Sexual Recovery after the Cult


Lee Marsh Oct. 19, 2016

In college I took several course on human sexuality. The very first course was on the psychology of human sexuality and the professor started it off by saying that people were much more comfortable having sex than they are talking about it.  She then proceeded to ask the class for all the names for sexual bodies parts that they could name. Whoa. I had probably only heard of 10 of them while she went on to cover the two boards at the front of the class and moved on to another 1 ½ boards along the side of the room. Needless to say the course was an eye-opener for me especially since I was newly out of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. 

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Undue Influence and Watchtower’s Blood Transfusion Policy

By Malcomb Landis with help from Lee Elder (first posted on Open Minds Foundation)

arm-with-needle_wwp40xnlPeople are far more influenced by situations and social pressure than they realize. In fact, the power of our free will can evaporate when someone is being unduly influenced by a cult-like group, or, in my case, the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs). To help you understand why I believe this, I want to share my story about Watchtower’s blood transfusion policy.

My daughter was nine years old when she showed me what looked like a rash on her legs. I decided this needed immediate attention, and drove her to the Children’s Hospital in San Diego, CA, where a nurse took a blood sample. When the admitting doctor told me Tracy’s blood platelet count was 3000 – the normal count is somewhere from 150,000 to 450,000 – I checked her in as a patient.

At first, they thought the rash was caused by something quite simple, although it did not take long before they realized it was very serious. It was likely that she would need a blood transfusion, but it could wait for a week or two.

During that first week, I prayed to Watchtower’s God – Jehovah – convinced He would help Tracy get better before a transfusion was needed. The Watchtower’s local Hospital Liaison Committee (HLC) (1) also offered support during that time, by visiting with Tracy and me, reading scriptures related to Watchtower’s beliefs about blood transfusions, offering prayers and unduly influencing me, although I did not know that at the time.

I also started to study for the first time the Watchtower’s publications about the prohibition on blood. While most JWs are taught to believe that bloodless surgery is a cure-all, I soon realized this was not the case with anemia. Anemia is a disease that stops the bone marrow from producing blood components. In fact, Watchtower has little in the way of effective alternative strategies for anyone sick with severe anemia. Without a blood transfusion, a person with severe anemia will almost certainly die. Bloodless surgery is not an option.

For all those years that I had filled out and signed the medical directive (2) on blood for JWs, I did it without anyone telling me about anemia or other conditions that require blood. I just assumed Watchtower had all the answers, and doctors used blood transfusions because they were not aware of the benefits of not using blood. Or they were careless surgeons who could not perform a surgery without blood. But still, I figured Jehovah God would find a way to restore Tracy’s good health.

At the end of two weeks, Tracy had not been given any blood. But the doctors now told me that unless she was given a blood transfusion, she would certainly die.

Tracy’s mom, Mandy, was not a JW and we were recently divorced. So Mandy signed the consent form. But because I had full legal custody of Tracy, the doctors proceeded with a court order. I was shocked yet relieved at the same time.

I called a Watchtower attorney, Brother McCabe, in San Diego, and told him about Tracy. He said I had done all that I could do and not to worry: just let it happen.

At the time, I also could not get it out of my mind about Watchtower articles comparing a forced blood transfusion to rape. Then there were other articles about children who became Christian martyrs when they refused a transfusion and died. But I also knew that I didn’t want Tracy to die, and that was inevitable if she refused a life-saving transfusion of red blood cells and platelets within the week.

I felt both anger and relief. But as I observed how obviously aware the elders were of the situation, nonchalantly accepting the reality of a court order, I was enraged. Why? The elders could have forewarned me, telling me that if push came to shove, Tracy would get the needed transfusion. But, no, they let it play out like it was theatre.

The turning point for Tracy was getting the transfusion. After that, she was given EPO shots, a Watchtower-approved blood product that acts as a catalyst to stimulate red cell production. Watchtower reports on this procedure in its blood brochure, but not how long it takes to work. The EPO treatment takes over a week to start working, sometimes longer. However, unless Tracy accepted a transfusion, the EPO shot was practically worthless, and it is not without its own risks.

