UnBoxing Project: Options, Not Ultimatums

Eleanor Skelton blogs at eleanorskelton.com, is the news editor of the UCCS student newspaper, and is majoring in English and Chemistry. The following was originally published on Eleanor’s blog on March 11, 2015, and is reprinted with permission. 

Source: Eleanor Skelton
Source: Eleanor Skelton

< Part Seven

Aaron and the rest of us moved Ashley out of her parents’ house. This is his perspective.

It’s hard when someone you care about is stuck in an abusive environment. It’s worse when you feel like you could and should be helping them to get out of said abusive environment.

Unfortunately, that’s often not up to you.

Fundamentalist cults use brainwashing techniques to make people think there is no way out. Effectively, they remove their members’ autonomy and consent.

When you’re trying to get someone out of a cult, the temptation is to pressure them into it – after all, they’re stuck there, right? They need your help to get out!

Doing that will only make things worse. You’re emulating the same techniques as the cult, which means your “convincing” is only going to last as long as you’re around. It also destroys trust – how can someone who has been abused using brainwashing and consent-destroying abuse trust someone who uses the same techniques?

And before the cries of “But we’re doing it for their own good!” begin, the cult leaders say the exact same thing. They’re just trying to save the person’s soul, after all.

So what are we to do? It’s the hardest thing – you have to let the person make their own decision.

As people, we tend to think our decisions are just a little bit better than anyone else’s – after all, we don’t let our judgement get clouded, amirite? But for someone to successfully get out of a cult, and stay out, they have to know their support system isn’t just more of the same brainwashing, only from the other side.

We’re talking about informed consent here. So let your friend know you’re there for them. Let them know what options are available. The cult tells them no one outside the cult will help them; you need to show them that’s a lie. The cult tells them they’re all alone outside the cult – show them they’re not.

Notice it’s show them, not tell them. Cults love to change the meanings of words: It’s not abuse, it’s “discipline” because we “love” you. You aren’t a “captive”, we’re holding you here out of “love.” There has to be action with this, and it has to be action that is diametrically opposed to the actions of the cult.

It’s difficult – you’ll be stuck just waiting sometimes, feeling like you can’t do anything for your friend. And yes, sometimes people will choose the cult, and choose the abuse. But if those helping them are taking away their consent, how are we any different than the people currently oppressing them? We have to be different, as different as it is possible to be. Otherwise they’ll be exchanging one oppression for another.

There’s a caveat, though: If there is physical or sexual abuse happening, especially if the person in question is under 18, absolutely call the authorities (Child Protective Services or the police). That may cause them to lose trust in you for a time – but it’s better than them dying from the abuse.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that everything will work out, that everyone chooses to leave abusive and manipulative situations. It’s just not true. Sometimes, the person chooses the cult. And that sucks. But sometimes people shake off the manipulation, the brainwashing, and the abuse. And that is the reward.

Aaron K. Collett blogs at aaronkcollett.wordpress.com. He graduated from UCCS with a bachelor’s in communication in fall 2014, and he was a reporter and opinion editor at the campus newspaper, The Scribe.

Part Nine >

Bullied and Bullying: Aaron K Collett’s Story, Part Two


Aaron K Collett is currently a Communication major, with an emphasis in Digital Film making. Aaron blogs at Bringing Thought to Life.

Part One

Part Two: Bullied and Bullying

Unlike many people coming out of homeschooling, I technically was not isolated – I got to go to a school with other people, I wasn’t stuck at home, and we referred to it in all ways as if it were a real school (spoiler: it kind of wasn’t). But “not technically being isolated” does not equal “had the opportunity for healthy relationships with my peers”.

For one thing, the school was K-12 with 60 students. We were almost literally a one-room schoolhouse. Now, the reasoning is student will learn to interact with people better if they have to interact with all ages. That can be true. It’s also true that it gives bullies a wider range of targets. And Christians are often not good at identifying and mitigating bullying, especially since the idea of God put forth by ACE is the biggest bully of all.

I was bullied pretty much from the time I started at RMCS in 1998 until the time I left in 2004.

It wasn’t the same person the whole time; sometimes it was older students, sometimes it was the teachers. In at least one occasion, to my eternal shame, I was the bully. It wasn’t any one thing – bullies are adaptable like that. But often it was because of my success academically, as far as the other students were concerned.

