Using Katie Botkin’s lifeboat analogy, Cindy Kunsman explores the “Second Generation Adult” and Lourdes Torres-Mantefeuel’s alleged sex abuse by Vision Forum’s Doug Phillips
Part III in a Series
By Cindy Kunsman, UnderMuchGrace.com
On the same day that Lourdes Torres-Manteufel’s petition was filed, the first cousin of Vision Forum’s Stay at Home Daughter evangelists/role models published a blog essay that I found deeply moving. Katie Botkin, the daughter of Geoffrey Botkin‘s brother Greg, noted that attorney David C. Gibbs III filed the documents on the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Doug Phillips used the event as a talking point and celebrated the testimonies of survivors for 20 years, if I recall correctly. Katie pointed out this significance, and she elegantly likened the lawsuit to Lourdes’ petition for a lifeboat rather than going down with the ship.
I found great comfort in Katie’ writing – especially while I found myself unexpectedly sorting through thoughts about what might have been and what I woulda/coulda/shoulda done if I hadn’t felt and been so powerless as a child. Until I’d read the court documents, it never occurred to me that I’d been like a much younger Lourdes. What the lifeboat reference brought to my mind was the remarkable fact that Lourdes could even conceive of the idea of calling for a lifeboat, let alone give herself permission to seize the opportunity as an act of dignity. Many young women who find themselves in similar circumstances would not have felt worthy of a lifeboat, and some would not have the resources to know how to begin to ask for one. All people in a totalist system experience some degree of bounded choice, but for children, teens, and budding adults, the access to choice becomes even more complicated.
I’ve heard it referred to as a lack of the Realistic Right to Exit. Jill Mytton states the following, in reference to patriarchal groups and the difficulties that women face:
When we leave, we actually don’t have what we need to survive outside. And yet when we leave, we should have the right – the right to choose to leave. Either choosing to leave the religion or choosing to leave the culture. Or if they’re entwined, you’re leaving both.
I don’t know Lourdes’ circumstances prior to her family’s enamored (and seemingly indentured) service to the Phillips Family. But I pray she had a “good enough” upbringing before which hopefully laid the foundation for the strength she has found in herself in her lifeboat petition.
“Good enough” parenting gives a child sufficient resources for successful lifelong growth and development. Unfortunately, parents involved in a total institution often instill a different legacy – a difficult one – in their children.
I don’t know of the nature of the parenting Lourdes had, but the question highlights the problem of those children whose growth and development was hindered by their religious system and what it required of their parents and them. Lourdes classifies as a “Second Generation Adult” (SGA) – the adult who grew up under parenting that was dictated by and within a closed ideological system. The needs of “SGAs” are very different from those of the adults who make the choice as adults to yield themselves to such a system. These children who are born or inducted into a group never had the luxury of making such an independent choice. Depending on the group, many of these SGAs find that the parenting they received fell well below a “good enough” standard.
If you’re not acquainted with someone who is an SGA, think of people you know who were reared in a family where they had very strict standards for appearance, behavior, talking, not talking, work, outside activities, etc. For instance, that kind of profile of rules and regulations has often been seen in the families of pastors, missionaries, and other “professional ministers.” It can often have a crippling effect on PKs (pastor’s kids) and MKs (missionary kids), leaving leaves them overly compliant – or perhaps the opposite: out of control and rebellious. Such parenting that is constantly on view by the public may not be “good enough.” As the saying goes, “MKs and PKs often end up not OK.” (To which saying has been added HKs – homeschool kids.)
Finding the Gaps: Defining “Not Good Enough”
I am a nurse. As part of creating a client’s comprehensive nursing care plan, I must assess their “growth and development” to make sure they can adequately recover, care for themselves, and maintain their health independently whenever that is possible. My profession defers to Erik Erickson’s stages of development as the guideline.
His framework is especially important when caring for children who are ill. Not only does this assessment help to identify learning issues or delays, it also provides a critical measure of the child’s coping. If a child reverts back into the struggles associated with an earlier stage, that loss of competency and regression becomes an adjunct to the clinical findings, serving as an indicator of how well (or poorly) the medical team has met the child’s needs. (It’s not all psychobabble, and it has nothing to do with atheism, folks. It’s a measure of healthy growth. And actually, church planters and consultants use similar concepts, don’t they?)
Curtailed Summary of Erikson’s Growth and Developmental Stages
For the sake of illustration, let us consider a toddler in early childhood. Children of this age should be busy learning where they begin and where they end, how to control themselves, and how to tolerate frustration from the constraints of life. The parent’s job involves setting limits for toddlers while nurturing and rewarding their ability to be patient, all while mastering basic skills that are often frustrating for them which initially feels uncomfortable as opposed to pain. Now, think of children who have been conditioned to be silent through blanket training or through use of the “Biblical rod” often and several times before breakfast. Their experience of learning mastery can very well become unbalanced, and they internalize far more shame and guilt as opposed to healthy independence as the basis for initiative.
As a young adult, I worked on my deficits that arose because of the themes and problems in my life. I quickly realized that instead of focusing on and mastering intimate relationships, I had to go back to work on issues of trust versus mistrust – core issues of infancy. And I still contend with this remedial work but make progress by sticking with healthy self-care.
