Second generation adults (SGA's) who grew up in the Assembly and other controlling, legalistic church groups deal with a number of specific issues in their adult lives resulting from childhood experiences. Children of cult leaders have much in common with missionary kids (MK's) and pastor's kids (PK's) in other church settings. On this site we use the term "cult" in reference to how a group functions, not its beliefs. (More on that »)
• Social & Psychological Issues
• Dealing with Abuse
• How about Renewal of Your Faith?
• Telling Your Story
• Child Rearing
Children in cultic groups are generally given virtually zero opportunities to learn to set proper boundaries. Setting Boundaries is a list of appropriate boundaries on the Exit & Support Network website. Learning to Say No offers some criteria for appropriately saying, "No".
Cognitive distortions are errors in thinking. This brief article lists 10 cognitive distortions that are firmly embedded in the thought reform process, and says, "The good news is, like any habit, these patterns of thinking can be broken and discarded through awareness and practice."
Another Another factor to take into account is the possibility of lingering effects of mind control. Whoa, whoa, whoa - before you freak out at that term, take a look at what it means. K. Gordon Neufeld spent ten years in the Unification Church. He uses an excellent explanation of mind control that discards the image of "mindless robots" and incorporates instead the very helpful concept of "mental roadblocks". (How about this one: "You don't matter very much.") Here is the introduction to Neufeld's book.
You experience a high level of anxiety most of the time, and then something escalates you into a panic attack. How do you deal with that, how do you understand what is going on with yourself? Coping With Triggers addresses an issue that plagues most AK's.
Good healthy communication was not modeled in the Assembly. Everyone was more or less forced into three unhealthy roles - victim, perpetrator or rescuer. Dr. Ron Burks at Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center used a model from psychology to describe what goes wrong with personal interactions in a cult and how to make changes. The article, "A Guide to Healthy Communication," is a partial summary of Dr. Burks' material.
Raised in Cultic Groups: The Impact on the Development of Certain Aspects of Character is an article directed primarily to therapists, but SGA's will find many helpful insights. Bill and Lorna Goldberg are therapists who specialize in cult issues.
The following resources on grief refer to the death of a loved one, but they apply to SGA's who have a very deep level of grief over the losses and betrayals in childhood, and then the loss of the tight-knit group. For many former Assembly kids, it is the catastrophic loss of one's entire extended family.
A natural catastrophe like a tsunami or a hurricane is most similar to the loss of leaving a closed alienated system like a cult. Everything is affected, including ones faith and faith family. Living Through and Surviving Traumatic Events helps to frame it from that perspective. The Waves of Grief website uses that analogy to provide a comprehensive resource for understanding and recovery.
There is the possibility that some adult children will have a vey difficult time working through their sense of loss and vulnerability. Dutch doctors at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands have identified a type of grief called "complicated grief," which is significantly different from the normal grief experienced at a loss. Dr. Paul A. Bolen says, "People with complicated grief are basically stuck in a state of chronic grieving." "Stuck" is the operative word here, and it may go on for years unless it is addressed.
The word "abuse" covers a wide range of experiences suffered by children in cults. In many cases behavior described in this section would not warrant attention from social services, but were damaging nonetheless. On the other end of the spectrum are abuses that were severely traumatizing.
Assemblyboard Readers' Observations about Treatment of Children in the Assembly - A former AK who is himself a new parent starts a discussion on the subject.
Emotional Deprivation Disorder was first identified by a Dutch psychiatrist in the 1950's. Dr. Terruwe found that a person could exhibit symptoms characteristic of an anxiety disorder as a result of a lack of unconditional love, authentic affirmation and emotional strengthening in early life. The child was criticized, ignored, neglected, abused, or emotionally rejected by primary caregivers, which resulted in stunted emotional growth. This article is also referenced in the Reflections section - it is a key article for all former Assembly parents.
Gretchen W. passes along a link to an article by Dr. Bruce Perry about treating the children traumatized by the Waco disaster. At Wellspring, AK's and parents watch a video of Dr. Perry's presentation. One striking fact he brings out is that children in traumatic circumstances have a resting heart rate elevated above the normal 70-90 beats per minute. A Cornerstone Academy science class demonstrated that the children had resting heart rates over 100 bpm. Here is an overview of Dr. Perry's approach to treating children of trauma.
The Gradations of Abuse by Sam Vaknin is written from his awareness as a self-confessed narcissist. Instructive.
Rachel Geftakys recounted how the similarity between the Assembly and the "Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization" (3HO) turned the lights on for her about Assembly dysfunction.
Forgiving is a definite element in recovering from abuses suffered in the Assembly. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who headed the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commision, is very clear about forgiving in this interview with Bill Moyers in 1999. Fred Luskin, director and co-founder of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, has a different slant on the subject. He is quoted in an article, "The Challenge of Forgiveness", by Vesela Simic in Shift magazine:
Luskin...defines forgiveness as the ability to make peace with your own life by no longer arguing and objecting to the way it unfolds. "It means that difficult things happen in life, and first you have to grieve them, then accept them, and finally move on." According to Luskin, forgiveness does not require reconciliation, is not about forgetting, and does not condone an unkind act--rather, "Forgiveness means that unkindness stops with you." He also says that forgiveness is not a one-time response: "It's about becoming a forgiving person."
Wretched Urgency: The Grace of God or Hamsters on a Wheel?, a blog post by the Internet Monk, tackles the dogma that every encounter in life must be seized as an opportunity to "witness." In a related article, Wretched Urgency II: My Not-So-Guilty Pleasures, Spencer also makes a bulls-eye shot at an Assembly-style favorite--seriousness and commitment, at the expense of enjoying the simple pleasures of life. AK's were strongly indoctrinated on these points.