People lash out when they feel threatened. Because I hadn’t been in the program since elementary school, I was seen as an outsider. Since I worked so well in a self-paced program, I was an outsider that was threatening the status quo – I was better than them at “their” thing.

The teachers did not help, however. In fact, the teachers were a big part of the problem. Once, I reached the end of my patience, and went to the principal to report one particular person who had been terrorizing me particularly badly one week. Her response was to give me a chapter from the Bible to read and take care of it myself***.

Unfortunately, as is all too common, the abused becomes the abuser. Steeped in a culture which portrayed God as a merciless bully and being bullied every day myself, I projected. I became a bully myself. Not all the time, but once is enough. I shamed someone because of their height. The thing people have perhaps the least control over. I found out later she went home sobbing every day. I don’t know if she ever forgave me; I probably never will. But even if she did, I still did that harm. That won’t ever go away.

The curriculum, combined with the culture of abuse and bullying, created an awful high school experience for me.

I begged to go to a public school, or even home-school. I got to be home-schooled for one year, which was spectacular. I still had the curriculum issues (which I wasn’t aware of at the time), but the bullying had stopped. I didn’t have to worry who was going to terrorize me when I got to school in the morning.

I could just get up, have breakfast, and learn on my own, which was all I really wanted to do anyway.

End of series.

*** The passage in question was Matthew 18. Here’s the relevant bit:

 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.  But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’[b] And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”

Those are instructions for adults. Who mostly have the same power level as each other. This particular student had at least two years, 100 lbs, and 12 inches on me. When you tell children to deal with their “problems” that way, you are setting them up to be bullied even more. It was almost criminally irresponsible for the principal of the freaking school to give those instructions to a child being bullied. And that’s even without the implied shaming for “tattling” on another student, or the implied shaming of failing to “turn the other cheek”.

I Was Once Considered A Success Story In The ACE World: Aaron K Collett’s Story, Part One

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Aaron K Collett is currently a Communication major, with an emphasis in Digital Film making. Aaron blogs at Bringing Thought to Life.

Part One: I Was Once Considered A Success Story In The ACE World

My homeschooling story is a bit different than a lot of people’s.

I wasn’t beaten, I wasn’t isolated (technically), in fact, I was only technically home-schooled for one school year. But oh, how I wished I were homeschooled while I was actually in school.

From the fifth grade through high school, excepting my freshman year in home-school, I attended Rocky Mountain Christian School. RMCS was a “private Christian school” – in all respects, though, it was really just a church-school. We used a fairly well-known home-school curriculum (Accelerated Christian Education), so it really was like being homeschooled at a different building.

Well, almost.

Before I came out as an godless apostate heathen atheist, I was considered a success story in the ACE world.

ACE is a self-paced program, which means students sit at a desk and do their work independently, only getting help when and if they need it. While I don’t have a problem with that idea necessarily, it has the same problem lecture-style teaching does: it pigeonholes students into one way of learning. It worked fantastically for me; I “graduated” a year early. Other students were not able to self-learn like I can, and suffered under the non-guided learning style. But the self-paced style was not the largest problem with the curriculum.

I “graduated” in 2004. “Graduated” because while I have a diploma, I learned very little actual things from ACE. As I’ve said before, I was fantastically lucky. My mother had a background in education, and she really was my teacher. She taught me how to write, she taught me how to read, and she taught me how to math and science. And when I got to college, I could do those things fairly well.

Unfortunately, other subjects were…less well-taught.

ACE history books start with Genesis. So do their science books. We learned that evil scientists who hated God were hiding the evidence for a six-day creation 7000 years ago. Ken Ham and Kent Hovind were our heroes. They were standing up to the evil scientist conspiracy.

History was a joke. We were spoon-fed the stories of Genesis as if they were fact. As if Mid-Eastern origin myths were at the same level as modern professional historians and archaeologists. We learned….well, nothing, actually. Pretty much all of my history and all of my science education has happened in college. I can fake it – I’ve taken it upon myself to learn on my own – but I didn’t get the opportunity until I was in my 20s.

But the lackluster schooling was not the worst part of Rocky Mountain Christian School.

To be continued.