ICSA Discussion from June 2008: Growing up in Cults

Founded in 1979, the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) is a global network of people concerned about psychological manipulation and abuse in cultic groups, alternative movements, and other environments. ICSA is tax-exempt, supports civil liberties, and is not affiliated with any religious or commercial organizations.The ICSA holds meetings around the world with different themes and various speakers. ICSA is a proven abundant source for help and insight into cults of all types in many different cultures. Their website can be found here. This post will review the content of a discussion group from an ICSA Conference which was held June 26-29 2008 in Philadelphia, PA. The full title of the discussion “Growing up in Cults: The Special Issues of Children in Cults and Second Generation Cults Members”, the moderator is/was Joyce Martella. The discussion group participants include Juliana Buhring discussing “Advocating for Children’s Rights”, Michael Martella, MFT- “The Mask We Make”, and Gina Cantena, MS., CNM, NP- “Post-Cult Identity Issues for Second Generation Adults.” The audio begins low and may need to be bumped up on your listening device. The video is long and I will only cover highlights. For a more full understanding, please listen to the entire discussion.

Why would I post this here? Many of my readers are former cult members, as well as family members of present and previous members of high demand faith groups – as we know them. This resource will help further the ongoing search for answers for many of the nagging questions that haunt former cult members and family members who have shut-out of their relative’s lives who are in these groups. The readers of this blog consist of survivors from several groups other than Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) and for that- I take no credit. We will provide the video first, and then my comments.

These comments will be paraphrased with the intent of not altering or changing the original meaning. The entire video is a little over 99 minutes long with the last 32 minutes being a question and answer period. It is not practical to think I can retell all of the vital information contained in this video. I sincerely believe this discussion will be a great help to many who are cult survivors and those who want to help survivors.

One quick note about Joyce Martella; she introduces herself as a former member of a pseudo-Christian cult being born and raised for 24 years in the group her MOTHER founded and led. At 24, she left the group with her husband and two children. There is hope!

Joyce Martella, made three quick points about the struggles of second generation adults that I will list and make comments. She said that a second generation survivor has a difficult time finding their own personal identity. When in the group, they were always told what to do and how to be. Any personal desires that did not fit the demands were stuffed in order to not “be in trouble”. The denial of this “self identity” was essential inside WOFF. “Self” was cast as demonic and to be loathed. Joyce also mentioned the difficulty in social integration for second generation survivors. Some of this is attributable to the cult lingo and many words being redefined inside the group. Yes, the WOFF lingo was unique and extensive as we have outlined here on this blog. Lastly, Martella mentioned the difficulty in establishing healthy relationships for cult survivors. While inside their group, relationships were always subject to cult pressures and in a state of flux. There was betrayal, rejection and abuse which cloud a survivor’s expectations and abilities to sustain healthy relationships when they leave their group. In some cases, the survivor thinks they must not have been an “okay” or valuable person since they failed at staying in their group. Also, believing that people outside their group really care for them is a struggle once they leave because of what they have been taught about outsiders.

The next speaker, Gina Cantena, came out of a transcendental meditation group after 22 years. She left that group with three children and obtained an education and career while integrating into main stream society. Her career includes being a licensed mid-wife at a major medical center. She lists the issues with second generation survivors including self worth, authority issues, trust issues, intimacy and sexuality issues, abuse issues, basic life skills, spirituality. She admits that when a person first comes out they have no idea how they have been affected and it can take years to see the need and admit they need help. Early on she suggests renting the DVD “Devil’s Playground” which a documentary of Amish youth deciding to stay Amish or leave their group. (Find here with 43 reviews on Amazon.com.)

Cantena speaks from decades of helping other former cult members as well as her own experience. She explains the hyper-adaptability of cult members who are able to read their surroundings and fit. There is a chameleon trait that is needed to survive in a high demand group. This trait can continue as one leaves, but, now they are with “bad” people who don’t have the cult’s understanding of life. It is important to identify the reason, the decision, which helped a second generation survivor leave their group. That goes for ALL survivors. Did they leave with family or some sort of support or did they come out without a support group? Cantena explains the importance of developing a core identity once you leave a high demand group. A person who is just beginning this process or does not even know to start will be susceptible to other manipulators and controlling groups. She explains the high arousal to the “fight or flight” reaction because of being in a group where the rules were not known. In my opinion, this one characteristic is very prevalent in WOFF. Why? This is because the children or new members may not have gone through the seminars or indoctrination of years past that set the foundation for conduct with WOFF. So, breaking an unwritten rule was common inside of WOFF and so was the “correction” or “discipline.”

Cantena goes on to give many insights from her own life that makes it VERY clear she is a cult survivor. In her summary, she encourages survivors to be patient with themselves in their recovery and discovery process. It will take years.  Just listening to her as she explains her behaviors will be beneficial for survivors and those who seek to help cult survivors.

