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  • Esther Ruth Friedman

Podcast Interview: J'exit YouTube Channel

Hello Gentle Souls,

I want to tell you about this fantastic cult recovery resource! Jexit was created by Martin Riley, a former Jehovah's Witness. Recently, we discussed cult recovery. Hear that conversation in this video:

The Witnesses recruited Riley's family when he was two. Raised as a true believer, he married and started a family. Then some elders decided to disfellowship him for some alleged infraction.

Riley stumbled into the "the worldly world," awaiting Armageddon, his descent into hell with the "sinners" (i.e. all non-Witnesses). Week after week, month after month, Armageddon never came. He met friends, started dating, got a job, fell in love and got engaged. Over time, he saw that the "church" lied to him about everything for his entire life. Not very Christian. So, he created and launched Jexit.

Riley asked me excellent questions! It's worth listening to us discuss recovery. Here are some points boiled down a bit:

  • Despite how "church" elders fear monger and demonize non-members, the ex-Witnesses in my therapy practice navigate the "worldly" world brilliantly. But jobs, careers, passions and new relationships don't salve the ongoing heartbreak over the cultic theft. They lost families, years and significant faith in humanity. No one should lose their entire family and community for being a human with needs and a compassionate, beating heart.

  • Cults that use total banishment to punish those who question doctrine inflict the most lasting psychological damage. Trauma researchers, neuroscientists and psychiatrists are finding that social alienation and rejection cuts the deepest. Disconnection feels like annihilation. It feels like death. Ousted former Witnesses live in constant mourning. But the people and the places they lost, live on, while church doctrine bans contact between them. Nothing could be more cruel.

  • The ex-Witnesses that I see all struggle with relentless guilt over things that are not their responsibility. Riley told me that in the "church" the members are "good for nothing slaves" to the cause of "saving sinners!" This task, of course, is impossible. "Church" elders pitch sacrifice as the ultimate salvation. So, the proletariat knock on doors clutching copies of The Watchtower. Robert J Lifton, author of Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, calls this deployment, Dispensing of Existence. I call it, Cultic Identity Theft. Riley said it best: "It's a complete denial of self."

  • I prefer to call recovery, reclamation. You are taking your mind back from the smoke and mirrors. You are unraveling the lies and pulling your authentic self out of that tangle. You are tossing the b.s. aside for clarity.

  • My clients empower themselves by consulting their internal compass to navigate through the fog of confusion and guilt. I facilitate and collaborate. With the right toolset, it gets easier over time. But I've yet to see anyone "get over" the betrayal perpetrated by an institution promising salvation and freedom, only to deliver spiritual and mental enslavement.

  • All cults use the same template. When you strip back the superficial marketing, the exploitation is the same. The Witnesses are no different than Scientology, or NXVIM. So, there's a silver lining: reverse engineer the exploitation template and you have a roadmap to reclamation: break group rules, do the opposite of what the indoctrination preached. Aim towards clarity and calm, your authentic self will emerge. Riley mentioned, "stages of recovery." Words can't capture the complexity of this process, because the stages overlap, dovetail and circle back -- it's not linear. But I have seen each and every client go through the following stages. I went through them, myself: 1) Recognized the con & accepted the betrayal. 2) Started trusting personal perception and internal compass. 3) Self-empowered by referring inwards for answers and following an inner compass. 4) Felt calmer and clearer as a result. 5) Allowed authentic identity to emerge by clarifying personal beliefs, passions, hopes, dreams, principles and morals while purging the cultic doctrine. 6) Increasingly respected, valued and protected personal truth & privacy. 7) Continually steered towards clarity and calmer by steering away from confusion and internal conflict. 8) Embraced authentic & organic relationships and community.

Trusting yourself IS the recovery. As perfectly, imperfect human, you'll make mistakes. You'll learn from those mistakes, recalibrate and move forward. So, understand that (as the old saying goes) the best revenge is a life well-lived. The following things can help:

  • Boundaries are critical - You have free will. The word NO is your friend.

  • Grieving is innate to reclamation. You've lost time, energy, focus to a lie & can't get it back. However, that makes your freedom all the more precious. Protect it fiercely.

  • Anger is the appropriate response to exploitation. Embrace it and find a way to express it, safely.

  • Don't give up! Most people ARE GOOD! Do be discerning--not everyone deserves your energy. When you see red flags and feel smoke signals, pump the brakes.

  • Grief provides material for the reclamation: who would you have been without the hijacking? What do you want to take forward? You can't get it all back, but you can reclaim what's essential to your identity.

  • Your organic community, as opposed the contrived hierarchy, is CRITICAL to your reclamation. People need other people to survive.

  • Sometimes you might fall into the rabbit hole of doubt, "How did I let that happen? how can I trust myself, or others, again?". Remember that you were only being human. Extending the benefit of the doubt is normal. The exploitative hierarchy is not. It is abusive and criminal. That's not your fault.

Former cult members of all stripes carry betrayal shock. All cults claim benevolence and offer guidance only to deliver deception and exploitation. That kind of betrayal changes people, forever. I speak from experience when I say there's a loss of innocence and faith in human goodness. There is no way to move forward without trusting yourself and trying to trust others. So, inhale, exhale and get up to another day. Do the best you can. It gets easier with practice. You've got this!

So, that's it for today. Go out there valuing and protecting your gentle soul-ness, and squeezing out the most out of each cult-free day.

Inhale, exhale. Step by step.


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