Top Ten Questions & Answers
On Monday, November 19, 2018, I participated in my first ever AMA (Ask Me Anything) for r/exjw on Reddit to an overwhelming response. Reddit users interviewed me by posting questions which I then answered on the Reddit forum. I want to thank Kimmy O’Donnell who helped arrange it and everyone for their support and contributions.
My opening post directed the discussion, “Good morning. I will be available for the next 24 hours to answer your questions. We can discuss the Jehovah’s Witnesses and how they fit my BITE model, how to help family and friends stuck in and ways to recover. Feel free to ask about my work, too. I look forward to being here.” (You can see the original AMA here.)
For this week’s blog, I will share a sampling of the AMA with ten questions from Reddit users along with my responses. (Minor edits to the original posts have been made for formatting and length.)
One link that is particularly important is a video of a talk I gave in Stockholm, Sweden on Helping Individuals Born in High-Demand Groups and Cults and for anyone born into a dysfunctional family or a cult; watching this video will be very helpful.
Question & Answer #1
“My question to you is more about leadership. From your study on how cults work, what are your opinions on how the mind works on those at the top of a Cult like this? Are they all trapped in the same mind control, just like the R&F, or do they realize in another level that this is all about keeping themselves in power, no matter what happens? We have Ray Franz waking up and writing the Crisis of Conscience, but do you believe that there might be more of the Governing Body (top leadership) knowing that something is wrong? Do the writing department realize themselves that they are building a lie? Some of the quote manipulations could give a hint that they do. What are your thoughts on this, based on other cults?”
“Good question about leadership.
I have been doing this work for over 40 years and so have learned about many, many cult leaders. They all seem to suffer from narcissistic personality disorder and sociopathy as well as other problems. I have not seen a cold calculating criminal just deciding, “I want to start a cult” and if such a person did this, it would not last many years, much less for decades. Most cult leaders were raised in a family system where they never developed a secure attachment and a healthy sense of self. Most cult leaders were actually in a cult themselves, where they learned a lot about the dynamics of a mind control cult.
As far as members of the GB, I am very interested to know more about these specific individuals and just how much exposure they actually have to critical literature. I doubt any. I would predict if they sat and read Combating Cult Mind Control from start to finish, they would never be able to function in the same way. And if all read my book and discussed it, it could change the organization permanently. I realize this must sound pretty bold to say. Ray Franz is an example of someone that was raised in the group and woke up and acted on his conscience.”
Question & Answer #2
“How is it many of us ex Jehovah’s Witnesses fall into the trap of conspiracy theories?”
“I would say all former members of mind control cults, unless they understand the essentials of how they operate AND do the therapeutic healing work to get their minds to function in a more balanced way, which includes critical thinking, will be very susceptible to any ideology that presents itself in a way to give an explanation of what ” reality is.” In other words, people need to develop an internal locus of control for a formulation of what is a workable “map” of reality.”
Question & Answer #3
“What advice would you give to a JW who has literally just woken up and is feeling overwhelmed by the realisation that they are in a cult? What practical things can they do to get a handle on the situation and work out what to do next?”
“I think the initial few weeks of waking up is very jolting to the system and so I definitely recommend people gaining access to a support system of folks who have left years ago and have gone on to have good counseling [ . . . ].
I would say getting a minimum of 7-9 hours of sleep (it is not unusual for someone just coming out to sleep much more.) Sleep is very healing. Exercise, good food, being in nature. Doing things you love to do (music, dance, sports, comedy, reading. Reading was a major strategy for my recovery. I was obsessed with understanding what happened to me but I was recruited in at age 19, not born in. For folks like me, reconnecting to my past life and identity was huge- friends, family. Learning about brainwashing, mind control was huge. Learning about the Bible and deconstructing the ideology to see how they misquoted scripture was important. So much more!”
Question & Answer #4
“For those that are trying to fade and leave JWs, we’re often hounded by calls, visits, and text messages from people who are genuinely concerned for our spiritual well-being and don’t understand how their behavior comes across. It’s suffocating and anxiety-inducing. On a basic level, it’s supposed to get you to come back – they think because of their love shown, but it’s actually guilt and social pressure. How can someone request that the behavior stops, clearly communicate how it actually makes them feel, all while not attacking their “good” intentions?”
“I would say there are a variety of strategies you can employ. It will vary if the person is a family member or former close friend, or just someone else you might know but more peripherally.
Please keep in mind, I am an activist and so my bias is to help others. So rather than pretend you aren’t home, or blocking email or specific phone numbers, I recommend active engagement. If you have not yet read the new Combating Cult Mind Control (not the volume from 1988/1990 with Combatting with two “t”s), I would encourage you to start there. And then read my book Freedom of Mind. You will learn a ton of concrete things you can say to help people. Some ex-members literally show the active member the book, saying that it was written by a guy who was in the Moonie cult (the one with the mass weddings) and that you would like to loan the book to them to read, so you both can have a discussion about the ideas in the book. Of course, you risk being cut off.”
Question & Answer #5
“Are you aware of JW propaganda? If yes, in your opinion, how effective is that? What is the best way or practice to fight against these propagandas and keep a peaceful mind?”
