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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