Children Raised In High Control, Destructive Groups


The issues faced by children born and/or raised in a destructive group tends to be all pervasive, particularly if the group experience was communal.  These issues, while similar to those faced by adults (former members) who had a “prior life”, are far more consuming.  Therefore, the resolution of these issues require a different approach and understanding 

Issues Faced:

1. Identity Issues.  The child adult has no other identity than the one “imposed” by the group.  Usually this person is developmentally delayed

— Destructive groups ignore the stages of human development/maturation.  They seek to “create”/make the perfect disciple, and use verses like “Raise a child in the way he should go...”  Proverbs 22:6

— Young adults who leave destructive groups frequently attempt to regain their childhood.  They may comment, “I was never allowed to be a child.  I never could do the things other kids could do.”

— In the “world” maturation is guided by parents.  It is prevented or controlled or stifled in high control groups.  So when the child/young person goes out into the world, chronologically they are beyond the age of “guidance” by society, yet they are expected to act and respond as an adult.

— Self determination and individuation is diminished preventing normal decision making for their age.   

2. Ethical Issues.

— Often the child/young person has no moral compass or internal boundaries and there is confusion at the deepest level.  Typically, the ethical framework was built on a religious worldview that has been abandoned.

— In the group beliefs and rituals were externally imposed.  There was no real opportunity to determine or begin to “own” a personal belief system.

— Thus, the child/young person often gets involved in circumstances not healthy for them.  They have inadequate decision making skills.

3. Social Identity/Isolation Issues.

— The child/young person is frequently afraid to tell anyone of past because of stigma of “cults.”

It is often very difficult to identify with peers and their past.

— Because of issues of inconsistent or abusive authority it is difficult for the child/young person to trust.

— Loneliness and isolation are much a part of the child/young person’s life.

4. Emotional/ Psychological Issues.

— The child/young person frequently feels intense guilt for having left (or been taken) from the group.  

— Fear is also a large part of the child/young person’s life.  The group has told them that to leave is to invite God’s wrath.  The world is also a scary place to child.   Strangers, authority figures, the organized church are all feared at some level.

— The child/young person may also feel intense anger at the group for “ruining” their life and family, or they may be angry at God for “allowing” this to happen to them.

5. Social /Cultural Issues.

— Bible based destructive groups create their own culture ( practices, rituals, music, dietary “laws”, ways of worship, etc.)  and worldview ( a way to look at the world and society) that is often radically against any culture outside their context.

— Children/young people born and raised in such groups are particularly unprepared to function within a world they do not understand or comprehend, even though they speak the language fluently.  They don’t understand social cues (respecting positions of authority, personal space, standing for older folk, etc.), socially “appropriate” actions (thank you’s, respecting other’s property, knocking, etc.), culturally determined abstract concepts (politically “correct” language, “rites” of passage, equality, etc.).

— The child/young person frequently does not know how to set up a bank account, how to handle money, credit, large purchases, etc.

6. Education Issues.

— Education is usually woefully deficient.  Frequently, the child/young person will be behind their peers educationally.

— At school, the child/young person is often fearful of others, yet desperately wants to fit in and be accepted.  This is more so than with other youth raised in the “world.”

— Often, education is approached in one of two ways.  Either the child/young person is extremely motivated to succeed, work hard, and do exceptionally well, but at the expense of dealing with issues (they are like time-bombs internally).  Or they may give up on school feeling overwhelmed by the tasks at hand.  The group has told them they won’t do well because they left. This is often a self fulfilling prophecy.

7. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Issues.

— Many children/young people who leave high control, destructive groups suffer from PTSD.  This presents a whole host of issues that must be addressed individually with each one.


1.  The child/young person needs to be re-parented in an age appropriate way.

— Children/young people born and raised in groups are frequently, emotionally delayed.  They are developmentally behind their peers.

— They need to learn to be age appropriate and productively independent.

— They need to learn social skills (appropriate attachments, follow through, using others financially, etc).

— They need to learn skills to think critically and wisely.

— They need to learn appropriate boundaries, reasons for them, and then internalize them.

2.  Parents/caregivers  and children need to be in family and individual therapy.

— Parents from communal groups frequently need counseling on parenting issues.

— Parents must also begin to deal with their own issues.  The child will do better if the parents are on the road to healing.

— Need to find therapist (if possible) with understanding of PTSD and an understanding of thought reform.

— In many instances life skills will need to be taught to the older child.

3.  It is important to work with the child/young person regarding educational issues

— The educational system is often viewed by destructive groups as totally evil.

— Private school or home schooling may be options.  This allows the child/young person to still have external boundaries while developing their decision making skills.

— If public school is chosen, talking with the teachers and guidance counselors is extremely helpful.

— Testing will need to be done to determine the educational level of the child/young person.

4.  Caregivers/counselors must talk with the child/young person about the parents involvement in the group.

— Most parents don’t talk about this or do so inconsistently or inappropriately.

— Many parents or caregivers wrongly think that since their child does not ask questions, is not “in trouble,” and is doing well in school, that there are no problems.  Such is not the case.

5.  They young adult needs to deal with the spiritual dimension.

— They have been living in a “supercharged,” black and white spiritual environment.  They have been told what to believe, who to believe, when to believe, etc., in a context (the group) with clearly defined boundaries.   Now they are in what seems to be a totally open-ended environment.  Spiritual issues can be addressed at the child/young persons own speed.

6.  There may be a need to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in extreme abuse situations (see handouts).

— While the symptoms of PTSD will ease over time, they do not go away of their own.

— A trained counselor in PTSD will need to be consulted to overcome this disorder.

— Usually through counseling (and sometimes medication) the young adult can overcome PTSD.

7.  For the child/young person who still has family in their former group there are a number of things they can do.

— In some instances it will be impossible to have a relationship with any family member still in the group.  The child/young person needs to be very realistic at this point.  This may be because he/she does not want to have any relationship, or because the group will not allow it.

— It is important to not “bad mouth” the group.  This will only create further barriers.

— It is important, as much as is possible, for the child/young person to try and understand where their parents/siblings are coming from, why they joined the group, and why they are so crippled.  The group has not only damaged the child/young person’s life, but also their relatives’ lives.

— The child/young person needs to have limits/boundaries set for what kind of interaction they will have with their relatives still in the group.  This may involve what can be talked about, where they can meet, etc.