Seeing and Breaking the Chains:
Steps for Recognizing On-Going Abuse and How to Break FREE
Note: This piece is based on a presentation by Arauna Morgan, MA, which was given at the May 2013 Survivorship Conference in Oakland, California.
I am a survivor of extreme abuse and I am dedicated to helping others survive, escape and recover from abusive and controlling circumstances. I grew up in a middle class family, worked, went to school, but was always depressed; at one point I realized that I also had PTSD symptoms, but no reason for the symptoms that I could recall. As I worked on myself, got less depressed and more functional, I started to remember my past and all the parts that I wanted to forget; it was no wonder that the memories were buried so deeply. I realized that I was still a part of a generational group of people who used torture techniques to control the members of the group for personal gains. I struggled with the help of therapists and a specialist to gain the personal efficacy, the outrage and the courage to break free.
It has taken a long time to process everything that happened, but I know it can be done and I want to help others to become free and healthy. I am a member of International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD), and Survivorship, where I have been able to interact with other therapists in this little known and often shunned world. I have my MA in Psychology and have completed my internship and am in the process of becoming an LMFT.
I have worked with all types of clients, from relatively minor problems to severe trauma, DID, and RA (ritually abused) clients. I consult to other therapists about RA/MC because of my own personal extensive experience not only of the RA/MC itself, but more importantly that I was able to get away and recover.
It is my sincere desire to help people recover and stay free from groups or persons who have only their own greed in mind and will do anything to anyone else to get what they want.
Love, Light and Laughter,
I. Seeing the Chains
When is a survivor ready to look into the present and know about things still going on?
Ongoing abuse is harder to look at than what happened in the past.
Survivors may need to lock doors and windows, screen all telephone calls as they come in, stay away from unsafe places (like bars), high-risk people (like drug/alcohol using friends), and have a safety representative.
A safety representative is a trusted person who is usually present, but especially present at night.
Ongoing abuse perpetrators want survivors to leave their doors and windows open and to answer the phone as it rings. It is important to screen all telephone calls as they come in, let them go to the answering machine/service, and only call back to safe, legitimate callers. Perpetrators don’t like to leave messages.
Survivors may experience discomfort/distress as they defy the abuser group’s ability to access them at any time and as they defy the abuser group’s ability to give them orders at any time of the day or night. This is a normal reaction to doing things differently and will generally or usually pass, over time.
This is where persistence and determination come into play. Persistence and determination are the only ways to get through, to break free. This step is very important and may take longer than expected to complete consistently, but, if the survivor keeps at it, eventually it will be second nature.
Ability to Ground, Self-Soothe, and Calm
Survivors need to learn ways to ground, self-soothe, and calm (more on this below). Practicing these skills in therapy sessions builds the ability to use them when alone.
It takes time to remember to use these skills and to employ them when they are needed. It is important that survivors remain gentle with themselves as they increase their ability to remember to use these skills and to employ them as needed. Practicing these skills before they are needed will help so they are easier to use when under stress.
It is beneficial for survivors to have safe people around them to remind them to use these tools when the survivor is anxious or under stress.
External Resources: Friends, Groups, Activities
Healthy relationships and friendships build beneficial support networks. Any progress in developing relationships with people who are clean, sober, who refrain from derogatory language and jokes, who are supportive to the survivor, will facilitate the survivor to realize that there is a better kind of person out there who will model for the survivor how healthy people act.
Survivors can have good relationships with people who know nothing about the abuse that has been suffered. However, some of these people may not be able to tolerate the knowledge of what the survivor has suffered. So the survivor may need to tread gently when exploring the limits of a new friend’s tolerance to disclosures about abuse. Learning when to stop talking about abuse history to friends is also a useful life-skill.??It is important to get involved in group activities based on interests, such as hiking, arts and crafts, bird-watching, etc. This is a way to meet other people with similar interests. Survivors may find that it is best to take it slow and meet in a neutral setting, not his/her house, not the new friend’s house, until they get to know that person.
Survivors often have been conditioned from early childhood to form instant attachments to people from the abuser group or the kind of people who would be welcome to the abuser group, and to only associate with such people. For this reason it is usually best to take time to get to know a new potential friend. Since this would be new behavior for the survivor, the survivor may need reminding to slow down and take time to get to know people before inviting them into the home.
Internal Resources: Communication and Alliance between Parts (Self-states)
It is important to develop communication with all parts of the self.
An important aspect of listening to the self-states is slowing down and taking the time to ask, then to wait for some kind of an answer. An answer may not come in words, but may come in feelings or pictures. It helps to take the time to figure out what is being communicated and to ask for clarification and/or confirmation of the interpretation of the communication.
