Emotional Abandonment of Children in Cults



"As a grown-up in a cult you lose yourself.

 As a child you lose your parents and yourself."


There is a tremendous amount of grief and loss a child or teenager will go through after getting out of a cult and realizing they were completely abandoned. 


One woman, who grew up on a cult, expressed: "It would have been easier if my parents had died. I could have mourned their loss and relatives would have taken us in. Instead my parents stopped parenting overnight and I was supposed to smile and be happy. I had to keep seeing them every day, without getting any comfort, without being allowed to talk to them. Ad when the abuse started, they did nothing."


Their painful absence (even if parents are still physically present), combined with the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse that often happens in cults, has a big impact on a child's development. No, it doesn't mess you up forever, but it makes everything a bit harder, and leaves a hole.


This is truly important to remember:


  • "Abandonment experiences and boundary violations are in no way indictments of a child's innate goodness and value. Instead, they reveal the flawed thinking, false beliefs, and impaired behaviors of those who hurt them. Still, the wounds are struck deep in their young hearts and minds, and the very real pain can still be felt today. The causes of emotional injury need to be understood and accepted so they can heal. Until that occurs, the pain will stay with them, becoming a driving force in their adult lives." Changing Lives: Healing from Loss, Abandonment and Fear by Claudia Black Ph.D.


There is nothing wrong with you as a person. The following is not to make you feel like a freak, but to help you understand what you might be dealing with. And that it's not your fault, if you have experienced any of these traits! It's just normal aftermath of what you went through in the cult and PTSD. Your pain was real, so is the lingering effect of trauma.


  • Attachment: Trouble with relationships, boundaries, empathy, and social isolation

  • Physical Health: Impaired sensorimotor development, coordination problems, increased medical problems, and somatic symptoms

  • Emotional Regulation: Difficulty identifying or labeling feelings and communicating needs

  • Dissociation: Altered states of consciousness, amnesia, impaired memory

  • Cognitive Ability: Problems with focus, learning, processing new information, language development, planning and orientation to time and space

  • Self-Concept: Lack of consistent sense of self, body image issues, low self-esteem, shame and guilt

  • Behavioral Control: Difficulty controlling impulses, oppositional behavior, aggression, disrupted sleep and eating patterns, trauma re-enactment

     Source: Cook, et al, 2005



So why do parents give up parenting in cults? 



"As noted in “Reflections on Marriage and Children after the Cult,” cult leader usually interfere with the couple's ability to form an intimate relationship and to parent their own children. Parents are induced to feel that time with children is expendable, that they must keep focused on the “grander” mission of the cult. Therefore, parents may be separated from their children and spend long periods of time involved in cult activities. Children might be placed in dormitories or sent away to cult-related boarding schools. Often members who are in charge of those schools have no training in child education and no understanding of the emotional needs of children.


Parents often are made to feel selfish if they acknowledge special feeling or desire to have time with their children. In one cult, members were told that parents always have murderous feelings toward their children and, therefore, children must be raised by members who were not related to them. In another cult members were told that parents pollute their young, so all parenting decisions must be left to the cult. These suggestions are an effective way to separate the members from their own children, as well as from their parents who are outside the cult.


The children of cult members often are not allowed to behave like children in the cult. Upon leaving the cult, parents begin to allow themselves to empathize and respond their children. However, former cultists often experience difficulty taking a parental role after they leave the cult. Sometimes this difficulty is related to the fact that they had been treated as children and acted as siblings to their children, because the cult leader was the parent for all of them. Parents also may have difficulty assuming authority as a result of their guilt about having neglected and/or abused their children while in the cult. This guilt can lead to their having difficulty setting limits with their children. Other parents continue to hold onto the punitive or sexually stimulating practices of the cult. Spouses can come to have different child rearing attitudes and this can cause conflict."


Post Cult Problems by Lorna Goldberg, MSW


Emotional Abandonment:


When a child has to hide a part of who he or she is in order to be accepted, or to not be rejected.


When it's not okay to:


  • make a mistake

  • have boundaries

  • show feelings

  • have needs

  • have success




Being able to survive it, 

doesn't mean it was ever okay.


It just means that you are incredibly strong.

"I can deal with all the horrible stuff that went on.


What I can't heal from, is having lost my mother. She is still in the cult today. I miss her." Brad, 30