Shame-Based Parenting Fills a Child’s Heart With Shame Instead of Love: Disrespect for Children That Tilled the Soil For Abuse at Hephzibah House

Shame-Based Parenting Fills a Child’s Heart With Shame Instead of Love: Disrespect for Children That Tilled the Soil For Abuse at Hephzibah House October 28, 2015

Undermuchgraceby Cindy Kunsman cross posted from her blog Under Much Grace

Originally published January 2012. This is part of a series on Understanding How Emotional Development in Childhood Affects Adults: Fostering Spiritual Abuse via the “Roots of Victimization” All images originals from Under Much More Grace.

If you recall, this latest discussion here concerning developmental problems and deficits in children came about after a supporter of Ron Williams, the proprietor of Hephzibah House (HH), published a blog post that challenges those HH Survivors who have come forward to tell of the abject abuse and terrible conditions they suffered while incarcerated there. There are many other Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) homes of this type where children suffer these same conditions right now, every day. Kathryn Joyce wrote an excellent, must-read article describing several of these homes where young men and women live in and under unthinkable conditions as punishment under the guise of rehabilitation through religion.

Though the lasting psychological consequences of the extreme conditions in these homes results in a loss of healthy perspective for the survivors, based on the histories of the children who are sent to IFB reform homes, many of the homes wherein they were raised laid the foundations for unhealthy thinking before those children ever made it to these facilities. I believe that to fully heal from the abuse experience, the survivor must look deeper into their history to find the roots of the patterns that were intensified and exploited at HH. I believe that an essential part of healing for many of the survivors involves examining the developmental factors that originated with the their families of origin.
The focus in recent posts here concerning the special qualities, characteristics, and needs of children addresses those roots of victimization, but they are highly applicable to many who have experienced all sorts of spiritual abuse. Parents must accept a child’s qualities of self-centeredness, their boundless energy, and their resilience so that they can form realistic expectations about the child’s capabilities. These qualities, the gifts of childhood, create characteristics that a parent must respect and anticipate because their children are valuable, vulnerable, imperfect, dependent, and immature while they are growing up.

In healthy parenting, though the job is not easy and the parent grows and learns along with the child as they continue to learn and grow in their own development, the parent realizes that the child lacks experience, reason, and capabilities (pictured as the empty beaker in the sense of self of the child). A nurturing parent provides for these needs of their children until they are sure that the child can perform these tasks themselves. The healthy adult holds resources that the child lacks and shares with them with the child from the abundance of resources inside them which they hopefully built in their own childhoods (represented by the heart in the diagram). Nurture, care, and love flows from parent to child so that eventually, the child can provide those things for themselves, having developed their own abundance.

As we read in the review of the five basic characteristics of children, when a parent lacks understanding of their child or has a lack of their own internal resources, that sense of abundance, worth and peace within themselves, they obviously do not have enough of that goodness to share. No human being is perfect, and parents often do lack their own sense of worth and peace. They might also have their own personality-based natural strengths and weaknesses that interfere with communicating well with the child. In dysfunctional families however, parents and children draw nurture from each other and/or they can unload their frustrations off on one another in unhealthy ways which create and foster more dysfunction.
When a parent carries a great deal of shame because of their experiences and because of the nurture and skills that they may have missed, they lack the resources to effectively parent their children, at least in the ideal sense. Especially concerning imperfection and immaturity, we see prime examples of a parent who feels a great deal of shame themselves. Human beings are both imperfect and are sometimes immature, and even adults enjoy a sense of their inner childlike qualities. If a person believes false ideas including ideas that life should be fair, that they should be perfect, or that children should have capabilities beyond their developmental ability, these ideas bring the parent’s own internal sense of shame to the surface.
What do we do with shame? It’s an uncomfortable emotion, and when undeserved or inappropriate to bear, it’s quite natural to seek to get rid of shame. Unfortunately, in a parent who carries a great deal of toxic shame through either false ideas about the reality of how life works or because they are full of shame over the parenting they received, they usually unconsciously unload their own shame into their children. If shame comprises the core experience of the parent, and this shame replaces the parent’s sense of abundance (worth, peace, and safety), they only have shame to share with their child. The child becomes their secondary receptacle for it.
Most people do not like to dwell on or think about the experiences that they found shaming, and for those who grew up in homes where they were shamed when they were very little, they will not consciously remember specific events. The experience of shame can be terrifying, and adults who carry this kind of shame through intolerance and controlling behaviors will usually do anything to avoid feeling these overwhelming emotions. When a child triggers shame in an aggressive or angry parent who compensates for their shame through control and intolerance, the parent usually either shames or punishes the child.
(pp 27 -8):
In every adult who has suffered absue as a child lies dormant that small child’s fear of punishment at the hand of the parents if he or she should dare rebel against their behavior. . . .
These patterns of childhood will inevitably then be adopted by their victims whenever the fear and anxiety used on their partners and their own children, at work, in politics, wherever the fear and anxiety of the profoundly insecuare child can be fended off with the aid of external power. It is in this way that dictators are born; these are people with a deep-seated contempt for everyone else, people who were never respected as children and thus do their utmost to earn that respect at a later state with the assistance of the gigantic power they have built up around them.
Parents who tend to resort to punishment and/or demonstrate high needs for control often display characteristics of narcissism. Note these excerpts from a post at Overcoming Botkin Syndrome about the Narcissistic Parent in the homeschooling’s partriarchy movement:
In a most basic sense, narcissists with NPD display exaggerated self-interest because they are compensating for fear and high sensitivity to criticism.  This exaggeration is a means of coping with and resisting the disturbing emotions that they feel deep inside, emotions that they deny feeling, even to themselves.  Some of the hallmark features of NPD include personal grandiosity, an excessive need for admiration/attention, a sense of entitlement, and a diminished capacity for empathy.  When a person with NPD feels threatened or becomes uncomfortably aware of their internal sense of shame and inferiority, they behave in a number of predictable ways which creates problems for those with whom they interact. . . .
If you are a child or partner of someone with NPD, you will find them unable to handle any kind of criticism, resorting to demeaning tactics and intense anger when they feel threatened (though they will never let you see that they feel threatened because of their grandiosity).  They NEVER admit to wrongdoing, and when consequences force them to realize that they have failed to be perfect, they will become even more dramatic, emotional, and aggressive.  Life is all about blaming other people for their shortcomings, because they are really just terrified inside.  Like playground bullies, they don’t take well to open confrontation.  Direct confrontation usually becomes explosive, as the narcissist prefers to be passive-aggressive because they actually fear confrontation.  That makes them hard to understand, because on the exterior, they seem to seek out conflict and aggression.  Considering their inner experience of helplessness and fear seems oxymoronic (if not impossible) when you are on the receiving end of their wrath and if you believe their exaggerated perceptions of themselves.

