The “WCG attitude” of having to appear happy and content has had a big influence on my life. I remember Saturday mornings were so disorganized. Getting ready for services was always a huge argument of getting everyone ready. We all needed baths and hair washes because we weren’t made to wash our hair the night before and lay out clothes. Usually on Saturday mornings there was a last minute rush to iron clothes or find the right outfit to put on. Sometimes I wouldn’t have a certain article of clothing, so I would have to run up to the store to buy it for myself. I spent many Saturday mornings doing the youth Bible correspondence courses because I hated them so much that I had to have a screaming argument to do them. My mom had restroom duty for a long time at WCG and had to be there early. She would also listen to tapes all morning before we left. Usually Dad was working a late shift Friday night and we weren’t certain if we’d even be able to take the car. If he wanted the car in the morning he would come home just in time to take us to services late and then he’d pick us up late.
It was incredibly nerve-wracking at our house all day long just to go sit for two hours at services. By the time we got there, everyone was always in a foul mood and you wished with all your heart that it was over. I hated Saturdays. But, always, you were told in the car to “be good,” “smile,” and “behave or else.” I learned to slide that smile mask right on to my face as I walked inside and shook hands with the greeters. For years I barely spoke to anyone because I didn’t know them and I didn’t want any part of it all.
The masks extended to home because you always had to not be a troublemaker because that would single you out for getting into trouble. Also, mom looked at me as a friend or little helper. I couldn’t be emotional or have desires or needs for love or attention because those things were not accepted. If you were hurt you had to learn how to go off by yourself and get yourself together. I learned to shut off my feelings at such an early age because they hurt terribly and I felt wrong for having them. It is still very hard for me to have to cry alone because I always feel like it’s not okay to be hurt, that whatever hurts is my fault. I don’t know how to have emotions without feeling so terribly ashamed that I’ve lost control and so very guilty about whatever happened. I always feel like everybody else must be right, that I am always wrong.
I had a mask at school too because I had to separate myself from the shame of believing weird beliefs and from being poor. And from being the sister of a brother who always messed up so badly and who made it harder for me to come up behind him in grades and have to totally undo the perceptions his old teachers had of my family. I had to cover the embarrassment and anger and pain of being singled out during the holidays and also for not being allowed to do things on Friday nights and Saturdays. I had to pretend that it was because I didn’t want to do those things. I really did want to participate in those things that other kids did, and it was hard not to be able to. I learned to lie about things because that was easier than explaining them to people who wouldn’t understand.
I have a “telephone” voice that I use when talking to people. I have a “good friend” attitude when talking with other friends. I’m very conscience of other people’s perceptions of how I conduct my life. I have compartmentalized every little aspect or emotion in my personality so that I can pull them out when I need them. Like a set of encyclopedias. Pull out just the book you need. That’s why it’s so hard to figure out who I really am. Because all my masks feel fake. They were just fronts to cover emotions that I couldn’t express. I just never knew that it was really okay to say things hurt.
When I started acting up at WCG and dropping the happy face, that’s when it turned bad for me there. That’s when I started getting little corrections and reprimands and all that. Once I became unmanageable according to them, that’s when I became a target and a scapegoat. That’s when I started getting blamed for influencing other kids when I hadn’t even done anything half the time.
I don’t want to have Worldwide Church of God inside me anymore because it still just tears me up inside and it still makes me always question myself. I wish I could just delete the program or something, wipe my whole mind clean and just see what’s left and work with that. You know, three years ago, when I started going to a new Christian church, I actually asked what the rules were. I asked what we believed as members of that church. And, I thought I could get kicked out for not attending services or putting money in the offering basket. I didn’t even know it was allowed to ask questions. And I was shocked and amazed that the people called our pastor by his first name and the women were allowed to wear slacks. Nobody was telling us what to do and what to wear and how to behave. I felt really lost and confused. I thought you had to hide your real life and just smile for fear it would be thought that you weren’t measuring up.
By Hallie – Child survivor of WCG
“Give the shame back to the shameless caretakers–those who put on us, who controlled our thoughts and actions. They expected us to be perfect, to act without complaint, no matter what. Their demands were used to carry out the rules of the poisonous system. They used these methods to defend themselves from their own shame.” ~Anonymous