The following article is to aid transparency and to raise awareness of news within the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization that their followers are not made aware of. It has been written by a member, as well as featuring other members or supporters that no longer engage in their religious routines or practices, who are opening Pandora’s box on the mental influence that has governed both their lives and millions of others. Some names may have been changed. All references used in this article are from reliable sources and can be found in the footnote references below this article, or by clicking the related graphic image. All quoted teachings referenced of Jehovah’s Witnesses can be found by search on JW.org.
The aim of this article is to raise awareness of the danger inside a highly controlled religion. The outcome of breaking the bonds from allowing ourselves to be psychologically manipulated & coerced by Jehovah’s Witnesses -specifically centering around the topic of Cycle Breaking.
Becoming one of these determined warriors can be life changing and liberating- yet it takes patience, understanding, and constant reflecting and acceptance to new unbending change.
To explain why cycle breaking is a fundamental part of wanting to leave a highly controlled religion- in this article I am interviewing 2 former Jehovah’s Witnesses that have voiced their stories on cycle breaking, Vonda Jean and Shannon Dominguez. Shannon’s book “Cult life, a memoir of Growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness” and her upcoming book “This ends now!”*1 also goes into her life on being a cycle breaker, and how it was leaving this organization. These are just 2 of the thousands of former and active Jehovah’s Witnesses who have gone through similar trials living in this toxic routine of the customs and family dynamic in the Jehovah’s Witness organization.
Looking at yourself in the faded mirror you see not just yourself but your entire family line. You see maybe your mothers eyes staring back, your fathers chin, your grandmother’s hair. Genetic makeup is something we cannot change yet inherit from our families bloodline. Very few things can be modified by our circumstances along that line- but there are things that you do pass along in your family’s beliefs that can completely change.
Vonda: “I was born into the religion. I was raised in a loving household that was actually very much controlled by the organization. My parents genuinely thought this really was “the truth.” They truly believe in their hearts that paradise is coming, that Armageddon is on its way, that we are in the final part of the last days. Yet they struggled to teach us to be strong women, to not be independent thinkers- but also to be under the control of the organization for safety.”
There is a break in the mirror, a jagged crack. This break can involve a new view of your beliefs, a different thought process than what has surrounded you. Cutting off toxic ties from a religion, family routine or changes that many cannot accept and grow accustomed to themselves. As many would put it, a phoenix rising from the ashes. It must be remembered though, that there will still be burns as you rise anew and you are still learning to fly. This crack in the mirror, breaking the bonds to a new healthier version of you, is called being the cycle breaker.
To understand the history of cycle breaking in a highly controlled religion or family dynamic and why this is so difficult to break from, we must first know how it is affecting us personally. Getting to know our triggers and why we think the way we do. That includes the deep seated customs and beliefs surrounding the religion and why it has become such a framework for most these days.
Vonda: “I remember one time people in the congregation went to my father to make me aware of the fact that I was too attractive for a certain ministerial servant in the congregation. I remember him coming to me about it.
“‘You just have to be careful not to stumble others, Vonda,’ he said on the matter. I was only 16. He’s not even supposed to be looking at me, I thought. But I could see the anger in my father‘s eyes, yet his cognitive dissonance was strong. He looked at me, parroting back what the organization teaches.
I was angry, heartbroken and confused. So I started smiling less. Keeping my head down more. Staying silent when this same servant would come over to our home to visit with my father and stare at me from across my own living room, with lust for a teenager. I shouldn’t have had to feel this way, nor act the way I did.”
A cycle-breaker is someone who recognizes harmful or dysfunctional traits that exist in the culture of their family and decides to discard these traits and trade them in for something different. This can be life changing and liberating work that unfortunately may trigger a negative response in other family members. This includes a conditioning reinforcer, which is anything that strengthens or increases behavior. In a controlled setting such as a highly controlled religion though, this conditioning reinforcer is what may be weakening and decreasing your authentic behavior, causing you to engage in mirroring the teachings of your religion rather than your own thinking.
Vonda: “My parents could not see the forest for the trees. Being a part of the organization for my parents meant feeling like they had control of their lives. It made them feel safer to have the organization. It was easier for the governing body to tell them what to do rather than heal their personal wounds and make decisions for themselves based on what would make them happy.”
In Psychology Today’s article*2 “What is a Cycle-Breaker and how to engage in this powerful process” By Sarah Epstein, she points out:
Vonda: “The heart is treacherous. I remember being confused about that as a child. I would hear “the world” say, follow your heart and yet how could my heart be treacherous. Isn’t that what was supposed to guide me?”
Religions are the earliest organized protective system that we know about. Passing the belief on to the next generation after generation. It binds, gives purpose, structure and provides a higher power to foundation and culture. The more influential worldwide religions are created through authority and control, evoking religious specialists, priests, witches, (Elders, Ministerial Servants, Circuit Overseers, the Faithful and Discreet Slave) shamans, the list goes on.
