Recently, an exJW friend of mine posted a question as to whether or not people who were born in to the Jehovah’s Witness life had a harder time leaving than those who converted. My contention is that we do indeed have a harder time of it, because we have no reference point of our personal “normal” to fall back on, whereas those who converted had an identity pre-cult.
Interestingly, I’ve been reading Steven Hassan’s book Freedom of Mind – Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults and Beliefs which addressed this. Hassan stated, “Even people who are born into cults have an authentic self that was suppressed from birth. It is the strength of the authentic self that makes it possible to rescue people from cults many years, even decades after they join.”
I reflected on this and thought back to my childhood to see if I had any indicators of my authentic self, as a born-in Jehovah’s Witness. As I pondered this, I did find glimpses in my memories that gave a clue to who the “real” me was. As a child, I was very lonely (common to many JW youth), so I spent a lot of time in my head. I was a thinker, a ponderer…hmmmm, sounds familiar. I also had an independent spirit, confirmed by my kindergarten teacher who noted, “Stephanie is as independent as a hog on ice.” Knowing an independent spirit was considered “Satanic” was tough to work through on an emotional basis.
At the weekly meetings, one could always find me in the company of the older folks–my pseudo grandparents. I loved hearing their stories, and the attention they poured out. These senior citizens were a joy to me.
In school, I was that kid who was always bringing home a stray kitten, helping someone with their schoolwork, or defending the underdogs, while working myself to the bone to get the perfect grades (feeling like a failure if I didn’t). In the summer, I treasured those hot summer days at the beach, digging my toes into that hot sand, and beach combing for the perfect shell. I still have one special treasure I found on the beach as a kid.
We lived on a tomato farm, and I wanted my own little garden. My mom made it happen, and bought my brother and I seeds for miniature veggies–it was so cool. And, as I got a little older, I was always hustling up a job with the neighbors–either mowing lawns or grooming the neighbors shrubs and flowers.
What all this reminiscing leads me to is the point that indeed, all along my life’s journey–even as a JW–there were clues as to my authentic self. It’s no wonder that as I grew older, my dissonance was harder to control, and it finally broke me. While in the midst of it, I thought I was losing my mind, but in reality I was gaining my mind–my real mind.
Today, my passions still wrap around growing things, feeling extremely connected to the earth and all of nature. Since the age of five, when I received my first Brownie camera, I loved photography–that’s never changed. I’m still adopting parents and grandparents and listening to their stories.
I actually did find my authentic self after I left my life as a JW. In between all of the meetings and ministry and assemblies and Bible studies and school work, somehow parts of my own personality kept peeking through. It was actually somewhat of a relief to sit and think about this, and realize that I’m exactly who I was meant to be. I wish this same feeling for everyone who has grown up in a high control environment.
If you’ve just gotten out from under the Watch Tower Society’s influence, or another group, just know that the real you is in there, and finding yourself can be extremely rewarding.
P.S. I also know most of my personality deficits, too. For the most part, I still over-achieve–a result of that good old “never being good enough” psychology, and am very demanding of myself and others. Patience isn’t my virtue–unless it’s with young children or old folks. At this point, I’m not sure if these things will change, but I have come to accept that this is truth about myself.