A mothers viewpoint from someone who has had a loved one involved in extremism
* Photo is not of the article author, but an actor to protect their identity.
When I meet people within my professional environment for the first time, they are surprised at my openness when talking about our experience.
I also often get told that I am very brave to be so candid and honest.
Let me tell you now that it has taken me years to get to this point.
It took me years to process a very traumatic experience which almost destroyed both of our lives. It took years to learn more about the organisations and how they operate so I could finally come to the realisation that I was not to blame for his involvement.
I had to process the pain I felt, and I had to accept that not only was there a huge problem out there but if I just closed the door and forgot all about what happened to us and never spoke of it again, then I was a part of the that problem, and that I would of being doing my son, our trauma and society a huge disservice.
That problem Is silence and judgement.
During Johns involvement I felt silenced. It was such a taboo subject I had no idea who I could trust enough to speak to without judgement.
I felt like I would be blamed for my sons’ thoughts and opinions.
People’s reactions alone to some of the opinions that John made publicly just reiterated that thought process.
I was often told I needed to sort him out. I was asked very judgmentally why I was allowing him to say or post certain things.
On the odd occasion I did speak out and say, “I don’t allow it, but he is 16/17 and I have no idea what to do about it”. The replies were often very unhelpful with the top two being. “Well, my kids don’t say things like that” and “if he was mine, I would give him a stern talking too” (like I had not tried that a million times). I was even told he needs a slap on more than one occasion!
Many of the families that I have supported during my time at Exit Hate have all experienced similar attitudes and judgement during their own experience.
The first time that they have been able to speak to someone openly and without that fear is during their calls to me.
That hurts my heart.
These parents have found themselves in a world that they know little about.
It’s a world that is full of hatred and pain, a world that seeks out all your vulnerabilities and fears and will use them against you and its not only the individual involved that this affects.
As parents our vulnerability is our children, our love for our children and doing the best for our kids because we want them to reach their potential.
Our fear as parents is getting it wrong.
So ultimately when our loved ones become entangled within these organisations, we blame ourselves.
Every parent I have spoken too begins those calls by questioning their parenting and I understand this because I did it too.
I begin every call with explaining to parents exactly how these organisations operate.
How they befriend and then indoctrinate our children by using their own vulnerabilities/passions/interests.
How they then manipulate what is a kind and happy individual and slowly turn them into a hate filled stranger that you barely recognise.
I explain go the parents that these groups initially will encourage that child to remain secretive until they are certain that the child is deeply enough involved that they will rebel and refute any concerns that parents might have.
All the while during this part of the process the organisations that the child as aligned themselves with will then start causing a divide with the child and anyone that could possibly talk sense into the child and refute the misinformation, they are being fed.
I explain to parents that this is the reason that they may not have noticed anything untoward. That this is not the reason that the child that they know, and love is no longer recognisable. It is not their parenting that is at question.
I had to learn myself how these organisations operate in order to accept that I was not the one at fault and ease that heavy burden of blame.
The trauma and damage done by my son’s involvement; those scars took longer to heal.
The damage done to our relationship took months to repair. We took one day at a time.
We slowly started spending more time together, we avoided anything that could cause conflict, or a difference of opinion and we tried to make activities fun and engaging.
It took time to build up trust again and every time he was on-line or if he went out, I had to learn how to ask him what he was doing or where he was going in a way in which he didn’t feel questioned or judged or that I was constantly checking up on him, and he had to accept that I had concerns and how to offer reassurance without getting angry at me.
We had to learn how to communicate affectively again, and I will admit it was trial and error and we did have hiccups along the way but eventually we found a way that worked for us.
John also had the additional pressure of showing everyone else that he had changed. He suffered judgment far more than I did and for a long time after.
That took a long time, and I knew that at times it hurt him.
However, I was always his biggest ally. I explained why people may have felt pessimistic but also offered support and encouragement during those tough times. Having both perspectives really helped John understand why people felt like that.
Looking back, I have no idea how we got through it.
I will say I couldn’t be prouder of my son today. He made a huge mistake, but he owned it.
Now he works for Exit Hate UK using his own experience to educate people on the dangers of extremism and so do I because we know the only way to destroy hate, is through Education, Compassion and Understanding.
This journey that my son has taken me on is a positive one, it’s one of hope and inspiration.
The far-right took my son and my voice for a long time.
Now I have both back and I intend to use both wisely and taking a leaf out of my sons book I will use my voice just like he does. To educate and to offer support and compassion to all parents going through this horrendous experience themselves.
It has taken a lot of pain and a lot of healing but today I am the face and the voice of reality, and I am here to tell my story and I will keep telling my story with the hope that it will help others.
If my experience is familiar to yourself or someone you know.
Please do not stay silent. At Exit Hate you have a voice.
Here you will find trained staff waiting to offer you the non-judgmental support that you deserve.
Please contact us in confidence today.
You can phone us on 0800 999 1945
Or you can email us at email@example.com
Or for more information please visit our website www.exitfamilysupport.org
Sarah - Exit Support Worker.