My best guess in that 99% of all JWs believe there is some special alternative that the HLC can tell the doctors about to save the patient’s life in the event of blood loss or anemia. In reality, with the exception of preplanned surgery, there are few viable options to prevent loss of life in the event of blood loss caused by serious anemia or the sudden loss of massive amounts of blood, as can happen in a car accident or during childbirth.

Watchtower’s literature and videos inform JWs about the positives of bloodless surgery, but little to nothing is said about its limitations or risks. In fact, the blood brochure has not been updated since the 1980’s, and it was useless for me during Tracy’s crisis.

There is the option of taking blood fractions, which is up to the conscience of each JW. But the fact is that fractions are worthless in many cases. Oddly enough, Watchtower permits very large fractions of blood like albumin and hemoglobin, but forbid the extremely tiny platelet that Tracy needed. Why? Does the Bible make this distinction about which parts of blood are acceptable for a Christian, and which parts are not? The answer, of course, is that it does not. It is an organizational policy that is enforced with a clear threat of severe sanction by the Watchtower and local congregation, and undue influence at its worst.

What infuriates me today is that a JW can be ostracized, yes, even shunned, if they take blood and don’t express sincere regret to the elders in their congregation. But what is worse is that the Watchtower has brainwashed its followers to not take a life-saving blood transfusion because they claim that it is the will of God. In reality, when one knows all the facts, Watchtower’s policy is bad science and cult-like theology.

One informed observer estimated that at least 50,000 JWs and children of JWs have lost their lives because of not taking a needed blood transfusion. Other estimates and extrapolations vary from 120 to 900 lives per year.  Regardless of where the actual number might be, it’s clear that more people have sacrificed their lives due to this poorly thought-out blood policy than the deaths caused by any single cult leader over the past seventy years.

I still cannot believe that I didn’t sign the consent form for Tracy. But I know now that this is the power of psychological manipulation and social coercion, showing just how powerful cult-like groups can be.

Tracy made a full recovery. It turns out she had the Epstein virus, which can shut down a young person’s blood production. In older adults, it shows up as mono.

While Tracy understands today how group mind control works and is grateful to be alive, for several months after her transfusion, she was upset with me for not signing the consent form. I had taught her to believe that if she had died faithful to Jehovah, He would have resurrected her. How stupid does that sound now?

I have found peace this last year with the discovery of so much well-researched information on the Internet about the Watchtower’s flawed policies and their culture of undue influence. I have also woken up, and understand how groups like the Watchtower psychologically manipulate their members, coercing them to act against their own best interests.


Author’s Note: Several months ago, I shared a first draft of this story with a non-JW associate of mine, who lives in Houston.  His reaction was to go out and donate his blood. A few weeks later, he received a phone call from the father of the girl who was the benefactor of his donation, thanking him. He apparently has a rare blood type.

(1) Watchtower HLC elders receive special training on how to manage Jehovah’s Witness patients, within the confines of the Watchtower’s complex policy on blood, which permits all blood products that have been fractionated, but forbids whole blood, red cells, white cells, and platelets. They are rarely trained medical professionals, and are required to report any deviation from Watchtower policy by a Jehovah’s Witness member. For more information, go here.

(2) Watchtower’s Medical Directive, or what Jehovah’s Witnesses commonly refer to as the “No Blood Card”, is a signed legal document, directing medical personnel to only provide lifesaving treatment that complies with the Watchtower’s complex policies on the use of blood.

Helping Families Cope with a Cult Member


Just Like the Watchtower
Interesting things that I learned at the 2016 ICSA Conference
By Lee Marsh on August 16, 2016

One of the most interesting things I learned at an ICSA conference this summer was that 80% of cult members leave between 5 to 7 years after they were recruited into the cult. This statistic was shared during Rachel Bernstein’s presentation.