Religion can combine the ideologies of life that provide a dependable system to raise children into adulthood based on the foundation of their preferred religion. People will die, and kill for religion, it’s that powerful. Religions create boundaries for their followers. This does not mean that just because they are defined as boundaries for their belief or god, that it means that these are actual healthy or needed boundaries that are good for you. Rather it means that you are bound to them despite how you feel.
Without belief there is no religion, and without religion some may not know how to think of themselves. This is not to demean the value of having a preference of religious custom or belief in any way, simply “it is to each their own.” The reason I go into detail about highly controlled religions is that it is harder to untie or sever the connections that it has to every aspect of your being, compared to a more loosely structured religion such as Hinduism.
It is also as simple as that though. You start figuring out that maybe these religious customs set for you, rules that your family has lived by, are not providing you with all of the answers to your questions. They also may not be guiding you to a healthy lifestyle or environment. Questioning the status quo is normal.
Shannon: “I was an auxiliary pioneer for years, Married for 8 years to a man I dated for 2 months. When I was 26 years old as a Jehovah’s Witness, I realized I needed to leave my marriage of 8 years for myself and my daughters. I had been a stay-at-home mom who was not allowed to get a job. It was better for my husband if I stayed home to cook, clean, and care for the children. So that’s what I did. My husband was treating me with disrespect and had an urgent desire to control me. One day it just hit me, I started to notice my children seeing how my husband treated me, and I knew that if I didn’t leave, this cycle would continue. If I don’t leave, my daughters will grow up thinking that this behavior is normal… Just like I did. So I left. I became the cycle breaker of my family.“
Religions have always been in the process of change and transformation. Yet within the Jehovah’s Witness organization, change is a very rare occurrence that is not brought about lightly or soon enough. Their customs and radical teachings started by the man Charles Taze Russell in the 1870’s, and they made the changes in such a fluent and controlled way, it is hard to question it. This is a form of brainwashing. The changes and customs have impacted followers’ lives in detrimental ways. The way high controlled religion coerces their followers is by writing articles that second guesses your thinking, tries to warp your thinking- Or simply does the thinking for you. The ‘study tool’ they call the watchtower, awakes, other publications and weekly talks, written and guided by the Watchtower and Bible Tract Society is more so strict guidelines on how to dress, groom, setting you in your place in the family, how to act, how to feel, and separating yourself completely from the world. The meetings and service, constant prayers and songs sung throughout their gatherings are their rituals.
The only topic on “breaking a cycle” on the Jehovah’s Witness website (Jw.org)*3 is “Breaking the cycle of hatred.”
Which to its former followers would feel a bit hypocritical, since one of the biggest trials of this religion is their rule of shunning and disfellowshipping its members when they are sinning against their teachings. A hateful practice under the guise of “love” that is intended to be malicious.
It is important to know that being a cycle breaker does NOT mean that
You’re rightfully claiming the environment, routine, thought process, belief and disposition that you have every right to deserve to choose. Cycle breaking does not mean that you are broken in the first place, but rather that the things around you need to be broken because they are unhealthy or irrelevant.
Shannon: “While I was leaving the organization, I got a knock on the door by 2 police officers to tell me that my JW father has died by suicide. I knew the last thing I wanted to do was return to my abusive marriage. The elders from two different congregations continued to encourage me to consider repairing things, for what Jehovah has yoked together may no man take apart. I was terrified that if I went back to being a witness, I would be miserable and end up like my father and leave my children with the pain I bore.”
If you decide to put the pieces back together and go back to the same beliefs that your religion or family has brought you up in, that’s okay. That is your choice. Making sure it is solely your decision is vital however. Breaking a cycle may feel deeply uncomfortable at first. Breaking that reflection of you in the mirror may sound like a move that will petrify you before you even start. It does take herculean effort.
It is not for everybody to understand, so if you explain to your peers or parental figures what you are going through, don’t take it personally if they do not agree or wish to understand. It may be wise not to go to ones that may be encouraging to stay where you feel trapped, and who may discourage the changes you wish to achieve
Shannon: “A month later, while adjusting to the life of a single mother waiting tables, going through a divorce, and grieving my father’s death, I was disfellowshipped by a judicial committee that felt I was not repentant for my sins on leaving my marriage. I lost everyone I knew. I had very little social capital in the world. I had very little knowledge of how the world around me worked. I was naive and innocent and the perfect vulnerable prey. I felt utterly alone and confused to my core.”