Loss or severe crippling of faith is a not uncommon result of spiritual abuse among adult survivors. It is even more common among those who were raised as children in an abusive system, so we may as well put the issue on the table here and offer some food for serious thought. The Faith After Abuse section offers some strong evidence in support of the Christian worldview. Also, if your faith is going to have a chance at survival, your view of God and of what Christianity is actually about will probably need an overhaul.
Seeing God in New Ways: Recovery from Distorted Images of God describes how both parents and churches can contribute to twisted views of God, and outlines some ways to recover. As has been pointed out elsewhere on this website and on the Assembly bulletin board, Assembly teaching and practice very much obscured a true concept of the character of God. The "Words of Grace" section of this site is intended to help clear away the distortions and focus on God's true character.
In Spiritual Brokenness in Recovery and If Your God Is Not God, Fire Him, Dale Ryan suggests that your image of God may be worse than distorted; it may be false. In which case, throw him out! And discover that the true God is very different.
A series of articles by Dale Ryan and Jeff VanVonderen is along the same lines, When Religion Goes Bad--Part I, Part II, Part III, also explores distorted images of God. The series is a little slow getting to the good stuff, but it's not very long--stick with it past the middle of Part II.
John Piper's small book on spiritual depression, When the Darkness Will Not Lift: Doing What We Can While We Wait for God--and for Joy, is available for online reading.
Jeff VanVonderen, co-author of The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse and Soul Repair: Rebuilding Your Spiritual Life, was interviewed by STEPS magazine on the subject of spiritual abuse. He makes this statement about the difficulty of recovery:
"I think that recovery from spiritual abuse is in some ways the most difficult of recovery journeys. One reason is that the person who has the greatest potential for helping us recover from spiritual abuse is the person we feel most alienated from....
So in recovery from spiritual abuse it is really important to give ourselves room to have little bits of faith. And also to learn to pay attention to our spiritual radar and to reconnect with our sense of blessing—and with the God who gives us that sense of blessing."
That is hopeful! But he is pessimistic about recovery for the perpetrators of spiritual abuse. He says, "I am aware of the track record and of how difficult it is for spiritually abusive people to see what’s real and to change that pattern."
Jeff VanVonderen has written an in-depth article entitled, "When You Are Ready To Try Again: Going Back To Church." He deals with the characteristics of hurtful churches and what he calls "grace-full churches." There is also a good section on learning to trust again.
Following the first "After the Cult" workshop sponsored by AFF (now ICSA) in 1994, Dr. Michael Langone wrote an insightful article, Reflections on Post Cult Recovery. He makes some very interesting observations and suggestions on the problem of trust, especially as it relates to God.
Reading stories of experiences similar to your own helps break the sense of isolation and "craziness". Telling your story is often a key step in recovery as well.
An anonymous "Assembly kid" wrote a very angry essay in the form of a fictionalized dream. She says, "Let me open it up and listen in and scoop out the dark."
Anonymous from Tuscola recounts a childhood of incest in the Tuscola Assembly that was known to the leadership but ineffectively dealt with.
Kevin W. writes, "I was a boy without a man in the home and was an easy victim."
Mary W., at age 17, wrote a moving poem about her deliverance from the Assembly in Omaha.
Scott McC. posted a poignant description on the Assembly bulletin board of what it was like to be an Assembly kid.
Brad Mathias shares some behind-the-scenes insights into the 1985 crisis in the Tuscola Geftakys Assembly, IL.
Robb M. describes how he was affected as a teen by the 1985 Tuscola crisis.
Anonymous AK who grew up in a Midwest Assembly recounts how she began questioning and thinking critically about the Assembly when she was in high school.
Jason Farlow grew up in, and along with, the Tuscola Assembly in the '70s and 80's. He tells the story of what it was like as a child, and how it has affected him as an adult. Very insightful. Jason describes how he developed a double life to deal with impossible Assembly standards.
Rachel Geftakys, daughter of David and Judy Geftakys, and granddaughter of George and Betty Geftakys, wrote an extensive account of her family's abuse.
Quitting Soccer: Thoughts from Mom and Dad is another iMonk article on parenting. This one shows how it is parents' close observation and intimate knowledge of their child, and ability to think through all the factors in a situation, that results in good decisions for the child. What a stark contrast to how decisions were usually made for children in the Assembly--according to the rules and/or by the leadership, not the parents.
And here is the iMonk on parenting a young adult - it's time to quit being the manager or the coach, and become a fan.
Spencer's blog post on what to do when your child says he doesn't believe anymore is very thoughtful and balanced.
The Effective. Practical. Parenting website offers an approach to child training that might be helpful, acceptable and practical for FAM's. From the site: "Effective Practical Parenting is characterized by using proactive tools to create a positive family atmosphere and it utilizes kind and firm ways to enforce rules. EPP understands age appropriate behaviors and doesn’t punish for them. Instead, a parent using EPP will stop the inappropriate behavior and teach an appropriate behavior in its place. An EPP family will work actively with their children to develop self control, while enforcing reasonable boundaries of behavior...It's not about spanking. It's not about not spanking."
The "Growing Kids God's Way" and "Babywise" programs developed by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo was used to undergird Assembly teaching on children. The Ezzos were in the past deeply involved in John MacArthur's Grace Community Church and in fact Gary was an elder. At some point, the elder board became alarmed and issued a public statement distancing the church from the Ezzo's teaching. Grace Church now has a website devoted to the problems with the Ezzo program.