Many people answer their own questions with answers such as, “I don’t know,” “I don’t get any answer,” “I get nothing.” Such responses are generally given by the self-state who asked the question, and so does not know the answer. It is helpful to allow shy, child parts take the time and space to answer, rather than just answering with the aforementioned phrases. The answer may take a few days, but it generally helps to keep listening until an answer comes forward.??It is important to become mindful of emotions, for survivors to ask themselves, “How do I feel about this?” or more generally, “How do I feel?” ??If there are feelings of discomfort, it is important to notice what is causing the discomfort. It is helpful to ask within, “Is there any part of me that knows what is bothering me?”
It helps survivors to get into the habit of consciously scanning the environment for possible triggers. With practice, this takes less than a second and significantly reduces hypervigilence. It helps to notice stimuli that may be anxiety-provoking, to then focus on that stimulus, and for survivors to ask themselves, “What is it about that thing that bothers me?”
E.g., a survivor may notice that a tree or picture of a tree is the basis of the discomfort. She/ he can then ask, “What is it about that tree that bothers me?” Maybe she/he remembers, “Oh, I was tied to a tree like that…” Then she/he evaluates for current danger, “Is there anything threatening about this tree now? Is there a rope here? Can this tree hurt me in anyway, right now?” etc.
As the conscious brain starts to take over the job of evaluating safety for the amygdala (where fear conditioning is stored), the survivor will be more able to evaluate his/her environment for safety in a conscious, purposeful manner, which causes the post traumatic triggering to lessen and eventually disappear. What this means for a survivor is that by consciously scanning, the survivor can prevent some uncontrolled switching that would normally happen by being triggered by unconscious material. Once unconscious material has been brought to consciousness, it can be dealt with consciously.
But this can only work if the survivor makes a habit of taking a second to quickly scan his/her environment for safety and TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT UNSAFE PEOPLE, PLACES and THINGS!
What does that mean?
If a survivor scans a place and gets an uneasy feeling about a person or place, it is important that the survivor heed her/his feelings and avoid that person/place until the survivor gets internal clarification about why that specific person/place is troubling. Doing this promotes internal communication, external safety, stabilization and the process of memory recovery.
It also helps survivors to keep a mood log of the circumstances of any distress; where it occurred, what the survivor was thinking, was feeling, was experiencing in the body, and what the survivor was doing right before the distress began. Attending to feelings helps survivors begin to realistically evaluate the amount of danger actually present in the current environment, rather than responding primarily to internal hyperarousal. (see: Luxenberg, T., Spinazzola, J., Hidalgo, J., Hunt, C., &. van der Kolk, B. (2001), Complex trauma and Disorders of Extreme Stress (DESNOS) Diagnosis, part two: Treatment. Directions in Psychiatry (21), Downloaded on 6-17-2013: http://www.traumacenter.org/products/pdf_files/DESNOS.pdf
Internal Safe Places
It is important for survivors to develop internal safe places. These are as limitless as the survivor’s imagination and can be as psychologically real and useful as external safe places.
These internal safe places include visible borders and boundaries. These internal safe places can expand, contract or contain any resources that parts of the survivor might need, just by thinking them there.
So, there can be internal therapists, rooms to receive medical care with nurses and/or doctors, massage therapists, reading rooms, play areas, spas, etc.
It is important that survivors keep their safe places very personal and private and that the contents and boundaries of the safe place not be told to anyone. I tell survivors to keep these places personal and to not tell anyone about them, even their therapist. Any external comments about one’s safe place, even if intended to be helpful, can result in the safe place becoming modified. If that does happen, survivors can simply create a new safe place and then keep that one private.
Survivors have the right to change their internal safe places anytime they want. When the survivor creates her/his safe place, one of the defining characteristics should be that the only things that can be in the safe place are the things the survivor wants to be there. If she/he decides that something needs to leave, the survivor can tell it to leave and it leaves. If something needs to be changed, the survivor can simply change it. A safe place is created with the premise that it can only be the way the survivor wants it to be.
Ability to Ground Oneself in the Present and in One’s Body
Anything that grounds a person electrically grounds and calms a person psychologically. E.g., rubbing one’s bare feet on the carpet is very psychologically and electrically grounding. In contrast, walking on a carpet wearing shoes or socks increases static electricity and reduces the sense of being psychologically grounded, which increases anxiety. When one removes one’s shoes and socks and rubs one’s feet on the carpet, electrons are released and the body and mind relax.