For instance, as a 38-year-old woman, I had to learn how to self-soothe – the skill that infants typically learn through satisfying and regular feeding, and through the serenity that their mother models for them by cuddling them. I also had to learn how to feel satisfied with any accomplishment. In the long run, this need did direct me back to “fill in the gaps,” and that has been a marvelous impetus to develop my character. I had to “reframe” the deficits that had created some debilitation. They became opportunities to purposely work at becoming the best person that I could be.
We all have gaps, but those with “good enough” parenting don’t suffer debilitation. Those from totalist environments usually suffer with a degree of impairment that requires soul searching and skill development later in life. But making peace with the idea that I even needed to do this because my circumstances robbed me of “what should have been” was also a developmental challenge. It was yet another area of acceptance and work – on top of everything else. I also did much grieving, for my anger voiced that grief. (Always remember that anger is not a sin in itself but is a symptom of a problem or a challenge. It is often a function of discernment and safety.)
Though this is another large subject, parents who raise their children within a high-demand system which they recreate in their homes for their children tend to develop unreasonable expectations for them. This series of posts discusses the more common pitfalls that parents fall into, often because their religious group denied that healthy children manifest immaturity. The primary qualities that parents must nurture in children and must give to them include value, a sense of human vulnerability (especially for children), imperfection, and the quality of immaturity which is normal for children. High-demand groups tend to see these qualities as sinful self-centeredness.
I cannot help but think of Voddie Baucham’s First Time Obedience concept as an example of several of these traits which he denies and claims that he punishes, even when he sees some of them in other parents’ children. What do you think this does in the long run to babies, toddlers, children, adolescents whose normal development stages are constantly vilified as defiance and deviance? Who are punished for what should, according to Erikson’s stages of growth, be seen as progress? Who have expectations of adults and even “perfectionism” placed on them far before their chronological or personal ability to cope and their ability to discern and choose? Or do SGAs even really have normal choice?
What Those Outside the System and the Adult Recruit Take for Granted
When people outside of a spiritually abusive system or adults who choose to join a group consider the actions of an SGA, they usually fail to take these developmental gaps into consideration. They also forget about the dependency of a child and the fact that the child doesn’t have the ability to challenge a parent through critical thinking. This generally does not start developing in the manner that most people expect until about age 12. This is why algebra is taught in high school and not taught to typical eight year olds. Younger children don’t yet have that ability.
This discussion of enmeshment at Overcoming Botkin Syndrome points out this aspect of enmeshment which also intensifies a child’s and young adult’s dependency on their parent:
In Facing Love Addiction, Pia Mellody describes effective bonding between parent and child as a functional and intimate activity that the parent sustains for the child. She likens this emotional connection to an umbilical cord that flows from parent to child, so that the stable, secure, and more grounded adult, from a position of maturity, nurtures and supports the child.
Covert emotional abuse reverses the flow, so that at times, the parent draws emotional nourishment from the child to meet needs that should only be met in the context of adult relationships. The child lacks the wealth of resources that adults have including a sense of self, the ability to self-soothe, and the choice to direct themselves, something that they should be learning and deriving from their parents in varied ways until they enter adulthood. From resources that are drastically limited in comparison to an adult, the child must draw from their own limited resources to nourish the adult.(Pg. 43-4). […]
The emotional sense of responsibility for the parent becomes unavoidable in many such cases. This also happens with adults who are too immature or fearful to be appropriately intimate with another adult, finding the intimacy too threatening emotionally. But they do not have such setbacks with children because the balance of power in the relationship is always in the adult’s favor. The child is not only vulnerable due to immaturity, the child will not abandon the parent because they need the parent in order to survive.
For the Lourdes-like, I would like to suggest yet another type of lifeboat that is available to them in addition to the resources available at the Overcoming Botkin Syndrome site. I was honored to be a part of the development of and a contributor to Hillary McFarland’s book, Quivering Daughters: Hope and Healing for the Daughters of Patriarchy.
It was written for the benefit of those who find themselves faced with the great difficulties faced by SGAs, specifically for the daughters of patriarchy. It offers a lifeline and mercy for the Lord’s precious daughters, letting them know that they are not abandoned and alone. It points towards the hope of healing that God offers to those who have suffered because of the system and the Stay At Home Daughter paradigm. (Insiders on spiritual abuse survivor blogs often abbreviate Stay At Home Daughters as SAHD, in case you want to search for posts and resources.)
Interestingly, the best research in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder validates the SGA experience. It shows that because of the lack of “internal resources” (skills, experience, ability to self-soothe, autonomy), children who experience trauma suffer a host of problems. They grow up to be adults who not only have a higher likelihood of suffering more abuse, but they tend to suffer with complex trauma with a much longer recovery period. There are also the physical problems associated with trauma in childhood as well as the hope and growing numbers of helpful resources (HERE and HERE) that are increasingly more available.
It is so significant that top researchers in the field of trauma psychology are advancing a new, separate diagnosis that they propose for those who suffer trauma as children. Their Development Trauma Disorder validates all that we have learned about SGAs, based upon their unique struggles and recovery needs.
May Lourdes and those like her find abundant lifeboats of all sorts of varieties, and may they even pioneer their own as Lourdes has begun to do to recover her future and hope.
Part IV discusses how the experience of growing up
in a totalist group intensifies bounded choice.
* * * * * * *
Exploring PTSD (Posts exploring the effects of trauma among post-fundamentalist young women)
Bounded Choice at Hephzibah House (BlogTalkRadio)
Jill Mytton’s SGA Interview (Video)
Hillary McFarland’s Quivering Daughters (Website and downloadable book)