A model introductory talk developed by ICSA's NYC Educational Outreach Committee. For permission to reprint, contact firstname.lastname@example.org – 239-514-3081 (icsahome.com).
What Do We Need to Know About Being Born or Raised in a Cultic Environment?
Cult As Family
For example, Perry and Szalavitz have observed about David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidians,
He maintained an iron grip, controlling every aspect of life in the compound. He separated husband from wife, child from parent, friend from friend, undermining any relationship that could challenge his position as the most dominant, powerful force in each person's life. Koresh was the source of all insight, wisdom, love and power; he was the conduit to God, if not God himself on earth. ... And he was a god who ruled by fear. Children (and sometimes even adults) were in constant fear of the physical attacks and public humiliation that could result from the tiniest error, like spilling milk. (Perry & Szalavitz, 2007, para. 3, 4)
Severing of Family Bonds
A common observation about cults is that leaders usually go to great lengths to destroy dyadic bonds among members. ...Viewing many high-demand cult leaders as narcissistic, clinicians are likely to state that leaders have insatiable needs for attention and admiration. ... Coming to similar conclusions, sociologists emphasize the threat to group cohesion generated by family attachments (see Kanter, 1972, pp. 89–91). (Whittset & Kent, 2003, p 494)
Effect on Children
For example, in describing the effect of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians on the children’s sense of family and self, Perry and Szalavitz (2007) wrote this about their work with one child: “His drawing reflected what he had learned in the group: the elaboration of things that Koresh valued, the dominance of its supreme leader, a confused, impoverished sense of family and an immature, dependent picture of himself” (para. 31).
Cult As Socializing System
Physical vs. Psychological Isolation
Lack of Multidimensional Influences (Lalich & Tobias, 2004)
Creative Suppression (see especially Wehle, Cultic Studies Review, 2010, p. 47)
A child in a cultic group experiences the loss of her mother. In an attempt to grieve and cope with the loss, she uses drawing as a creative medium through which to explore her emotions. A person in leadership finds the drawings, shreds them in front of her, and punishes her for (1) feeling sadness for something that was obviously God’s plan and (2) indulging in selfish pursuits that do not further the needs of the group. Her creativity, her ability to process difficult emotions, and make meaning of the experience have been denied. (Anonymous, n.d.)
Creative Suppression: Effect on Children
Looking at the Branch Davidians, Perry and Szalavitz (2007) explain,
Koresh was mercurial: one moment kind, attentive and nurturing, and the next, a prophet of rage. The Davidians, as the members of the Mount Carmel religious community were called, became exquisitely sensitive to his moods as they attempted to curry his favor and tried, often in vain, to stave off his vengeance. (para. 2)
Structure of Cults As Conducive to Abuse/Neglect
When SGAs Leave the Cult/High-Demand Group
Selected Practical Concerns
Recovery Concerns (see also Section 11: Culture Shock)
Grief and Loss (Furnari, 2005)
Feelings of Shame and Isolation
Relational Adjustment, Dependency, and Boundaries
For example, in the case of the Branch Davidian children, Perry and Szalavitz (2007) observed,
But none of the children knew what to do when faced with the simplest of choices: when offered a plain peanut butter sandwich as opposed to one with jelly, they became confused, even angry. Having never been allowed the basic choices that most children get to make as they begin to discover what they like and who they are, they had no sense of self. The idea of self-determination was, like all new things for them, unfamiliar and, therefore, anxiety provoking. (para. 43)
One former member gives an inside glimpse of this “harsh conscience”: From the outside she was a driven, successful young woman. She excelled in school and at work. She had a good marriage and good friends. However, she reported feeling plagued with feelings of inadequacy and failure. Every correction on a paper, every missed phone call, every mistake was a monumental failure. She expected at every turn a catastrophic consequence for each misstep. She was unable to internalize any success, instead believing that it was only a matter of time before she made a mistake and was revealed to be the failure that she knew she was.
