Cult Kids

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According to Dee Brown in “Satanic ritual abuse: A handbook for therapists,” children abused in cults can be classified in two broad groups. One group is “frozen;” they hold everything in and lack spontaneity. The other is “acting out;” they are impulsive and often imitate cult experiences in play or artwork.

The frozen children seem to be run by fear. They try and keep a really low profile, hoping not to be noticed. If they are singled out – asked to read aloud in front of a class, for example – they often panic and have a melt-down. Solitary play is preferred, because in order to have a friend, you have to be noticed. They are reluctant to join in group play and have trouble learning the rules of games. Their movements are stiff and restricted, which makes them poor at sports. Other children usually find them odd or boring.

Teachers like these children because they are quiet and cause very little trouble. They also tend to be good academically, since reading and studying are basically solitary pursuits. This often further alienates them from other kids. Because they are quiet and well-behaved, nobody notices that they are in distress and nobody thinks in terms of abuse.

Frozen kids act this way to protect themselves, but it leaves them alone and isolated. They feel totally on their own, just as they do during cult activities. They don’t feel connected to others and they don’t feel they can rely on anybody but themselves. It works, but at a high price.

Acting out kids, on the other hand, seem to be fueled by anger. For those who know how to look, their behavior screams severe abuse. They are loud and wild and often strike out at others. They get in a lot of trouble, and this just adds to their anger. They are like little volcanoes erupting all over.

Five years olds who do obscene things with Barbie and Ken. Seven year olds who start to act sexual with the kids in their class. Kids who set fires, kids who hurt animals. Where did they learn this? Oh, yes, of course, too much television.

These are the children who get sent to the principle, who, not knowing what to do with them, sends them to the school counselor. The school counselor, knowing little about the symptoms of childhood trauma, leans on these kids to change their behavior. It doesn’t help.

It would be interesting to track what these children are like as adults. It’s easy to say that the acting out kids end up in the criminal system, but I am not sure this is true. You can’t tell until you study the outcome. The closest thing to this kind of research that I know of was done by Dr. Fred Yonker in The Netherlands, who treated almost all the children abused in one particular daycare setting. On follow-up, he found that the most abused children had the hardest time later on. The other factor influencing outcome was the degree to which parents were supportive. This doesn’t tell us much about children growing up in intergenerational cults, however, as they are all very severely abused and none of them have supportive parents.

As you might have guessed, I was a frozen kid growing up. And I was and am a frozen adult, terrified of everything. It’s not surprising that I am more comfortable in front of a computer than in a group of people, no matter how well I know the people and how nice they are.

Somewhere, though, someplace in that psychic iceberg, there is a small defiant spark of life that says, “I don’t care. You can’t stop me. I am going to do it anyway.” I can see how, if this attitude were magnified, I would have been an acting out kid, hot with anger, but with the paralyzing ice of fear at my center.

I doubt that those of you that know me think of me this way because I learned to fake it pretty well. The cult taught me to hide my feelings and cover up the effects of their treatment of me. They made sure nobody would question what was going on and that they could be seen as good parents with a shy child. I have also worked tirelessly on my own to overcome (or at least cope with) my fears, both before and after I realized the source of my problems.

I know lots of survivors who were “frozen children” and none are complete hermits. I also know lots whose histories show that they were “acting out” kids who pulled it together enough to keep more or less out of trouble as adults. I know of others, of course, who didn’t make it. Why some people are resilient enough to survive and heal and others are not is a mystery. We can only mourn those who who died or whose lives were ruined and celebrate the miracles that allowed others to turn out to be decent, loving, courageous people in spite of the horrendous things that were done to them.

Adapted from Survivorship Notes, Vol. 9 Nos. 9/10, November/December 2007


10 thoughts on “Cult Kids

  1. I was an angry kid. Acting out a lot in primary school, always getting in trouble. I was a bully. I led an attack on a girl in grade seven. Getting boys to hit her legs with the straps of their caps. We got caught (thankfully) and put into detention. I remember feeling confused, “I led that? I made that happen?” I couldn’t remember doing it but I definitely felt remorse and stopped bullying after that. I then turned the anger internally, escaping through drugs and alcohol, which continued to be my outlet for years until I got sober at age 31. I would say I am quite high functioning now and the “anger” kid has meant I am def more out there in personality, confidence and activities. I am more dominant I guess. I still live in my head tho and feel safest there but very disconnected.


    1. It’s fascinating how we can turn problems into assets. You have channeled the energy of your anger into action and self-confidence, learned to use it to your advantage rather than in a way that is harmful to yourself or others. What a wonderful achievement!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Jeannie for this information. I sent it to my daughter who is working as youth worker at a school and she found it very helpful.


  3. Dear K,
    I can relate to that! I also found that I could not speak too much, since I see the world differently than “normal” people.
    I used to act out a lot, at first only in play as I moved around on horseback and in the veld. I took karate to help me with my anger, it did help because it also teaches selfcontrol, but it did not resolve it. Most of the time I listened and also took note of other’s ways and manners. it is only now that I am almost fully healed, that I begin to venture out and speak what I think and feel. I still have to choose my words, but it gets easier. My husband also helps me. Sometimes I still feel most people are stupid and ignorant of what we go through. I pray that it will change so that all of us can prosper from that.
    So, be kind to yourself…you are special.


  4. Thank you Jeannie. This is something that I have been trying to figure out – why I act the way that I do as an adult that ‘should know better’ and should be able to reason through it. I have been having a difficult time expressing my opinions/thoughts in a small women’s group – and I have opinions, I just don’t want to offend anyone, or sometimes when I do open my mouth, I am gruff in how I present it – hurting others verbally where I don’t mean to. I am trying to learn from others when they present their views with tact and clarity.

    Sometimes I am appalled and angered by others stupidity/ignorance – and maybe some of that is reflected back on myself for my own stupid/ignorant choices.


  5. I was a frozen kid too. I could have easily been an acting out kid cause I remember times when the anger would hit hard but I was afraid of my own anger. I still bury my anger because my husband doesn’t like it. He understands and has more compassion on my frozen self. If I had a choice I would live an isolated life. I would be unhappy but safe never hurting anyone and never getting hurt.


  6. Hi, you may remember me, as I appeared a few times on Survivorship and even wrote you a few years ago.
    I can relate to this problem with kids in the cult, if not that much personally, then, by seeing many younger people in the cult. It is one of the most disturbing experiences.
    What you described, of course, is real, but, only a half of the deal. This trauma serves to hide cult personalities and this suppression makes loath open own life. However, there are the opposite aspects of cult life that praise, glorify, comfort, encourage for life inside the cult.
    I found that we need to liquidate the whole evil to be free from it. There is a need not only in psychology, but, in bringing a person into the whole loving world where he will be able to live not just trying not to be crushed by these evils.
    I appreciate your and not only your good nature that drives you to live. For me, it is not survival, but, the question of liquidation of the cult in the process of making a better world. I want really the good future for these kids and my friends.


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