Or the survivor can wear “grounding shoes”, also known as “earthing shoes” to get a similar benefit. Water is also grounding. A cool shower is both grounding and calming. Metal poles planted in the ground can also ground, such as touching a metal flagpole. Somatic grounding is also helpful, such as rubbing hands on thighs or stomping the feet.
Grounding Oneself in One’s Environment and Scanning
Scanning one’s environment, noticing everything, is one important way to ground oneself in the here and now.
The following is a process for survivors to regulate feelings of fear in one’s environment:
- Say aloud the current time and date, your name, and your age.
- Look at each item in the room/environment and name it.
- Evaluate each item for safety or potential threat.
- Once an item is felt to be safe, move on to evaluating the next item.
- If an item feels threatening or unsafe, do something about it to make it safe. Either disable what feels dangerous about it or simply remove it from the environment, e.g., put it out of the room.
- Continue the process of threat evaluation until the whole room/environment has been determined to be safe.
- If even a piece of paper feels troubling, it is important to ask yourself, “What bothers me about it?” Then really look at it to evaluate any possible danger. Don’t dismiss your fears. Seriously check it out fully to calm your fear response and amygdala. Find out what aspect of the paper is frightening and look at the paper to see if it indeed does have the frightening aspect(s) and if it does, really look at it to see if it is a current threat, with this new information from inside.
Once an item has been adequately evaluated with one’s critical-thinking mind and dealt with appropriately, when one realizes one is safe, there may be a sense that the amygdala is retracting its “antenna.”
By the term “amygdala antenna,” I refer to the feeling of a column of anxiety that extends from the lower abdomen, up through the center of the body and up through the top of the head. When the “antenna” retracts, it feels like this column retracts down through the head, through the body and disappears when it gets to the lower abdomen. I have felt this and many clients have felt this, so it seems to be relatively common.
So for instance, if a toy bear continues to make you feel unsafe, do something about it. Take it out of the room. Other parts of the self may feel afraid of it. Is it all toy bears or only this one? Why? If survivors ignore the fear experienced by their other self-states they will feel anxious all the time. But when survivors pay attention to these fears, try to find out why, and do something about it, their parts realize they have come on board to help them be, and hence feel safe.
Taking the Time One Needs in Decision-Making
It is important that survivors not allow other people to pressure them.
It is a good practice for survivors to always ask for time to consider anything being requested of them. This removes any internal pressure to have to ask oneself on the spot, “Do I have to ask for some time to think about this?” If the survivor has decided beforehand that the answer to this question will always be, “Yes!” then the response becomes automatic and there will always be time to consider the request.
If the request is big, it is important that survivors ask for a reasonable amount of time, such as sleeping on it or taking a couple of days. Internal parts, self-states, who feel under so much pressure so much of the time appreciate this reduction in external pressure.
When asked to make decisions it is also good practice for survivors to consult with others who are knowledgeable about the subject under consideration.
This includes requests from internal people.
It is important that survivors ask internal people, “Is this something you want to do?” Or, “Is there any part that has a problem with this and if so, what is it?” It is also important to allow internal parts some time to come up, to come forward, to respond.
E.g., a survivor may tell her or his internal parts, “I am going to give my answer tomorrow and that answer is going to be (state whatever you think you are going to do). If there is any part that has a problem with that, I need to know by (give day and time) and I need to know why.” By morning, there should be a sense one way or the other about whether to go forward, and a reason for not going forward, if there is one.
Dealing with Conflict
It is particularly important that survivors not allow other people to pressure them in conflict situations. It is good practice to always take breaks when conflicts become uncomfortable.
E.g., it helps to say, “I need to take a walk to think for a few minutes.” It is also OK to say that one needs a longer time than originally anticipated, as long as one makes arrangements (date and time) to discuss this again with the person with whom the survivor is in conflict.
This is tolerable to other people as long as they do not feel that they are being abandoned or dismissed and know when the conversation will resume.
It can also help to say, “I think I need to consult with someone else to think about this issue.”?Another helpful strategy is to suggest the help of a mediator or negotiator in working out the conflict.
If conflict were rated to range in intensity from 0 to 10, with 0 being no conflict and 10 being the worst conflict the survivor has experienced, non-survivors might still be able to have healthy communication up to level 4. For survivors, the number is often lower, as survivors are often very sensitive to any perceived threat. No good can come of a discussion or argument when either party feels cornered and frightened. Taking breaks is very effective in de-escalating both the intensity of the conflict and any feelings of being threatened.
All of these strategies reduce one’s anxiety and help internal parts feel protected.
Use of Beauty to Calm
When anxiety begins, it helps to take a moment to breathe, to look for something that feels beautiful, and to focus on it. It can be just a small detail that looks beautiful, like the wood grain of a piece of furniture or picture frame. It helps to say aloud, “I like the grain of that wood.”