“Kimmy O’Donnell, a former Jehovah’s Witness who has been working with FOM to support my website and social media, has been keeping me informed about every major development with Watchtower in the past year. This has resulted in my writing more blogs about the Watchtower than probably any other group at this point. As far as how effective propaganda is, it depends. Some of this is aimed to keep people still in and not to convince ex-members or outsiders.
The Watchtower now has an online presence and so they are in a situation where they are having to deal with information that everyone can have access to with a cell phone or access to a library computer system.
As far as how to keep a peaceful mind (and not get triggered), it is essential to not only educate yourself but to actually do the healing process that is necessary to reclaim your own mind and internal locus of control for your life decisions.”
Question & Answer #6
“I’m new to your work and the BITE model, what’s a good place to start as far as reading? Are you an exJW?”
“I am a former member of the Unification Church, otherwise known as the Moonies.
Have you been to my website freedomofmind.com? I encourage you to look at my site and my blogs including this one https://freedomofmind.com/the-bite-model-and-jehovahs-witnesses/”
Question & Answer #7
“If I could say one thing to a JW that will put a pebble in their shoe, what should that be?”
“I do not think there is only one thing. There are many. And I would never describe it as a pebble in their shoe. But I understand it is an expression.
Being warm and friendly, connecting with them and asking them if they have a friend or family member who has left or were disfellowshipped? And then if they say they know someone, ask them if they would like to speak with them to hear how they are doing and why they left? It will bring up programmed fears. But as a follow-up suggestion, if they prayed about it and felt that Jehovah wanted them to think for themselves and wanted them to investigate, would they do so?”
“I’d like to know this too. Every now and then, they surround the area I live in during the morning ‘rush’ and I’d like to be able to impact them in some way… especially the younger ones. (I’m exmo..)”
“There are many more things. If you are a former member, just talk with them warmly and then, before you leave, let them know you left and how happy you are to feel free. To understand, that fear of Armageddon is something thousands of different cults, as well as religions, teach in order to control members and that they all say you need to be in their organization to be saved.”
Question & Answer #8
“Do you think that because of the availability and increasing amount of information on the internet we will see a decrease in cult membership. Especially the younger generations (so-called millennials and gen z). Do you think this will cause the traditional cults to “starve” in the upcoming years?”
“I am seeing the internet actually increase the number of destructive cults. And wealthy cults manipulate Wikipedia as well as search engines to bury critical information. Then, there are the disinformation campaigns against cult critics and any information the cults do not like. I also believe that influence professionals, which includes governments, do not wish to educate their citizens about mind control. Schools do little to nothing.
So I think we need former members who are educated to do a grassroots activism campaign. (Read my blog https://freedomofmind.com/a-call-to-action-for-all-who-have-suffered-from-mind-control/)”
Question & Answer #9
“For someone pursuing therapy, are there any specific references we should present to our therapist to better explain the situation we went through? Or are there specific things we should be looking for in a therapist?”
“Very good question. Some people are still on the fence, but really need help to make the move.
Unfortunately, most mental health professionals have not received any training in terms of helping former members. So you need to do a lot of consumer research. You want to know about a person’s training and background. If they are like me, a mental health professional who was in a cult and wrote about it, start by reading what they wrote. Many former members go on to become mental health professionals. Look at their website, read their blogs, interview them. If you can’t find someone on your insurance network (I do not take insurance) then your financial ability to pay out of pocket is going to be a big factor. More and more, people are needing to do video conferencing sessions with someone not nearby. This is not ideal, but better than going to someone who does not have training or experience. If you are looking for someone locally and no one has this training and experience, see if there is someone who is willing to pay for their own training and supervision. Someone willing to read books, watch videos, go to conferences. What you do not want to do is pay someone so you teach them- and you are having real results with each session. I should say I have a number of free videos of workshops and talks I have done for mental health professionals on my website.”
Question & Answer #10
“My question is in regards to small children who are still attending the meeting with my ex-husband. I can see already how strong an influence the group has on their young minds. How can we help our kids see for themselves that it is a cult?”
“Children who are still involved with the cult through an ex is a logistical challenge. While cult parents often program the children against the parent who has exited (they have left “Jehovah” and the “Truth”), if the ex-member parent does not maintain warmth, love, joy with the kids, this is not good. Likewise, if the ex-gets defensive or attacks the other parent, this is harmful as well.
So, I believe every case needs to be customized to the specifics of the strengths, weaknesses and the resources.
Social psychology education is a benign but helpful place to start. Anti-bully concepts. Being true to one’s own conscience and answering your children’s questions in developmentally appropriate ways. Stories are a great way to teach.”
Reflections of my AMA
About the Author:
Steven Hassan M.Ed. LMHC, NCC has helped thousands of individuals and families recover from undue influence (mind control). With over 40 years of experience, he is sought after as one of the foremost authorities on undue influence and controlling groups and individuals. Steve understands the subject from a unique perspective as both a former cult member and as a clinical professional.
Steven is the Founding Director of the Freedom of Mind Resource Center, a coaching, consulting, and training organization dedicated to supporting individuals to have the freedom to think clearly and to freely consider how they want to live their lives. Steven pioneered a breakthrough method called the Strategic Interactive Approach (SIA), an effective and legal alternative for families to help cult members. The SIA teaches family and friends how to strategically influence the individual involved in the cult.
Learn about how the Strategic Interactive Approach can help rescue your friend or loved one out from under predatory influence.
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