Fundamentalism and Children
Some thoughts about the trauma for children of being involved in a high control group, such as The Truth.
I believe that the impact on children of groups such as The Truth, is not discussed or considered enough. I believe that children inside these groups are overlooked in discussions about the impact of sects on brain development, socialisation and general wellbeing.
Dr Nadine Harris (see book below) has done extensive studies on how stress in children plays out in adulthood with lower wellbeing. Some ways this has played out in my own life are through eating disorders, migraines, chronic pain and inflammation.
There are several resources I draw on when considering the impact of The Truth (and similar groups) on children, which are below for reference.
Toxic Childhood Stress, Dr Nadine Burke Harris
Parenting from the Inside, Daniel J Siegel
I felt as a child myself inside The Truth, that my feelings and thoughts were minimised and ignored. I felt that my family and community didn’t see my experiences outside our home as valuable, and no one talked with me about the loneliness and isolation of being a Fundamentalist kid. No one took my experiences of bullying or isolation seriously, and no one had constructive things to say about how to deal with standing out because of my clothing, lack of pop culture awareness, and lack of participation in sports.
Some of the cultural practises I felt were abusive was the pressure on children to profess and be baptised. I observed children as young as 5 undertaking these rituals, and it bothered me (even when I was a child myself) that children were expected to make commitments and perform rituals which they did not understand, and which required them to behave beyond their maturity.
I also felt that the shaming of girls for not wearing the right clothing, having the right hair and behaving in ‘certain’ ways to give the appearance of ‘having the right spirit’ was psychologically abusive, and amounted to coercive control.
There is (in my opinion) immense pressure on Truth children, from a young age – at least 5years of age – to perform and behave in alignment with cultural ‘norms’ which are strict and harmful.
I believe that The Truth also enables Spiritual Abuse – shaming children into believing they are broken, flawed and sinners for having normal emotions, feelings and desires.
Story Telling, Gaslighting
Story Telling is the way we make sense of our lives and our families experiences (see Dan Siegel's book). Parents and carers play a key role in interpreting for children the meaning of events which occur in their lives. If our parents are distracted by the teachings of a group such as The Truth, and preoccupied with ‘keeping up appearances’ for Workers and community members – it impacts children’s self-esteem, their trust in their own instincts when they are dismissed or told not to question beliefs.
Parents are important in teaching children the words to describe their emotions and feelings – and in my experience The Truth does not prepare parents to give children access to a wide variety of experiences, friends, interactions outside the community. This immerses Truth kids in ONE world, and they grow up with limited knowledge of other ways of living.
The denial of ‘reality’ and of children’s experiences is a big issue for me. Dan Siegel’s book pulls out the importance of acknowledging children’s experiences, and not ‘gaslighting’ them by questioning their experience, or suggesting it was some other experience.
I found gaslighting (the undermining of someone’s reality) to be a key Truth control tactic. I would hear Friends allude to someone’s ‘spirit’ in a Sunday morning meeting, and know they were targeting someone, but also know that it would be denied by everyone in that room as ‘the devil making you hear something because you have a guilty heart’.
Even gaslighting about a ‘calling from god’ was obvious to me from a young age. I recall seeing two young girls (twins) profess at 5 years of age and hearing workers talk about these girls getting ‘a calling from god’ to profess, and thinking (I was about 12) HOW does a 5 year old get a calling from god?
I felt that the workers simply told the stories they wanted everyone to hear, and that often those stories were not true.
The first time I remember questioning the stories of workers, I was 10 years old. The small town we lived in was flooded, and my family had to evacuate late one night when our house was engulfed by water. We took a few bags of clothes and our menagerie of animals and evacuated to a packing shed at the local railway station. After an uncomfortable night in this shed, we walked ourselves out of town along a raised railway line, where some kind people took us in a boat out to meet a truck my grandfather had driven into the floodwater to pick us up. Soon I began hearing workers stories circulating, saying that we’d been saved by our faith, that we’d walked out of town clutching bibles, that we’d sat in that shed singing hymns. At first, I questioned my memories. Did I forget how that experience had happened, after all it had been stressful. Eventually, my curious 10 year old mind asked my mother ‘why are the workers telling these stories– did that happen?’ . My mother was uncomfortable. After a pause she said ‘the workers need people to remember how important God is in our lives’. And I realised that the workers told stories in a way that suited them, at 10 years of age, I realised that Workers gaslighted us.
Suppressing Feelings and Emotions
The Truth reinforces the cultural belief that children need to be mini adults – professing as a suitably young age, reading a bible and taking on adult responsibilities such as speaking in a meeting. That is a heavy weight of responsibility for a child.
There is a general indifference to the emotional needs of children – reinforcing a fear of the end of the world, a fear of ‘outsiders’ and a depressing belief that outsiders are doomed to hell.
The punishing of children for minor things, when children behave in ways not aligned to Truth culture – for example wanting ‘worldly’ clothes, to cut their hair or to listen to pop music - the shutting down of questioning, curiosity, and critical thinking skills.
By not responding to the natural, normal needs to children – but by responding from a place of conformity, parents are not meeting the natural needs of their children. Parents in The Truth are often driven by a desire to be validated by Workers as having been a ‘good parent’, and in my experience are fearful of being seen to raise ‘worldly’ children. This leads to families leading complex double lives and constantly ‘keeping up appearances’.
I believe these behaviours, taught to children by their parents inside The Truth are toxic, and they feed perfectionism and anxiety in young people and adults. There is at toxic emotional circle which children fall into – “I have worldly desires, I must be a sinner, therefore I am guilty, therefore I will work harder to be better”
Ultimately these behaviours then impact the emotional and physical wellness of those children when they become adults. Toxic Stress, as discussed in Dr Nadine’s book – impacts children for life.