While Rachel considers Watchtower a cult, I am not sure how this applies to most Jehovah’s Witnesses, because so many of them today are born-ins.  However, I do think this statistic may be applicable to young Witnesses who get baptized early and then decide to leave in their late teens.

But the statistic is interesting if indeed it applies to adults who join the Witnesses. For those who have no other family members involved in the Watchtower, this looks promising for non-believing family members, because there is a very good chance that the new Witness will leave within a few years without intervention.

Another interesting thing I learned at the ICSA conference was that some of the biggest concerns that non-cult members have about cult involvement by their loved ones are 1) the breakdown in communication 2) disturbing behavioral changes 3) disapproval on both sides; and 4) a feeling of being betrayed.

All cults, including Watchtower, have their own unique loaded language. As new members get more involved in the cult, communication with family members begins to break down. This is because the new cult members are trying to distance themselves from family who disapprove of their involvement. It’s also a function of the cult’s language, which takes over normal communication, as two different languages are now being spoken. The cult is changing the meaning of words making communication difficult.

Another issue is the changed behavior of the now cult member. A person who was a substance abuser before getting involved in a cult begins to clean up their act and spend many hours preaching or going to meetings. What is interesting about this is that families get used to having an alcoholic in the home. A lot of time and attention is focused on the person’s “problem”. So they are often stymied at the changes and don’t know how to deal with them even though they may be happy on one level. What can happen is that the new behaviors, lack of communication and breakdown of family relationships become the center of attention and may drive the family to seek professional help.

Sadly, the professionals that many families find, are too often unaware of the issues of cult involvement and may suggest a “wait and see” attitude, thinking that this is a phase the person will soon tire of or that the changes are positive and the family should be happy.

Conversely, some professionals may try to focus the family’s attention on how to get the person to leave the cult. Unfortunately, in most cases too little attention is paid on the dynamics of the particular cult, and how they unduly influence and socially control their members.

A mandate for all professionals is to “do no harm” to their clients. When counseling family members, the relationship with the cult member is far more important than what they believe. So it is wise for the professional or therapist to do what they can to maintain and protect the relationship, as that is more effective than confronting a person – not the cult member)on specific cult beliefs or the changes the person has made.

Professionals should avoid attacking the cult group’s leader, as the leader cannot be the sole person the new member is connected to.  

If the family does choose to try to rescue their loved one out of the cult, there are some important things to remember. They are:

  • Whatever information you present to them must be relevant. Never attack the cult group. If you must attack, demonstrate the point using other cult groups.
  • If you present information without understanding it, then it could have a negative impact on your relationship with a family member.
  • Understanding the information and the situation takes time and effort. You can’t just superficially research “the group”. Do your research.
  • It is important to assess the emotional and psychological needs of the person you are trying to help.
  • Ask yourself, “Why are they in the group? What needs are being fulfilled that they were not getting elsewhere?”
  • Create a safe family environment for the person to return to.

Issues for a therapist and professionals to be informed about include:

  • The many methods of undue Influence and psychological manipulation
  • Relationships
  • The attraction to the leader and their methods to attract people
  • The beliefs or theology of the cult
  • The health of your family member. Has joining helped them to stop self-injurious behaviors like smoking, drinking and/or drugs? Is their health being compromised by lack of nutrition or sleep or lack of medical care?
  • Was joining the group a response to previous abuse either in the family or outside of it?
  • Is there an apparent element of salvation or safety within the group?

Each group is different and they change and evolve over time. People will respond differently to the group based on their personal needs for joining and staying. And not all groups are harmful.

When working with family members these are important points to make with them:

  • Focus on places and issues where you can agree and not on arguing your point of view
  • Acknowledge that you have a bias or prejudice and then find common ground
  • Beware of your “need to be right”. It cannot over-shadow the need to be happy. The need to be right might wind up pushing the person back into the group longer

Like dance partners, if you step too close, they will have to back up. But if you take a step back and away from attacking them, they hopefully will step forward, closer to you.