Cindy is a member of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network.

Cynthia Mullen Kunsman is a nurse (BSN), naturopath (ND) and seminary graduate (MMin) with a wide variety of training and over 20 years of clinical experience. She has used her training in Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a lecturer and liaison to professional scientific and medical groups, in both academic and traditional clinical healthcare settings. She also completed additional studies in the field of thought reform, hypnotherapy for pain management, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is often associated with cultic group involvement. Her nursing experience ranges from intensive care, the training of critical care nurses, hospice care, case management and quality management, though she currently limits her practice to forensic medical record review and evaluation. Most of her current professional efforts concern the study of manipulative and coercive evangelical Christian groups and the recovery process from both thought reform and PTSD.

Read everything by Cindy Kunsman!


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  • Abigail Smith

    Keep on sharing and shedding light on this situation! My sisters and I just realized this year that our mother is has NPD….it’s helped so much in my healing to know that it wasn’t “just me”. Some great resources I have found are “Toxic Mom Toolkit” and Luke 17:3 ministries as well as a YouTube Channel, Narcissism Survivor.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Welcome to ban for violating our comment policy. There’s not one thing in the first paragraph that indicates that the original author is ‘bigoted’ Perhaps you’re merely upset that she has pointed out the damaging behavior of a cult. We keep this site recovery friendly and your comment is in clear violation of that policy.

  • BondGurl7

    I don’t know if this fits into the “shaming” category of punishment, but I am getting really tired of seeing stories about parents who make their kids stand on street corners with signs that tell everyone – complete strangers- their names and what they did wrong. I know it’s becoming all the “rage” in supposedly good parenting, but in my opinion, all it really does is embarrass and scare the kids into not repeating the bad behavior, but does nothing to teach valuable life lessons that will help them make the right choices when they are out from under their parents’ rule.

  • BondGurl7

    Thanks for mentioning those resources! I think my mother has some degree of NPD, though she’s never been diagnosed, nor would she ever admit to it. I am also quite certain my ex-husband has NPD. When we were separated, I went to a Christian counselor who, after listening to my life stories, told me that I was married to a rage-aholic…I think that is a symptom of NPD, along with the constant need to look good in public.

  • Abigail Smith

    it is quite common, I’ve learned for those with a parent with NPD to marry someone with it, not always of course. Out of my 2 sisters, one sister married a NPD and the other two of us married men who were the opposite. There are also fabulous resources that I’ve run into for recovery from NPD spouse, which I would imagine has a whole unique set of circumstances…either way, NPD stinks, but I think it’s rampant in the churches as well, especially among Christian CP/QF. Many blessing in your healing journey!

  • Abigail Smith

    I would say it does fit. I am so glad I never heard about that. That is awful…let me guess….fundies???? is that supposed to be how God deals with our mistakes when we mess up????

  • BondGurl7

    Actually, I have just read several stories on Yahoo and Facebook about parents doing it. I don’t know if they are fundies or not. But one thing I have noticed is that the parents also like to post pictures of their kids punishment, letting everyone know just what their kids did and how they handled it, like they need pats on the back for being good parents or something. Of course, they find many supporters who cheer them on for not treating their kids like babies or something, and “when I was a kid, my dad would knock my teeth out if I did that, blah, blah, blah” *eyeroll*

  • The Oxford English Dictionary defines “bigot” as :

    “A person who is intolerant towards those holding different opinions”

    I’d be quite proud to identify myself as a person who is highly intolerant of those who believe that abject cruelty and abuse — especially psychological and physical torture — of anyone. This is particularly true for those adults who believe that it is their religious rite and duty to offend such little ones who are entirely dependent upon those adults for love, guidance, worth, and survival. I’m even more bigoted and biased against those who claim to draw all from the canon, yet they dig through legalistic apocryphal writings rejected by Orthodox Protestants to vilify women in order to justify hateful cruelty.

    I believe that the Gospels documented Jesus’ opinion on the matter. Those who do such things would suffer a BETTER fate to have a millstone bound to them and then cast into the deepest sea. That sounds like a pretty bigoted statement as well. I couldn’t be in better bigoted company now, could I?