Understanding Scientology, by Margery Wakefield - Next - Previous

Chapter 15

The Plight of Parents -- Some Suggestions for Families

We would like to ask the congressmen and senators ... to imagine what it would be like to have their son or daughter take a trip across the country after graduating college, planning to retum home at the end of a stated time, to resume the life and career for which they had been preparing ... and then to receive a phone call from an unspecified place three thousand miles away, from someone who sounds only vaguely like the son (or daughter) they knew so well only a few months before, but whose voice is the voice of a ventriloquist's dummy, who speaks to them only in the stilted phrases of a religious pamphlet, who seems to have no recollection of the twenty-odd years of mutual caring and struggling and tears and laughter that makes a family ... and who cannot answer the simplest question without consulting some unknown person standing beside him!
-- Parents of a cult member

I have often thought that the twelve years I spent in the Church of Scientology were a far worse ordeal for my parents than for me. For me, the problems came later, when I left the cult and was faced with reentry into the world I had abandoned twelve years earlier.

Losing a child must be the worst imaginable nightmare for any parent. The death or abduction of a child at any age can leave a parent with scars that never completely heal.

Losing a child to a cult can be equally traumatic for a parent; however, unlike the death of a child which can be mourned and resolved, having a child in a cult like Scientology presents the parent with a frustrating dilemma in the form of an unresolved and unresolvable loss. The child is gone -- perhaps for five years, perhaps for twelve, perhaps forever -- and the parent is left behind with the difficult task of reconciling feelings of both uncertainty and hope.

What I want to do in this chapter is provide a few tips for the parents of a Scientologist, written from the point of view of an ex-member. In other words, things that helped me or that I think would have helped me to escape from the cult.

In writing this chapter, I rely on the wisdom of others who are professionals or experts in the field of cult recovery, including: The Cult Awareness Network; The American Family Foundation in the book Cults: What Parents Should Know; Steve Hassan in his book Combatting Cult Mind Control; James and Marcia Rudin in their book Prison or Paradise; and R. K. Heller in the book Deprogramming for Do-It-Yourselfers.

The American Family Foundation gives a list of behaviors in a family member which may be indications that they are becoming involved in a destructive cult such as Scientology. For parents with a family member already in Scientology, many of the behaviors on this list will probably seem quite familiar.

  1. Secretive behavior -- the person going out frequently but not wanting to say where he or she is going, or talking on the phone in a secretive manner, being vague about who is calling, etc.

  2. Change in vocabulary or speech patterns -- especially important with this cult.

  3. Emotional changes -- the once warm, loving and open family member who becomes cold and distant toward other family members.

  4. Shift in friends and activities -- especially with new friends who also use unfamiliar vocabulary; spending long hours at night and on weekends at "the org" or "on course" is demanded of new Scientologists.

  5. Rejection of secular goals -- the new Scientologist very quickly learns to shift his goals from secular activities (college, career, marriage, etc.) to goals within Scientology such as "going Clear or OT," "becoming a Class Eight auditor," etc.

  6. Dubious financial activities -- Scientologists are under constant pressure to come up with more and more money. A warning sign would be a child asking to borrow large amounts of money, or trying to borrow money from a bank, or from relatives.

  7. Disturbing sexual attitudes -- the person no longer dating or expressing an interest in marriage or family.

  8. Abrupt marital decisions -- a child who abruptly severs a serious relationship with someone outside the cult and instead looks for a relationship within the cult.

  9. Shifts in religious, philosophical or political views -- the student in Scientology learns from the beginning to discredit all forms of government, and all forms of traditional mental health, particularly psychiatrists. A sudden belief in past lives and a denigration of Christianity or other religions would be consistent with Scientology.

  10. Extreme commitments -- such as the decision to sign a two and a half or five year contract to join "staff," or a billion year "Sea Org contract," which are the standard contracts for staff members in Scientology.

  11. Unconventional lifestyle -- living communally and working long hours for a very small wage are typical within Scientology.

  12. Changes in appearance -- Scientology staff members can appear somewhat unkempt because of the lack of money to buy adequate clothing and toiletries.

  13. Vocational turnabouts -- the person will eventually abandon prior career plans in favor of a career as an "auditor" within Scientology (which has nothing to do with keeping books!) or deciding to join the Sea Org.

  14. Indications of psychological distress -- overeating, oversleeping, outbursts of anger or depression may indicate increased psychological conflict.

  15. Diminished academic performance -- the Scientologist still attending non-Scientology classes will probably lose interest in the secular classes as he or she spends more and more time on the cult courses, and will eventually drop out of school.

When a someone finds out that their family member is in Scientology, there are a number of common thoughts and feelings they might have, for example:

  1. Guilt -- "What did we do wrong?" or, "It's all my fault."

  2. Shame, embarrassment, self-consciousness -- "What will we tell the relatives?" or, "What will the neighbors think?"

  3. Fear -- "What if we can't get him/her out?"

  4. Accusations -- "It's all your fault," or, "If you hadn't been so/done X, this wouldn't be happening."

  5. Bitterness toward life, God -- "God, why is this happening to me?"

  6. Loneliness -- "I really miss her/him."

  7. Sense of being burdened, overwhelmed -- "I just don't know what to do about all this."

  8. Helplessness, incompetence -- "There isn't anything I can do about this."

  9. Rejection, hurt -- "How could he/she have done this to me?"

  10. Alarm -- "I am really worried about him/her."

Although many of these feelings are self-defeating, there are some very concrete things that a parent both can and should not do to maximize the chances of his or her child getting out of the cult. I have attempted to list these in order of priority:

For further information and referrals, feel free to contact

  1. Cult Awareness Network
    2421 W. Pratt Blvd. Suite #1173
    Chicago, Illinois 60645 (312) 267-7777
    [WARNING!: The Cult Awareness Network was taken over by Scientology in a bankruptcy auction in October, 1996. Do not contact them for help with cults! -- Editor]

  2. The American Family Foundation
    P.O. Box 2265
    Bonita Springs, Florida 33959 (212)249-7693

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