broken-trust“I don’t know how to make friends?” “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to trust again.” “I feel socially backward.” These are just a few of the statements I hear from former Jehovah’s Witnesses who have parted ways with the faith.  The root cause always comes down to one thing:  trust has been broken.

When you’ve lived in a situation where your “friends” are foisted on you and pre-approved by church management, and where your behaviors are dictated by higher ups, there’s not a big need for social skills.  What few social skills we did absorb came from watching others at school or work.  But, since we weren’t able to rub elbows and socialize with those folks, we could only assume why they behaved the way they did – for better or worse.

The only trust we were told to have was in the god Jehovah, and in his self-appointed governing body of men who sat in their tower in New York making pronouncements on the JW membership.  We were also supposed to trust that our “brothers and sisters” had our backs, since we had to trust them when the war of all wars broke out at Armageddon.

trustFor most of us exJWs, our trust was broken along the way.  For some, they realized they could no longer trust the Watchtower leaders to provide accurate information, having had many doctrinal flip-flops over the past century.  Yet others were emotionally and physically abused by those in authority, or those leaders swept abuses under the carpet, leaving members vulnerable.

Upon leaving, many of us felt the worst of betrayals.  Our “brothers and sisters” no longer supported us, often hurling unfounded accusations our way in an attempt to sully our names.  And flesh and blood chose doctrine and church leaders over family.  While in some terribly vulnerable situations, we were left with no emotional support whatsoever.  In addition to these breaches of trust, many have also felt the pain and confusion of losing their faith in God altogether–they feel betrayed by their own Heavenly Father.

So, how does one move through this kind of hurt and breaches of trust to build relationships again?  I can only share what worked for me.

As an extrovert, I draw energy from people. Some would say I’m a social butterfly.  So, to be cut off from family and a lifetime of friends was excruciatingly painful.  I needed people in my life like a duck needs water.  But, I didn’t trust anyone.  To alleviate some of this isolation I made superficial friendships with co-workers, but these relationships didn’t have much depth…and I needed that.

I began dipping my toe in the trust pool by sharing bits and pieces of my experience as a JW, even going so far as to tell a few that my family shunned me.  I still carried embarrassment, guilt, and shame, but soon realized those feelings were misplaced as I began sharing my story.  The reaction from listeners was usually outrage and disgust at the situation–not me.  I saw people who were righteously indignant on my behalf, and it was freeing.

About 3 years after I was disfellowshipped, I joined a non-doctrinal congregational church.  I figured if any religion understood religious oppression, it would be the Congregationalists.  This was an extremely supportive community, of which I was a member for over a decade.  I became a greeter for Sunday services, helped on a planning committee, and other activities.  At one point, to further my trust and relationship building, I joined a prayer shawl group, where we knitted or crocheted shawls for those who were going through a health or relationship crisis. I slowly built some friendships–you notice it was not overnight.  I began to learn who exhibited behaviors that were supportive, and those behaviors that I did not want or need in my life.

FriendsMy biggest learning about myself was that church was filling a giant need I had for community, and I could find that community in any number of places.  I left the church, but kept my friendships. As most of you know, I have a passion for gardening…so, I joined a burgeoning garden club. During this time, I made a couple of fantastic friends that I can always count on.

I’ve also made some excellent friends throughout the exJW community. As I travel around with my job, I’m often able to make a little side trip to connect with folks that I’ve chatted with online for years.  That is ALWAYS a joy!

The bottom line is this:  friendships and relationships can be built again.  Trust can be built again.  It doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a slow process.  And, slow and steady is a great way to do it. 

One of my favorite authors was Stephen Covey, and he had a great analogy about building trust, using the metaphor of an Emotional Bank Account  in which we make small deposits over time. Take your time to build that trust.  I would also add that it takes courage to avoid relationships with people that don’t have our best interests at heart.  And, in that regard I’ve had my fair share of failures…but learned from them all.

Be patient with yourself, and enjoy the journey.

Steph

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4 thoughts on “When Trust is Broken

  1. I had a few friends when I left, even though they were not allowed at home, I too have an energy that attracts people, so they were able to put up with the things that I had to go through, and things I was not allowed to do. When I left I met many beautiful people, one couple became my adopted family, she used to want to know so much about the jws that she and I would sit every night after the children were in bed and the topic always come up with her starting it, wanting to know more. The one thing that she never got over was the fact that they shun. She was a Catholic and of course they do not do that, and it is wrong according to them. She helped me to find more of myself by her deep interest, and together we spent the next many years as sisters!! The last thing she said to me a week before she passed Sept. 30th 2011 was have you spoke to your mom lately. She just never got over it. I told her no, and that I had to be I had to be in the right mood, we laughed, that was the last time I spoke to her. She passed 1 week later. I have one friend who I found and have here on my FB page who treated me wonderful in school. I lost track of him, but looked till I found him, and told him how very much he meant to me!! After meeting my family, then I began to meet friends of theirs, Bill was a musician and played in the bars, so we got sitters and went to work with him, and met other of their lovely friends. Then I started so many classes and other things that I had almost more than I could handle. My career was in collecting and I hated it so I was a waitress for years, and met all kinds of people, friends, but not close, but had plenty of close friends too. I just love people and enjoy being around them. Yes, it can leave a mistrust and it did with me, but over different things, but now that is gone and done. It does not happen over night, but before long, you will have some wonderful friends. Just wait and see.

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    1. One of the most surprising things to me was that most people are generally good. I had to shift my thinking into giving people the benefit of the doubt, instead of making assumptions about them. I actually have a phrase across the top of my work board that says, “Don’t commit assumacide.” I remind myself daily not to jump to conclusions about folks. I also learned that we ALL have a story.

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