You may feel like everything is crashing around you, not just the image in the mirror in front of you. An“ Oh there goes my mind” kind of notion. Your thinking may feel wrong, so while deprogramming it is crucial to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself during this process. It is also important to have a support system of friends who treat you equally, understand what you are going through, and that don’t lead you to falling under control of something again. This cycle breaking process shows a desire to want to meet your needs in a better way, to better your own life, not necessarily everyone else’s. You are very strong for doing this. This means you can forgive and forget -if you wish. In time, you will heal the painful memories and reasons why you decided to cycle break in the first place.
Sometimes there are parts of you that you will need to leave behind. Sometimes there are parts of you that you need to carry on. Listening to that gut feeling is tough to do when you are not used to it. Yet in this process you’ll learn that nobody else should get to decide on what you’re allowed to keep or leave behind. Being stuck in a toxic relationship with your religion or family dynamic is based on very black and white teachings, and this is you now detonating that way of thinking.
This process of leaving that way of living deserves and demands to be felt and it will take a toll on your emotions, time and energy.
Shannon: “I knew when my father died that – This ends now! Which is the name of my second book and focuses on breaking religious cycles. THIS ENDS NOW is the protection mechanism I want to create and put in place to ensure that my children and I are learning how to take care of our mental health so that suicide isn’t something that happens to us.”
Vonda: “Being a cycle breaker for me now means becoming the person I should’ve always been. The person I was told I cannot be, the person the organization took away from me.. I’ve worn a mask my entire life, hating who I really am. I remember speaking to my mother about what it meant to be gay in the organization. “How do they live?” “They just do,” she said. “So they just pretend?” I asked, “ No, they just can’t act on their feelings.”
There are things you can do if you are wanting to change the patterns, break the bonds, rise from those ashes and cut the ties to a repetitive trait that you have found to be toxic for your mental health and everyday life. You need to break down your family’s experience and your own experience within the larger system. That means asking questions like:
Vonda: “I realized that in order for me to stay a witness, I had to become a different person. I could not be who I was, I could not act on the things that felt natural to me. That conversation with my mother changed the entire course of my life. I wanted so badly to serve Jehovah. I wanted so badly to do the things I was supposed to do despite how I felt in my “treacherous heart.” It is never too late to find yourself again though, despite what the organization told you. There are so many people out there that need to hear that it is possible to break the cycle because they see no logical way out of this. I can now show my children despite the damage that was done that I can still find myself again. I wrote a letter to my parents after some time being away from the organization. I told them that I forgave how they treated me and that “I am taking the good things that you have taught me in my life, and I am leaving the rest.”
The objective and what you deserve, is to feel fully and authentically yourself. Your passions, beliefs, priorities should be all of your own choosing. Eventually you will look in your newly made mirror and see yourself progressing, flying. This doesn’t mean that the burns you still feel from your past wont remind you of the fire, but taking that experience and gaining, learning from it, what you really don’t want in your life anymore and what you now want to do. Using the fire of that experience can help you to create a new mirror that can strengthen your own beliefs, your own mentality and create a safe home for your true needs, wants and free thoughts. This can finally lead to your happiness.
Shannon: “The past eight years have been a non-linear journey discovering my own cycles, generational cycles, religious cycles, societal cycles, etc. After creating more awareness around my own cycles, I learned how to start breaking and changing cycles. Cycle Breaking for me started when I heard about my dad- It takes starting to talk about our mental health, and being honest with ourselves. Witnesses are not taught to be honest with themselves, we deserve more, and never less- I’m putting my foot down on how to break these cycles- this ends now!”
Vonda: “So, What does it take to be a cycle breaker? Courage. That’s it. You don’t have to know what you’re doing. You don’t have to know exactly how to do that. You just have to stand up. You just have to say ‘no more’ . You just have to be brave. You have to know that there are people out there, healthy friends, encouraging advocates for a change, the writers of Avoidjw, who will support and love you through this.”
For those of you who do not know what this term is, please go to this link of a video created by Kingdom of God Ministry & Missions that can further explain.
Otherwise, the events and breakdown of cycle breaking I have mentioned can cause detrimental changes regarding the relationship and reality with your surrounding PIMI family and friends, despite what you know about any toxicity or truths you may have found to be true. Ones who have already been through this can understand how hard it is to be fully out when you have loved ones still in and believing. The Exjw subreddit is there for encouragement and help, along with articles such as these and other sites invoking awareness in this organization. Being a cycle breaker may require even more patience and understanding for yourself and how your personal needs and wants will pan out with starting this process. You may feel like you are lying, hiding what you know to protect others emotions and it may come off as conniving or feeling disloyal to the routines you’ve been used to. It is not. Just know that if you do decide to start the cycle breaking process while physically in- attending the meetings and as an active publisher- you are not alone, and even if it gets worse before it gets better- you’ll be learning so much about yourself, including relearning how to love yourself in a new light, a new mirror.