Survivors are taught to look for flaws and signs of rejection, so for the internal health of the survivor, the power of looking for beauty cannot be underestimated.
Signs of Current Abuse
The above strategies stabilize and increase self-awareness. With these in place, the survivor must consider the possibility that ongoing abuse may be happening currently, by the abuser group.
In some cases, survivors may have internal abuser-loyal parts who abuse other internal parts, occasionally resulting in noticeable harm to the body.
I have found it helpful to first assume that it is both internal abuser parts as well as external abusers so that the survivor can seek and develop both internal and external safety.
The following are signs of possible ongoing abuse: Severe destabilization, acute anxiety or fear, posttraumatic psychotic states, feeling used up, exhausted and/or dysfunctionalality. Although the survivor may have no memory of any ongoing abuse, the survivor can learn to recognize severe destabilization and realize that something may have happened to cause this.
- A burning desire to return to alcohol or drug use or abuse; an addicted survivor is never far from her/his supplier. This is a very powerful way for the abuser group to keep control of members. Survivors who are addicts need to realize that until they gain control over their addictions, they will ever be at the beck and call of their abusers, even if they leave the area of current abuser group activity. Survivors should do what they can to get clean and sober.
- Sudden new phobias especially fear of death of oneself or one’s loved ones. Sudden fear of one’s therapist or helpful people. It is important that the survivor ask her/him-self, “Why do I feel fear of my therapist?” There may have been programming to distrust these people.
- It is also important that survivors consider that they may have a “tattle-tale” (reporter) self-state who “rats” on (tells on) what happens in therapy. Survivors of psychologically-sophisticated abuse commonly describe their abusers developing reporter self-states for long-term control of their victims. Such reporter parts will generally view the abuse perpetrators as benign, because the reporters are not, in most cases, present when the body is tortured. Reporter self-states are conditioned to report back to the abusers about everything. These reporters, generally, will not quit reporting back to the abuser group until the pain-holder-self-states share with the reporters their experience of being tortured as a result of going to abuser group meetings and rituals. Otherwise, reporter self-states will tend to believe the conditioned illusion that the abuser group people are friends and nice people.
- Sudden feelings of “being all better” and wanting to stop therapy. This may be programming designed to make a survivor quit therapy or it may the survivor’s own fear of finding out what is really happening in the survivor’s life.
- Sudden illness. There can be several reasons for sudden illness:
- An especially bad recent torture session,
- Somatic memories of torture brought up in session,
- Internal self-state punishment for talking
- Sudden fear of locking or closing windows or doors, or any taking any other self-protective actions. If a survivor has a sudden fear of such things, it is important to evaluate this. Fear of a particular individual may be based in that person being dangerous and someone who needs to be avoided or that individual may simply resemble someone dangerous. Any time a fear suddenly manifests, it is important that survivors internally ask and communicate about what is happening, with more than one part. Communicating with more than one part lessens the chance that a single part can be misled and influence the entire system. It may take a while to get to the bottom of a fear, but the exercise in internal communication is worth any time it takes.
- Any of the above symptoms occurring on particular dates, times of year, moon phases, etc. It is helpful to mark episodes of destabilization on a calendar to begin to notice patterns. It may take longer than a year for patterns to emerge. If a particular date appears to be associated with risk of new abuse, it is important to use one’s grounding and safety skills to work to stay present and safe.
- Episodes of destabilization that occur at significant ages/life stages of survivors or their children.
- E.g., if a horrible form of abuse occurred on a survivor’s sixth birthday, and the survivor’s child is approaching six years old, or just turned six years old, and anxiety or terror are elevated in the survivor, this may signify risk for the survivor and perhaps the survivor’s child.
- The same type of risk/triggering can happen when the survivor reaches the age that the survivor’s parent or caregiver was when the survivor experienced an abusive event as a child. For instance, say a survivor was 6 years old when a particularly traumatic programming took place. At that time, the survivor’s mother was 26, father was 32 and grandmother residing with them was 59. The survivor may be triggered when her/his child turns 6, AND/OR when the survivor reaches 26 (mother’s age at the time of the abuse), AND/OR 32 (father’s age at time of the abuse), AND/OR 59 (grandmother’s age at time of the abuse).
- It can also be triggering just to become a mother/father or grandparent, because when the abuse happened, there may have been a mother/father and grandparent living in the home, even if a particular parent figure had nothing to do with the abuse. Because becoming and being a parent or a grandparent in abuser groups may be associated with certain programming and/or rituals, for the safety of the survivor and children, the survivor should diligently seek and find the source of anxiety about these from his/her internal self-states.