I would like to thank not only Rachel Bernstein, but Joseph Kelly and Patrick Ryan for their good advice, which I have tried to share, in this blog post, from their presentation, Workshop for Families: A Collaborative Approach to Addressing a Loved One’s Cult-Related Involvement at the ICSA Conference 2016 in Dallas, Texas.


Special Needs for Second Generation Ex-Cult Members


By Lee Marsh on July 20, 2016

One of the highlights of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) conference that I attended in July 2016 was Lorna Goldberg’s presentation about the unique needs of second generation ex-cult members, which includes ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses. The title of her talk was Some Considerations Working with Former Cult Members.

Lorna was quick to remind her audience that in the ex-cult member community there is a growing awareness about the special needs of second generation ex-cultists (SGAs) – those who were born in or raised in a cult compared to first-generation former cultists (FGAs) – those who joined.

She told us that in both cases, the high-control group injects the cult personality into the mind of the individual, forcing the authentic personality into the background. But for SGAs, this means the true self never has an opportunity to develop. Then after leaving the cult, born-ins often have a much more difficult time adjusting to life outside the cult, as there is no formed true self to latch onto. They have to start from scratch, figuring out who they are.

I personally suspect that born-ins who lead a double life might have a head start on this. So far, I haven’t read or heard anything about it, although Richard Kelly has said that he believes his double life as a child helped him find his authentic identity soon after he left.

Goldberg also stated that those who fail to examine the impact of undue influence on their lives very often have a more difficult time adjusting to post-cult life, as the cult is so integral to the character of the born-ins’ personality. That is why therapists need to be aware that they might be speaking to the cult personae and not the true personality, when a client defends the cult experience or leader(s).

The goal of meaningful therapy is to help the person shift the locus or center of control from the cult to the client, giving the client greater autonomy. The goal is so they can develop their decision-making skills, because as cult members they made few decisions on their own.

Sadly, those who fail to get therapy often repeat the past unconsciously. They may go back to the cult, get involved in a different cult, high control group, or in an abusive or controlling relationship. This was definitely true for me.

After leaving the cult, I became involved in an emotionally abusive relationship. I also tried going back to the cult, as I wanted to be reinstated. Fortunately, the elder was so abusive to me, I lasted only one meeting and only that long because I didn’t want anyone to see me get up and storm out.

Goldberg made an interesting parallel of SGAs and immigrants from totalitarian countries, because those kinds of immigrants need practical education to help them adjust to their new world. They also need help with dissociative behaviors, especially when there is a history of abuse. They also need to recognize triggers to anxiety, panic and depression when they experience flashbacks, as abuse interferes with and exacerbates dissociation.

For some, medication, at least on a temporarily basis, may help. That is why a general physical or thorough evaluation may be needed, due to the cult’s demand for perfection, as ex- member often experience a lot of shame talking about their problems or when confessing that they were once part of a cult.

I could see that in myself. So immediately after leaving the Witnesses, I threw myself into a college educational experience. I didn’t want to think about the Witnesses. I was moving on with my life.

Later as a therapist, I knew the mistake that many abuse survivors make when they finally leave abusive families. They get involved right away in yet another abusive relationship. I know that was true for me, and more than once.

The dynamics of abuse are the same, whether it is in a relationship with one person, your family, your community, a high-demand religion or another high-control group. It’s all about control and depriving you of your basic human rights, including the right to think for yourself.

Going to the University gave me the tools to think for myself. But looking back, I did not then believe that I had that right, as I did not trust myself, knowing I was making the same mistakes over and over again. Therapy would have helped me realize the error in my thinking and to learn: If I wanted to take control of my life, I had to believe I had the right to do so!