Bardin, Livia (2010–2015). Starting out in mainstream America. Retrieved from startingout.icsa.name
Eichel, S. K. D. (2008, April 20). All God’s children: Another tragedy. Wilmington (DE) Sunday News Journal. Retrieved from http://www.dreichel.com/Articles/FLDS_Texas.htm
Furnari, L. (2005). Born or raised in high-demand groups: Developmental considerations. ICSA E-Newsletter, 4(3). Retrieved from http://www.icsahome.com/articles/born-or-raised-furnari-en4-3
Goldberg, L. (2006a, April). The harsh conscience of second-generation former cultists. Workshop session presented at the International Cultic Studies Association SGA Workshop, Cornwall, Connecticut.
Goldberg, L. (2006b). Raised in cultic groups: The impact on the development of certain aspects of character. Cultic Studies Review, 5(1), 1–27. Retrieved from http://www.icsahome.com/articles/raised-in-cultic-groups-goldberg
Goldstein, J. (2012). Play in children’s development, health, and well-being. Brussels, Belgium: Toy Industries of Europe (TIE).
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Horback, S., & Rothery-Jackson, C. (2007, June). Cultural marginality: Exploration of self-esteem and cross cultural adaptation of the marginalized individual: An investigation of the second generation Hare Krishnas. Journal of Intercultural Communication, 14. Retrieved from http://immi.se/intercultural/nr14/horback.htm
Kent, S. (2010). House of Judah, the Northeast Kingdom Community, and ‘the Jonestown problem’: Downplaying the child physical abuses and ignoring serious evidence. International Journal of Cultic Studies 1(1), 27–48, Retrieved from http://www.icsahome.com/articles/house-of-judah--the-northeast-kingdom-community--and--the-jonestown-problem-kent-ijcs-2010
Lalich, J., & Tobias, M. (2006). Take back your life: Recovering from cults and abusive relationships (2nd ed.). Berkley, CA: Bay Tree Publishing.
Lalich, J. (2004). Bounded choice: True believers and charismatic cults. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Landa, S. (1990–1991). Children and cults: A practical guide. Journal of Family Law, 29(3). Retrieved from http://www.icsahome.com/articles/children-and-cults-landa
Langone, M. D., & Eisenberg, G. (1993). Children and cults. In M. D. Langone (Ed.), Recovery from cults: Help for victims of psychological and spiritual abuse (p. 327–342). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.
LaRowe, L. (2010). Alamo ministries to appeal civil suit dismissal. Texarkan Gazette. Retrieved from http://www.texarkanagazette.com/news/localnews/2010/02/24/alamo-ministries-to-appeal-civil-suit-s--70.php
Markowitz, A., & Halperin, D. A. (1984). Cults and children: The abuse of the young. Cultic Studies Journal, 1(2), 143–155. Retrieved from http://www.csj.org/pub_csj/csj_vol01_no2_84/csj_1_2.htm 1
Perry, B., & Szalavitz, M. (2007). Stairway to heaven: Treating children in the crosshairs of trauma. Psychotherapy Networker, 31(2), 56–64. Retrieved from http://www.icsahome.com/articles/stairway-to-heaven-perry-en6-3
Wehle, D. (2010). Introduction: The last draw—Cults and creativity. Cultic Studies Review, 9(1), 1–52.
Whitsett, D., & Kent, S. A. (2003). Cults and families. Families in Society. 84(4), 491–502. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4dmoPK1tYNjRWVuV1oyRGhNeW8/view?pli=1
Authoritarian Culture and Child Abuse in ISKCON
Born and Raised in Aesthetic Realism
Born or Raised in Closed, High-Demand Groups: Developmental Considerations
Child Fatalities from Religion-Motivated Neglect
Children and Cults
Physical Child Abuse in Sects
Raised in Cultic Groups: The Impact on the Development of Certain Aspects of Character
Stairway to Heaven: Treating Children in the Crosshairs of Trauma