In evaluating all of the above, it is important that survivors work cooperatively with all of their self-states, to welcome their input on safety, and to talk to younger parts in more child-based language. This will increase the communication received from previously hidden self-states because they will begin to feel: “I trust you because you are starting to try to take care of us; you are taking our safety seriously.”
II. Breaking the Chains
In working with memories of ongoing abuse, or memories that relate to ongoing abuse, it is important for survivors to gage the amount and rate of memory work that they can tolerate.
It is also important that survivors pay attention to the details within their memories, as this helps to bring forward more dissociated or hidden self-states that experienced abuse events and who need help healing from that abuse.
These hidden parts can also share with other parts specific details which may be different from the details that other parts hold, about the same event. Remember that this is a puzzle, and each part has their own pieces and the whole picture will not be known until everyone has added their pieces. This holds for even the parts that many self-states dislike; sometimes these parts hold the most important information!
It is important for all parts to share with each other the specific details of an experience starting with, for example, going to bed at night, then someone woke me up, then we went to place X, then they asked me question Y, then I answered Z, etc. Each step in the process may be held by a different alter, and until all of the pieces are put together and compared, it will be hard to tell exactly what happened.
When I did this work, I found that when I went to an abuser group meeting, there were several different alters involved in getting to the meeting, and during the meeting several alters were called up by the abusers, making it very difficult to remember all of what actually happened.
For instance, Alter A would, as far as it knew, remember a complete, uninterrupted conversation at a ritual or programming session. In reality, the abusers had frequently called forward Alter B within the same time frame to speak additional words/phrases to her. Alter A did not notice the time lapse nor the interruption. Alters C, D, and E were also called forward to be told specific, meaningful references for control that the abusers would use in talking with Alter A to cause Alter A to be influenced by what was told to Alters C, D, and E, out of Alter A’s conscious awareness. Alter A did not have the whole picture, but thought she did, until sharing with alters B, C, D & E.
In therapy, the memory of Alter A will come up and seem to be complete. But the memories of Alters A, B, C, D and E must all be recalled, including the messages that some of these alters received to go to the meeting, and the memories of which alters traveled to the meeting and which alters returned from the meeting. Until all of these memories are related and compared, there will be little progress made in therapy.
The only way to see the lies and tricks of the abusers is for ALL of the self-states involved to relate what happened and the part that each played. Then, the survivor will discover how the abusers made contact with alters to go to a meeting, how the survivor got there, and returned with amnesia about the whole episode.
This kind of processing also reveals how the abusers made all of the seemingly magical things happen. One alter may see the abusers setting up the “stage” for another alter and another alter may see how the abusers changed the “stage” to make it look like something “appeared” or “disappeared,” as if by magic. One may believe an event was actual. Another alter may have seen that this event was projected on a screen or shown on a video or computer monitor.
Writing down memories also works to increase the details that are reviewed.
Remembering one’s dreams can facilitate memory recovery. Recalling dreams is facilitated by reviewing them first thing upon waking, before moving and fully waking up in the morning. Dreams may be literal representations of abuse sessions or they may be symbolic representations of events, but with enough material to jog a memory.
It may help to look in the mirror and notice any physical changes, e.g., bruises, cuts. It helps to also notice if it feels like there was no sleep (exhaustion). If alters have been busy all night, the whole body will often feel it.
If there are changes, it helps to ask inside:
- “Where did that (bruise/scratch/mark) come from?”
- “Did this bruise come from me or someone else?”
- “How did this happen?”
- “What did we do last night?”
Follow the Sequence of Events
For survivors to detect any ongoing abuse, to increase self-awareness, to start to remember programmed triggers, to prevent ongoing abuse, it is important to keep track of time and events and to ask internal parts to help to know the sequence of events. For example:
- “I went to bed.”
- “Then who (self-state) came out?”
- “Someone came to the door”
- “Someone let them in the door”
It is also important to examine memories of the day before.
The night is not the only time abuse happens.
If there are any blank spots, missed times, and then “Suddenly I was there,” it is important to ask inside:
- “How did I get there?”
- “Who picked me up?”
- “How did I get home?”
- “What happened to make me forget? Shock, threats, past torture sessions that they brought up?”
- “How did they call out a part?”
- “Did they use a code?”
- “Did they use a gesture?”
- “What part was there?
- “What age is that part?”
- “What part was there before that part was there?”
- “Were there any telephone calls that came in?,” “…that went out?”
- “Or did someone pull up in a car?”
All of this can only be pieced together by remembering deeply.
It is important to pick away at one incident until the whole series of events, the whole story, is put together and makes sense.
