Corina Gabriel

Corina Gabriel: It’s Not Easy, But There Is Life After Mandated Shunning


To say that I was born and raised in the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion does not accurately describe the scope and magnitude of its effect on my life. It was more than a religion; it was my entire existence. It wasn’t just how I worshipped; it was who I was. Being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses was so inextricably a part of my identity that I often thought of it as fundamental as my nationality. No more could I choose to deny my heritage than I could choose to deny being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Until one day, I did.

I was married at the age of 18 to a young Jehovah’s Witness man. I was not in love with Steve as much as I was forcefully persuaded to marry him as soon as we started to like one another. It’s the way Jehovah’s Witnesses attempt to prevent its members from having premarital sex. Steve was a troubled individual and I was extremely naïve. He began cheating on me soon after we were married. In fact, during our engagement, a woman came forward and said that she and Steve were having a relationship. He denied it and convinced me that this woman was just jealous. Steve continued to have multiple relationships over the years, continued to deny it, and I did not know where to turn for help. 

I lacked the proof required by the organization for a scriptural divorce, which demanded that I personally witness the sexual act and have testimony from two credible witnesses. Without a scriptural divorce, leaving my marriage meant losing my privileges and possibly being expelled from the congregation. When I shared my suspicions with my family, they told me to pray to Jehovah to reveal any wrongdoing and to remain faithful until my prayers were answered. I felt powerless, unimportant, and voiceless. I prayed constantly that Steve would either admit what he had done or that somehow, there would be proof so I would be allowed to leave him without losing everything. I was terrified to leave.  I knew if I left, I would be shunned by all my family and friends and community. My entire life as I knew it would end.

Growing up I was taught to shun anyone who was disfellowshipped/expelled from the congregation or who disassociated themselves (chose to leave). When I was 16, my best friend was disfellowshipped for smoking cigarettes and I was not allowed to talk to her. I remember one day while driving home from school and I saw her walking. I instinctively started to pull over to pick her up, but then remembered she was disfellowshipped. The fear of being found out overtook me. So I just drove off and didn’t say a word to her or even wave. I will never forget the look on her face as I drove off. I felt terrible and the look still haunts me to this day. I told my family about it when I got home and was praised for “pleasing Jehovah”. I always knew that my family would choose their religion over me if I left, but that reinforced it in my mind without a doubt.

I remained in my miserable marriage for 20 years. Steve never admitted his wrongdoing and Jehovah never brought it to light. I was 39 years old when I finally decided I could not continue with my life as it was. I left behind letters addressed to Steve, my family, and the congregation, telling them that I was leaving and that I no longer wanted to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I packed up some belongings in a duffel bag and walked away. 

My family and friends began shunning me immediately. No one asked how they could help or what I needed. They were no longer in my life. It was like everyone I knew and loved died on that day. I wasn’t allowed to live in the house that I owned because it was built on my parents’ property. My family rented my house and paid me nothing. My sister kept my nieces from seeing me. I did not get a call when my grandmother died and was never told about my father’s heart surgery. I was dead to them. 

I struggled with feelings of guilt and anger for many years but was lucky enough to find many wonderful friends and a supportive, loving partner, who has made all the difference. Many ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses are not as lucky. Mandated shunning is responsible for depression, drug abuse, and suicide in so many who have left. I wanted to find a way to help, so in 2020, I decided to organize a group meeting for some local ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses so that we could share our experiences and support each other. That small group has turned into hundreds of members in several countries that meet online once a month. Being able to tell your story to others who truly understand has been invaluable to my healing process and hopefully to those who have joined our group. I genuinely believe that if you tell your story your tribe will find you. 

Sixteen years later, my family has not softened. If I see them in public, they pretend they don’t see me. My own mother left her shopping cart in the middle of the grocery store and fled just to avoid me. I still miss them every day and dream about them every night. Even though I knew what would happen when I left, the pain never really goes away, but I never once thought of going back. They let me down. Every day, they choose their religion over their daughter. 

I have lost a lot of things—a loving family, material possessions, trusted relationships, and a sense of who I was—but I have also lost the blinders from my eyes, the shackles on my mind and the muzzle on my mouth. And for that, I am eternally proud and grateful.