I read an article in ICSA Today Vol. 5 No. 1 called “Why Cults are Harmful: Neurobiological speculations on Interpersonal Trauma” by Doni Whitsett. She mentions that researchers speculate that the mind has “internal working models of attachment” and that the “maturation of the right brain is dependent upon the interactions with the mother…that is, the baby is attuned to the right brain of the mother and experiences mother’s affect states as if they were her own.”
This speaks powerfully to the damage done when children, especially babies and very young children, are taken away from their biological mothers and given to other members of the cult to be raised. The child has a visceral attachment to the mother, and when this is broken the child can become insecurely attached. The child can often express this by becoming aggressive, feeling that they have to fight to have their needs met, or by withdrawing so they will not feel rejected, as a protective reaction.
In looking back at my own experience, one of my children cried a lot. It was during a time when I was under a lot of intense scrutiny and ‘correction”. My own emotions were aroused, and I was often scared, angry, humiliated and worried. As Whitsett says, “As the baby views the negative face of the mother, the baby’s body is flooded with cortisol, the stress hormone. Alternately, if mother is relaxed and happy, the baby will see the smiling face of the mother and endorphins will be released in the baby’s body, just as they are in the mother’s…the stimulus or entity know as mother, and the child’s relationship with her, will get associated with either cortisol and the child will feel bad, or with endorphins and the child will feel good.”
The cult took advantage of this situation. They did not read the signs properly, and blamed me for my child’s crying. They said it was my sin that was hurting her. Because of this, they took her away from me and gave her to two teenagers to raise, for over a year.
How do she and I recover from this? It is not something that we can work out on our own. The damage has been done, and it takes the loving and tender help of others. The first step is to start looking and to find a therapist that understands. I am a great fan of talk therapy, as that is what is helping me. There is a lot of justified anger to deal with as I realize what they did to us. I am also learning to forgive where that is appropriate, but not to the point of denying what was done. It’s the age-old problem of finding the balance between forgiveness in order to release my own angst, and standing up for justice.
In this article, Whitsett talks about Judith Herman’s model of trauma recovery and identifies three separate phases. The first is with the therapist in a safe environment to tell your story. The second is to remember the dissociated parts of the experience and integrate them into your present reality and understanding. The third is to come out of feeling isolated and to re-connect with others. This will take some time and support but as my self-confidence builds I can feel myself being less afraid of what others will think of me.