It is possible for 50 alters (self-states) to be involved in one programming session or abuse event. And each alter may only know about its own limited involvement.
Instrumental in increasing safety is the development of some means of holding an internal conference between all parts of the self. This facilitates internal conversations and open communication.
This place may be an internal conference room, an internal clearing in the woods, or any place else that has visible borders and is safe.
The survivor can hold a conference and invite any parts that know about what is going on. Parts often feel good that they have been welcomed, acknowledged, and will open up.
Parts may appear that the working part (host) never knew about before. There will likely be parts who appear who never before realized they belonged to a larger group of parts.
This is much like a working part (host) first learning about her/his Dissociative Identity Disorder(DID) or a therapist first learning about DID. So, this takes some work. Some parts may be very distressed at the idea of having multiple self-states and will be in denial; go easy with these parts.
In grappling with this issue, and with all other conversations between parts, it is important that each part respectfully listen as other parts speak, even if he/she does not always like what she/he hears.
Many important discussions can happen at these internal conferences. For example, the survivor can ask:
- “Who knows more about what happened last night?”
- “How have these meetings (abuse events) affected my life?”
- “How well are we progressing in keeping safe?” (This provides a measure of progress)
If a survivor is decompensating, she or he can ask all the parts what this might be about.
If any part is struggling, that can be addressed.
It is important that all parts share their experiences with each other, not just with the working part (host).
For example, all parts need to share with each other to break down the sequence of events:
- “What did you do?”: “I brought you here.”
- “What did you do?”: “I went off with the nice man.”
- “What did you do?”: “I had sex with him.”
This should be traced back to the beginning, to the part who received the telephone call, command, or signal to go to an abuse event.
And it should be followed through the entire abuse episode, looking at the involvement of each part (self-state), one-by-one, including all torture, programming, any ritual sex (which parts may not consider being “sex,” since it is part of the ritual, not for love or recreation), to the end, to which part went to bed and forgot what happened.
It is also important that parts (self-states) look around in the memories of the abuse sites to discover what occurred outside of their close range. Some victims have self-states that are programmed to have limited-vision and cannot see outside of a limited area (say, a 4 foot radius). This is intended to prevent them from discovering other abusers present during abuse (may be friends or family thought not to be involved) and “stages,” used to make them believe something magical happened. It is important for these parts to communicate with other parts to discover what actually happened and who was really there.
This helps make much better sense of memories than the disconnected fragments that were accessible before.
Each part should also be asked, “Why did you go to the abuser group meeting? Forced? Bribed? Coerced? For fun? For sex? For drugs? Something else?”
Such questions may help to find what the parts want and how the abuser group exploits the desires of these self-states to get them to be abuser-group-loyal.
For example, one part may respond, “I was the one who got shocked.” And then the working part (host) can suggest, “OK, can you tell this part (e.g., the one who said she went with a nice man), how you felt about that?”
The one who thought the man was nice might say, “I thought we were just going to play.” The little ones are often the ones who, unsuspecting, happily go off with abusers. The one who got shocked can explain, “No, we got hurt.” The unsuspecting little one may say: “I didn’t know.” Another part can say, “OK, you know now,” and, “We would really appreciate it if you would stop doing that,” or, “Take an adult [from inside] with you next time you want to play.”
Parts need to share with each other the consequences of what is going on.
It is important that the working part (host) explain to the other parts the function she or he serves for the whole… food, shelter, clothing, medical care, etc., and what happens to all of the parts when harm comes to the working part and to the body.
The working part may also have to explain to less substantial parts the sequence of events of the abuse and how the abuse affects the whole system and the body, and then how all parts who share the body are affected by the abuse.
It is important that parts “talk” to each other about pain. The “pain-holders” need to let the other parts know that they have taken the job of “holding” the pain so the other parts do not have to feel it, but in doing so are constantly reliving the pain and torture in a kind of internal, perpetual, hell. It is NOT OK for them to have to continue to suffer so that the other parts can continue self- abusive behavior, which is what they do in returning to the abuser group, time after time.
If any parts lack sympathy for the parts who carry the pain, it is important that this be explored and discussed with them.
Perhaps they participated in the abuse or torture of others.
Perhaps they do not yet recall how they were torture-conditioned into taking on this role.
Perhaps they fear other parts (self-states) will not have sympathy for them about this.
Perhaps they themselves have remorse and grief about having taken on this function.
These parts need to face and work through their devastating guilt and anguish.
(See this page on Ellen Lacter’s website: http://endritualabuse.org/healing/havingabused/)
Internal parts do not have to verbalize aloud to each other to share their experiences and memories.