Mike Martella, MFT is the next speaker. His title includes “Licensed Family Therapist-Former Bible-Based Cultist”. He has worked for several years helping second generation adults. He puts forth the idea that these survivors have a very complex identity though it may not be authentic. He describes a private and a public mask that many wear to help them cope and adapt. Martella makes a very good point that I feel rings true for Jane Whaley and her leadership. He says that second generation cult members represent the “dream come true” for the leader; their ideas, their doctrines, their practices made manifest in the lives of the second generation members in many ways reflecting and mirroring the behaviors that have been unreachable for first generation members! This explains the fixation of Jane on her grandson’s generation. Those children represent her hope, her desires for “perfection” in WOFF. Does that make sense? Her grandson’s generation proves in her mind the validity of her life’s work, her special revelations, her “gift” and her calling… she lives out her life through them and mainly through him- the grandson. In my opinion, pushing “Jane-life” on the little ones at WOFF is abuse. The emotional scars of the manufactured pyramidal structure within the adolescent age group will prove hard to overcome and heal in years to come.

In my mind this explains and gives a reason to the conflicts within the young people in WOFF. As Martella talks, I understand about the struggles and pressures having to keep the public WOFF approved mask in place, all the while stuffing and denying your own true self. Life inside of WOFF is one of sacrifice. You sacrifice your own desires to submit to Jane’s desires and her “religion”, all under the guise of “submitting to God’s will.” This conflict wears on folks and can lead to the sudden exits which have been common in the past and which will happen again. Jane’s control actually creates the force which drives some folks OUT of WOFF. A WOFF member is never good enough for the ever elusive standards, ever changing unwritten rules, ever personally demeaning social construct which is designed by Jane.

Martella is speaking about life inside a cult and family life or the non-existence of normal family life. Instead of your natural parents being important, “Who was significant to you on any given day was whoever had the power to hurt you the most. That is who was significant. And for months at a time, that could not include your primary care giver or your siblings.”  Avoiding the pain of the discipline handed out inside the group becomes a primary motivation in the decisions a member makes. “Your love for your family becomes your greatest vulnerability.” That is because that love is used against you- inside groups like WOFF. This was/is very true inside of WOFF. Love for your family is labeled as perversion inside WOFF and that love cannot be greater than your loyalty to Jane or there will be consequences.

The last speaker was Juliana Buhring discussing “Advocating for Children’s Rights”. She was born and raised in the cult- Children of God/The Family International. She authored the book, “Not Without My Sister” found here. Buhring says she left her group primarily because of the injustices being done to a generation of children and being swept under the carpet. She admits the idea within her group was to not tell your secrets of what happens inside. (Now that is definitely present inside WOFF!) She goes on saying that extremist and isolated groups have the potential to abuse children, while the government does not know what is going on. There is an aura of mystery, a paranoia that surrounds the idea of a cult and some would rather not know than know.

Buhring and other second generation survivors set up Rise International. One of their websites found here. The group works to protect children from abusive cults. They advocate for children’s human rights and support those who seek justice for the crimes committed against them as minors in these groups. They work to raise awareness among the public, government, charity organizations over the dangers and difficulties of children face growing up in cults.  “There are many that use their right to religious freedom as a carte blanche to do whatever they think with the children in their care who are born and raised in these groups.”  Religious freedom is not a right o abuse anyone, especially innocent and defenseless children.

In laying out her case for her advocacy of children’s rights within these groups, she recounts her story of living in a group which had the “Law of Love”. This “law” meant that anything “done in love” was not abuse. The children were so convinced that they were not abused because what had been done to them was in “love.” Does this concept sound familiar to WOFF survivors? Does this explain the difficulty in getting survivors or present members to know and accept that many practices within WOFF are abusive? Jane was acting in the “love of God”. Have you ever heard that one? Michael Lowry, Are you reading this?

In her story, Buhling talks about the raids by government officials on her group to take out the children. She says the authorities did not have enough information to ask the right questions. I believe this occurred with the Rutherford County DSS years ago. They did not know the right questions to ask and apparently concentrated on the social activities. The children were programmed to deny any desire to participate in the “ways of the world”, all the while being screamed at and abused in other ways. Odd, in Buhling’s group as well as WOFF, “You were never allowed to show you weren’t happy.” Where is your happy face?

The group then moves into a question and answer period. I found this video to be very enlightening and helpful. Buhling’s work is very intriguing and worth more time and attention for follow-up.

Thank you, for taking time to visit and read this blog. Please, consume the information on this site responsibly. The author is not a licensed mental health professional and encourages those that need professional help to seek it. The intent of the material is to inform and be a resource. Be sure to tell every member that you know at WOFF about this blog. There are readers at WOFF. Jane told me. Comments are invited from all readers, including present or former members. Polls are not scientific and no private information is gathered.

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Please, take time to read the Terms of Use for this personal blog. As mentioned, for posts written by John Huddle, any information about WOFF is from his memories and recollections as perfect as that may be or not be. Scripture references are Amplified Version unless otherwise noted. (Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation ) This is post number 435.

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