Lorna Goldberg

Lorna Goldberg, LCSW, PsyA, Board member and past president of ICSA, is a psychoanalyst in private practice and Dean of Faculty at the Institute of Psychoanalytic Studies. In 1976, she and her husband, William Goldberg, began facilitating a support group for former cult members that continues to meet on a monthly basis in their home in Englewood, New Jersey. Lorna has published numerous articles about her therapeutic work with former cult members in professional journals


Also see: Impact on Children of Being Born Into/Raised in a Cultic Group by Ashley Allen

What Do Violent Extremism and Watchtower Have in Common?


One of the most competent educators on violent extremism in the world today is Sweden’s Robert Örell. He is definitely receiving well-deserved attention for not only what he knows, but how he is helping to reclaim the lives of thousands of victims of hate groups and radicalization.

Robert was recently asked to deliver an 18-minute TED talk on violent extremism and how hate groups influence their victims. It is a must-watch watch video, which you can access at:

After watching and listening to Robert’s engaging expose several times on how hate mongers and violent extremist groups persuade victims and members, I was struck with the parallelism of Watchtower’s brand of unethical persuasion.

For starters, people who join Watchtower and violent extremist groups are looking for a community, where they can feel a sense of belonging and have meaning to their lives; both groups claiming exclusivity to the truth.

Both groups do very well at disconnecting their members from family, friends, society and themselves.

The victims are introduced to a higher cause.

Both groups influence their victims and members with black-and-white thinking;

Everything is defined by the group as either good or bad;

Us against them;

They learn to speak the language of the group;

Members are given the feeling they are superior to other people and groups;

A moral superiority complex is constantly reinforced;

They associate only with members of the group;

Non-members are inferior and constantly de-humanized; and

They have no problem violating the basic human rights of non-members.

But don’t take my word for it. I would encourage you to watch and listen to Robert to see and hear for yourself.

Robert lives in Sweden, and has been very active for the last 15 years with EXIT Fryshuset. You can access his group at: EXIT excels at helping people escape from violent extremist groups that unduly influence their members.

Robert was also featured in a New York Times article, which you can access at:

Another interesting article about Robert and his life as a Neo Nazi can be found at:



Karpman’s Drama Triangle


One of the tools I have found very helpful for people exiting a cult who want peace of mind and to find their authentic identity is Karpman’s Drama Triangle.

The Triangle can help people understand their relationship with a spouse, an ex-spouse, a boss, employees, friends, parents, children, neighbors and their church leaders.

In fact, I just shared the Drama Triangle with my local, Ottawa, Canada, ex-JW Meet-Up group to see if they could find uses for it in their lives, and it turned into a lively positive conversation.

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The Ethics of Evangelism

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

InHungarianButtonWhen I was a Jehovah’s Witness, I thought evangelism or preaching was bad if it was not Watchtower-based. For many years as an ex-JW, I was convinced that any kind of religious proselytizing was nothing more than unethical persuasion.

So I was intrigued, while at a 2012 ICSA (International Cultic Studies Association) conference, in Montreal, Canada, by a session addressing the pros and cons of evangelism. I attended the one-hour meeting facilitated by a retired college professor, Elmer Thiessen, and his insights proved to be a real eye-opener for me.

What was particularly impressive was Thiessen’s list of Fifteen Criteria that one could use to determine the ethics of a church group’s proselytizing methods.

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Claiming Your Repressed Authentic Identity


By Richard E. Kelly

Finding and claiming one’s repressed authentic identity will not be easy for most adults who were raised as children by Jehovah’s Witness parents. First, there’s familial undue influence—close family members trying to reshape the child’s personality—and then there’s the non-familial cult-like identity being imposed upon children by Watchtower’s “new personality” policies and apocalyptic beliefs.

However, it can be done and Bonnie Zieman’s memoir, Fading Out of the JW Cult, makes a strong case for how it can happen. But what makes her story so special is that the protagonist is an experienced psychotherapist. While sharing her story, she explains the psychological manipulation at play in trying to shape her personality.

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