They can share experiences internally, nonverbally, by mutual intention. They can share visuals, share auditory, share tactile feelings, share emotions, share thoughts. This relieves the need for understanding language, as this may be difficult for preverbal, nonverbal or linguistically diverse self-states.
In the conference room, each part can have her/his individual computer and headphones. Each can have controls for all aspects of the memory: turn up/down/on/off intensity of emotions, tactile sensations, volume, color, and turn off picture or sound. Each part can share her or his feelings/story without overloading any other part, because each part is in control of all aspects of the memory and can adjust the aspects of the memory to something that he/she can tolerate and process.
This is especially important for parts who have been tortured as they will be very sensitive to replaying of any torture memories.
Acknowledging that All Parts Share One Body
In survivors of extreme abuse, parts often have great difficulty acknowledging that they share one body.
This important goal of acknowledging that all parts share one body often requires much internal work, much dialogue, much effort.
Any part that believes it has its own body, separate from the rest, may believe this as much as a part who knows that they share one body. Parts who know that they share one body may have to appeal to other parts:
- “When you walk out the door, we all walk out the door”
- “I have to be there when you go and I get hurt when you go there.”
- “When you take us out and get drunk, I have a hangover the next day and can’t function at work.”
The Power of Re-Imaging
Memories of even horrendous abuse can be softened, modified, even healed, by adding reparative elements.
Even something as terrible as a programming session can be reviewed and then modified.
The following is a process for survivors to re-image traumatic memories.
Recall a whole, disturbing memory. Quickly review the memory as you remember it happened, then:
- Then send the present, adult self, back internally to that time/place when/where the memory happened and help the younger self in the memory to make things come out the way that the survivor would have liked them to happen.
- If for some reason the adult self cannot be sent back, there are many other ways to bring help and rescue:
- If the survivor cannot send herself back, then send a helpful family member or friend.
- If no family member or friend, then a family pet.
- If no pet, then a hero from history, the movies, TV or cartoons
- If none of these work, then make up a superhero from scratch that has all the powers needed to help.
- Super-powers can include the ability to fly, breathe under water, know the future, super strength, laser-vision, and X-ray vision, whatever the survivor can imagine and whatever he/she needs to intervene.
- Re-imagine the whole incident, but this time with the hero (self, super hero, etc.), so that the incident happens, but the survivor is able to intervene and change the outcome to something desirable.
- Replay the scene and change it as many times as necessary to get it to the point that the outcome feels right.
- As you heal, you may want to revisit some scenes and change them again; this is OK
Re-imaging involves going into the memory and changing the events that happened so that the problematic outcome is changed into a satisfactory outcome.
However, re-imaging does not change the memory of the past; it changes the emotional impact of the past.
When re-imagining, it is important that the survivor does not omit the uncomfortable/terrible events in the image, but does find a way for the hero to modify what happens so that everything comes out all right. To omit the undesirable events would be to again rely on reality-distorting dissociation. The most helpful goal is to deal with things consciously and avoid the abusive training that taught the survivor to pretend that uncomfortable events did not happen or to dissociate. Each event can be re-re-imagined over and over, until the survivor is satisfied with the outcome and how the whole incident was handled.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!
Re-imaging changes the toxic emotional charge of the past and strengthens the ability to see and make positive outcomes to present-day conflicts.
The more survivors use re-imaging, the greater the capacity to tolerate memory work, and the more they will be able to interact in their own lives in the present, to make it better for the entire system.
Signs of Breaking Free
As survivors break free from abuser groups, abusers tend to escalate their efforts in a number of ways.
It is helpful to know in advance that these are positive signs that survivors are breaking free. When survivors make progress in breaking free, abusers tend to have fits of anger, shaking, yelling and screaming. It is helpful to anticipate this and be safe, but let the abusive, controlling person have his/her little fit; it is analogous to children throwing a temper tantrum when they don’t get their way.
Abusers tend to make threats in notes, telephone calls, perhaps in person. Survivors need to stand their ground and screen all phone calls at this juncture; letting all calls go to the answering machine before they even listen to them.
It is helpful to report threats of harm or kidnaping to law enforcement, even if abusers who also work for law enforcement make the threats. Not everyone in the police force is abuse-connected. There are usually only a couple “dirty” cops in any police force. If the survivor knows who they are, she/he can do what he/she can to circumvent them. Any “dirty” cops are limited in the amount of sabotage they can accomplish since 911 calls go to a national registry and require follow-up from an outside agency.
It is also important to get restraining orders.
