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Religious Abuse and the “Duggar Effect”

Today I’m going to tell you about something I call the Duggar Effect. It’s about two groups of people caught in the same cult and how each group reacts. Anybody who has ever been in a cult or a cult-like denomination, church or family will surely relate.

This article just happens to be named after the Duggar family of the Quiverful “movement,” mostly because we all know them from their show 19 Kids and Counting. But it could be about anyone in any cult.

It seems to me, that in any cult there are two groups of people. The first group, Group #1, are like the Duggars: perfectly-perfect. They’re just so, so happy all the time. They love the leaders, the doctrine, the clothes, the rules. Their marriage is perfect as you can see from their big smiles (teeth only; the smile never reaches their eyes) and whispery voices. Their children sport toothy grins, ask Jesus into their hearts right on schedule, meet Mr. or Miss Right immediately after High School and live happily ever after. No one is ever angry. For Pete’s sake, the kids don’t even have acne! Perfectly-perfect.

Group #2 is pissed off as Hell. They’re mad! They’ve had it “up to here” and they’re determined to blow the roof off the cult and expose all its ugliness, secrets, abuse, scandals, sexual abuse and hypocrisy to the world.

They’re depressed, struggling, attending therapy, many have attempted suicide. And they’ve got acne. Absolutely nothing is perfectly-perfect about them and they just can’t understand Group #1.

Same cult. Same leader. Same rules. So what went so terribly wrong with Group #2? I want to know because I’m in Group #2.

There are those who went through the same “Christian” school I did and appear to have turned out perfectly-perfect. Just like me, they asked Jesus into their heart when they were three years old, right on schedule, but for them they claim a rock-solid Eternal Assurance I would never dare to claim.

They married young. Got the right degree from the right elite private college. Joined or married into the ministry (the only career path ever presented to us as acceptable). Had exactly 2.63946 children who play piano, get perfect grades and don’t have acne. They’re Group #1.

Then there’s the rest of us: Group #2. In my previous article, I referred to us as “trainwrecks” and a “hot mess” and no one seemed to object (except those in Group #1 who resented being lumped in too.)

Personally, I’m just a little jealous of Group #1 people. This is what I call The Duggar Effect. Their story was supposed to be mine. Over and over I ask myself what I did so wrong. I tried. I tried so hard to do everything right so I’d have a Duggaresque happy-happy-perfect-perfect life but everything went terribly wrong. I didn’t end up in Group #1.

No, I’m solidly in Group #2. Hurting, wounded, angry, disillusioned, disgusted and pissed off as Hell. I never had acne; I had dermatillomania.

So what went so right for them and so wrong for me?

Am I even asking the right question?

What bugs me most is…Group #1 doesn’t seem to have the fire in their belly to whistleblow on our cult/school. Maybe they don’t know what happened there. Maybe they don’t want to know. I didn’t know til twenty years later and what I found out made me so blistering mad I had to speak out. A lot of my fellow alumni responded with “At last!”

So here’s my question for Group #1: “You too were raised in a school that swept grooming, physical abuse, adultery, sexual abuse and God-knows-what-else under the carpet and you’re ‘fine’? Who straightened you out? Or don’t you need it? Doesn’t it screw you up inside that you sat through Chapel after Chapel where hypocrites shamed and guilted us from the pulpit. Maybe you weren’t listening. I was…and I loathe how I allowed those people to make me feel badly about myself.”

Y’know what I’d like to see in Group #1? Outrage! I’d like to see them reaching out to help the victims of grooming, of sexual abuse, of physical abuse, of racism. Me? I slipped under the radar and my anger is mostly idealistic. Nothing particular was done to me; I’m angry on behalf of those who had things done to them. But no more shame. For the Love of Mercy, no more shame! That’s why the victims stayed silent about the abuse until the Statue of Limitations came and went.

Or are you, Group #1, so far in denial that you’re too scared to face the truth? Would it bring your house of cards tumbling down ’round your ears? Don’t you have the courage to face the truth as Group #2 has courageously done? Sure it hurts.

Perhaps Group #1 is putting the guilty parties into compartments. What was done was not done in a vacuum. So we shouldn’t deal with it in a vacuum. All the adults kept mum so all are implicated in the coverup. Not one of them had the balls to do the right thing. And the guilty parties’ repentance and remorse, if there even is any, shouldn’t be in a vacuum either. That is why I have contacted our old school requesting a formal, public apology. It’s the least they can do.

Perhaps we should take a leaf from our Catholic brothers and sisters. They’ve been blowing the lid off abuse for years and I admire them tremendously. Somehow Protestant victims haven’t caught up to their papist friends in blowing the whistle loud and clear. Waz up with that? Just this past February, the Houston Chronicle wrote about hundreds of covered-up cases of abuse down South. What about up here?

If you’re thinking you’re somehow protecting the “cause of Christ” by staying silent, you’re not! You’re only protecting the “Pharisees.” People respect Christians who are honest. They loath the ones that cover-up scandal.

Well, that’s all I’ve got to say about it. I’m just waiting for that public apology. We’ll see if those who preached humility, can practice it as well.

Religious Abuse and the “Duggar Effect”

Lenora Thompson

For five years, "Narcissism Meets Normalcy" has followed the real-life, ongoing story of freelance writer, Lenora Thompson, and her readers’ healing journey from narcissistic abuse to healing, peace and happiness. In August 2020, Lenora launched a new blog, "Beyond Narcissism…And Getting Happier All the Time" as she and her readers explore the new world of peace and happiness. "Beyond Narcs…Get Happy" is 100% reader supported! To learn more about Lenora, her husband Michael’s heroic fight against Pulmonary Alveolar Proteinosis and to subscribe to her other writings, please visit Thank you!

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APA Reference
Thompson, L. (2019). Religious Abuse and the “Duggar Effect”. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 May 2019
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