To the Woman in a High-Control Religion
Whether you’ve left mentally or both mentally and physically, the challenges of leaving a high-control religion can be massive.
When you think of the word ‘cult’ a few things may enter your mind. Maybe you envision a group of individuals wearing dark cloaks standing in a semi-circle summoning their dead ancestors. Maybe you envision some dark forces that promote eating live animals.
I say this in jest, but often when the word ‘cult’ is mentioned, these are the mental images that come up in people’s minds. Most do not envision an outwardly simple group of people in a fundamentalist religion to be a cult. I know I certainly did not.
For women especially, these fundamentalist religions can be especially damaging for a few reasons. One of which is the toxicity of purity culture. If you’re reading this and you’re equating purity culture to having a sense of morality, I can assure you that’s exactly what your leaders want you to think.
Purity culture teaches that if you fall short of God’s commands and do not abstain from sexual activity, that you are therefore not good enough. It also teaches that a person’s sexual history determines one’s spiritual status. It has always been interesting to me that this teaching is in direct contradiction with the way God himself (if you believe in God) actually treats humans. At some point the lines get blurred as to who is in charge — the leadership, or God himself.
Especially toxic is the message that women are responsible for the sexual purity of men. I was an active Jehovah’s Witness for thirty-seven years and the message received by women from the leadership was that women are indeed responsible for men having “impure” (normal) thoughts about them.
Women are not responsible for men’s purity, and we need to stop promoting this damaging rhetoric.
There is an intense amount of pressure on women whether or not that woman is single or married, whether she does or does not have children. Not only are women responsible for themselves, but for others as well. Leaving a religion like Jehovah’s Witnesses, especially as a woman, is often seen as the worst thing a woman could ever do. Not only is she guilty of apostasy, but she is also guilty of ‘spiritually abandoning’ her husband and leaving her children to be “killed by Satan.” It is often said that the woman has the most influence over children, assuming traditional gender roles are fulfilled within the home. When this is the pattern, women are held to an unreachable, unattainable standard that the lord himself did not even set.
Leaving is the most difficult decision for a woman, especially since her life was devoted to the organization rather than furthering her education and therefore becoming self-sufficient — something the JW organization strongly discourages. This causes an overwhelming sense of entrapment, since she most likely would be unable to support herself in the event the husband decides to leave her on the grounds of apostasy. It is for these reasons that women remain silent and suffer for an entire lifetime.
My experience of it all is more relatable than I imagined it would be. Caught up and surrounded by countless women who quietly submitted to the authority of men, I felt like a fish out of water for a large part of my life. It is not that I don’t appreciate the strengths of men, because I do. My husband is one of the most brilliant humans I’ve ever encountered and he views and treats me as his equal. It is the simple fact that I was made to feel that I have no value. Indoctrination taught me that that was an unacceptable viewpoint, called “murmuring” — a biblical term used to describe anyone who complains (speaks out against) leadership. It was always told to me that murmuring can lead to apostasy, which is the deadliest of sins.
Having a narcissistic mother and stepfather in addition to the high-control, narcissistic leadership in the religion made for a lifetime of suffering trough and fighting an invisible war; a war in which I was the only soldier.
Waking up to my self-worth was no easy task since I was hard-wired to believe that trusting in my own heart is “deceitful” if not “stupid” and that I needed to “deaden” parts of me that “stumbled me.” My first step in unraveling indoctrination was giving myself permission to love myself first, and at all costs. Once I granted myself that allowance, the rest of the journey unfolded bit by bit, piece by piece. I ditched the loaded language that cults are known to use, and removed any personalization. I stripped myself of wrapping my identity up in my religion and discovered that despite the teaching that religion was my personality, it was actually something I once believed. It became a story to tell.
In time I removed myself from social circles that housed conditional relationships. What was the condition? Unwavering loyalty to an organization I no longer wanted to be affiliated with. I realized those relationships were based on an unnatural coercive influence that tells members to only associate with members on the inside. Outside the religion, we would not be friends.
I am learning the true meaning of unconditional love, survivorship, loyalty, and what it truly means to see value in my own soul. I have accepted my imperfections and I allow myself room and time to grow. I no longer blame myself for past mistakes. I am working on reversing the manipulation of the guilt and shame cycle that the cult was always eager to inflict on its members. I am a much happier, patient mom, wife, friend, and human being.
If you’re unraveling and deconstructing, let this be a message to you that you are not alone.