would make if they knew for sure Armageddon wasn't going to come for another fifty years.
You could ask them what they would do with the time they would have available if they didn't have to go to the meetings and out in field service. You could ask them about hobbies or interests that they gave up because of the religion, or that they always wanted to start, but didn't.
Your goal is to help them gradually see that they could have a life outside the organization. Change is hard, but a bit easier if you have thought it through.
#7 Give them information on how cults work and give them examples of other cults.
Some times people are sensitive to the word "cult", because nobody in a cult believes that they are actually in a cult. In that case you can use the term "high control religion", or just avoid any term but try to give information indirectly.
Perhaps you could watch a movie about cults with your family. Here is a list of movies about cults:
Some people have also mentioned the movie The Truman Show as helping them.
Cults often use the BITE model, which stands for:
- Behavior Control
- Information Control
- Thought Control
- Emotional Control
Behavior Control A cult decides who you associate with, how you spend your time, discourages individualism and encourages dependency and obedience.
Information Control. A cult hides their real beliefs from outsiders, discourages members from reading outside information and controls your time so you don't have time to think
Thought Control. A cult encourages black and white thinking and requires members to adopt the group's doctrine as truth. A cult forbids critical thinking.
Emotional Control. A cult will promote feelings of guilt and teach people to be afraid of independent thinking. They will teach that there is never a legitimate reason to leave and practices shunning of those who do.
This is just a brief overview on cults. If you are going to help your family you need to become a cult expert.
Combating Cult Mind Control by Steve Hassan
Breaking the Bonds by Steve Hassan