These acts let abusers and abuser groups know that their prior victims will not be intimidated. When making a report, it helps include the simple facts of the threat, all the elements that are illegal, not the details of the ritual abuse, the affected self-states, etc. The report should include all facts of illegal actions and just the facts. When questioned, just keep repeating the facts.
Some family members may volunteer to have accidents or to become ill (real or faked) to lure a victim back. It is important not to be manipulated by such tactics, but instead to ignore them or simply convey well-wishes from a distance. It is important that survivors reassure internal child parts that they are protecting them from abuse by keeping distance from abusive family members.
If a survivor feels she or he must visit an ill family member, it is important that she or he bring a protective person along and that this person be instructed to ensure that the survivor is never left alone with potentially dangerous family member(s) and that the survivor leaves with this protective person and this person only.
As a last resort, abusers may also offer bribes, cars, a place to live, a job opportunity. Financial stress and greed are hooks that abusers know how to exploit. If a survivor takes the bait, she or he will surely be hooked like a fish on the line!
To keep safe, and to stay spiritually centered, it is important for survivors not to be lured by anything illegal. It may be acceptable to accept legal offers as payments for past wrongs, but this is not recommended, as it usually comes with many “strings attached” and generally involves “making deals with the devil.” Making any kind of deal is complex and largely beyond the scope of this article.
It is also critical that survivors do not offer to return to abusers in exchange for anything. “Contracts” with people who torture and murder children and adults, will be rescinded when cooperation is not forthcoming, or the abuser group changes its collective mind, for any reason or even for no reason at all.
Oddly enough, it is my experience that abuser groups do not generally kidnap or lodge direct physical attacks against people who are breaking free. Maybe this is because they want their mind control tactics to bring their victims back. Maybe the abusers view it as a personal failure to have to coercively return a victim to them. Maybe they are hoping that a program for a future call-back date will be effective and they will again “win.” Overt acts draw too much attention and they will not be able to do too much without legal consequences.
If any coercion is used, it is important that survivors report any illegal activity to police and get any physical evidence to them right away including rape kits.
Some setbacks may need to be endured, but it may be worth the price to end the torture. This is something that each survivor will have to evaluate for her or himself.
III. Discarding the Chains: Staying Free
Often people find that trusted family and/or friends are part of the abuser groups and keep the survivor involved. In some cases, the survivor has to learn that the person she/he lives with and most depends on is her/his worst abuser. ??Survivors who have been ritually abused by family members must exercise great caution in what they share about what they have remembered of the abuse with these family members. Direct confrontations can put survivors in danger.
Generally, it is safest for survivors to be indirect about their reasons for keeping distance. In some cases, it is ill-advised to offer any excuses because this leaves room for argument. Simple excuses may suffice, such as “I’m too busy,” “It’s too long a drive,” “I have to take care of [a friend, my birds, etc.].”
Whether in the abuser group or not, drug and alcohol-involved people place survivors in danger. One of the most common ways that abuser groups maintain ongoing control of their victims is through addictions.
It is important to avoid places like bars or any place where addictive substances are being used. Predators of all sorts go to bars and addictive-substance-using-gatherings to hunt. Predators can pick dissociative people and child abuse survivors out of a crowd. They can spot them as soon as they walk in the door.
Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs increases this vulnerability to predation. Alcohol and drugs also interfere with the capacity to remain psychologically present, to process one’s surroundings, and to remain in self-protective self-states.
Family Events that Carry Risk
Traditional holidays and abuser group holidays often carry risk.
Births and birthdays of young children are in many cases times when abuser groups gather and find time to program young children to begin to groom the next generation of their group for further abuse.
Deaths and funerals are family gatherings that are often used to re-access victims, renew group ties, and to pass on and assign new duties to group members.
To Move or Not to Move
The more violent the group, the more important it might be for survivors to re-locate, especially if there are children at risk of exposure.
Moving is not a solution in itself. As in cases of other forms of domestic violence, if a survivor has not learned how to protect her/him-self, she/he is at risk of being accessed by new perpetrators or new groups in a new locale, but sometimes there is no other choice but to move. Survivors need to evaluate the threat to themselves and their children If an adult is being abused it is prudent to assume that the children are also likely being abused and to act accordingly.
Words of Encouragement
Survivors have gotten free and will continue to get free!
I and many others have done it; you can too!
Find an advocate.
If one thing does not work, try something else. Persistence pays off, but abusive controls are something that took a lifetime to establish so they will not go away overnight, in a week, a month or even a year.
There is a lot of damage that needs healing, so get started!
Every step you take toward healing is a step toward freedom.
Be healthy, happy and free!
Live, Love and Laugh!
Arauna Morgan, MA
First Posted June 26, 2013