Updated May 2, 2021, with Important Contributions by an Anonymous Survivor-Colleague. Originally published October 6, 2006.
Important note: This article includes some very disturbing content. Survivors may want to have a therapist, clergy-person, or other support person review it first and then discuss when it might be the right time to read it and whether to read it together.
Most ritual abuse survivors have “abuser” personalities or self-states who take on the appearance and demeanor of their abusers, often threatening bodily harm should “front,” “normative” self- states (those who deal with life outside of the abuse) remember the abuse, should disclosure of the abuse be threatened by any self-state, or should defiance of abusers’ directives be considered. “Front,” “normative” personalities and more dissociated traumatized child personalities tend to perceive these “abuser” parts as actual abusers within.
Many of the distressing symptoms experienced by ritual abuse victim-survivors originate in the responses of “abuser personalities.” Some of these responses are primarily fear-based and self- protective – strategies to avoid retaliative punishment by abusers for any act of defiance. However, many of the responses of “abuser personalities” have been “engineered” by the abusers – they are the result of dissociation-savvy, psychological manipulation, including torture- conditioning, rewards, hypnosis, deceptions and illusions, that is, programming, of these personalities. I will share a few common examples that I have learned from survivors and other therapists.
Survivors often discover that many of their headaches, even migraine headaches, were the result of “abuser parts” internally kicking other personalities in the head to silence them when they began to disclose their abuse. Survivors often experience somatic flashbacks of terrible torture – commonly electroshock, a sensation of spinning, nausea, genital pain, drug effects – because “abuser personalities” have been programmed to re-administer prior torture internally whenever the victim-survivor or any personality begins to defy the abusers’ directives. “Abuser personalities” are commonly programmed to flood victims emotionally with terror, shame, self- hatred, feelings of going insane, and self-doubt about their abuse memories and about having dissociated self-states. Common programmed thoughts to block conscious access to abuse memories include, “I made it all up,” “I’m lying,” and, “This didn’t happen.” “Abuser personalities” are commonly programmed to whisper, speak, or yell harsh commands and threats, the same phrases the abusers used during the abuse, to keep the victim-survivor and internal personalities controlled, such as: “Liar!,” “Stop that!,” “Shut up!,” “Go to hell!,” “You’re bad!,” “No one cares,” or “I won’t love you anymore.” “Abuse personalities” are also commonly programmed to isolate victim-survivors from sources of social support and psychotherapy and to sabotage their obtaining an education, career, or any other basis for financial stability and stable housing.
If the victim-survivor is making important strides toward freedom, programmed “abuser personalities” can also place the survivor at risk of significant self-harm or suicide. For example, “abuser personalities” may issue commands to personalities who have been trained to commit suicide once activated, such as, “The time is now.” They may also activate deep depression and hopelessness in other personalities, often associated with beliefs that, “There is no point,” “This is never going to get any better.” When self-states programmed for suicidal intent and acts are activated, “front” normative personalities feel compelled to kill themselves, even if this is not their true wish or intent. Victim-survivors also commonly have “abuser personalities” who have been programmed to kill other personalities when and if they defy their abusers. “Abuser personalities” generally do not realize that in so doing, they are injuring the one body that they share, that is, until they work through the memories of their abuse and programming. In many cases, abusers program the personality system to experience highly disturbing levels of suicidality, often along with safeguards to ensure that no serious suicide attempt is completed.
I will now discuss nine kinds of “abuser personalities,” how they form or are induced to form and then further developed, and some general principles to help victim-survivors work through the psychological trauma and programming of their “abuser personalities.”
Kinds of Personalities or Self-States That Can Appear to Be Internal Abusers
Type 1. Punitive personalities created by the child’s mind to attempt to protect other personalities from the abusers’ wrath and further torture
Most ritual abuse victim-survivors have personalities that were originally created by the child’s mind as a psychologically and physically protective measure to ensure the compliance of other personalities with the abusers so as not to incur their wrath and further torture. These “abuser parts” behave in a frightening manner, often just like the abusers, but in the internal world. They threaten other personalities with harm should they defy the abusers or consider violating the abusers’ wishes, commands, or directives, such as when they consider disclosing the abuse or refusing to attend rituals or programming sessions. The abuser parts’ control tends to continue for years even after safety has been attained. This is because so many parts of the system, including the “abuser parts,” remain “stuck in time,” until the abuse and programming are made conscious and resolved. Until that time, the memories can be thought of as being in a “repeat loop,” and the “abuser parts” and other personalities perceive themselves as still located in the original sites of their abuse. In their conscious experience of self, these “abuser parts” feel angry at parts who fail to comply. Deeper down, within their less conscious awareness, they may be in touch with an immense fear of punishment, which manifests as anger and forcefulness. At even deeper and less conscious levels of their awareness lies the knowledge of their personal histories, including that they formed to protect the personality system from further torture and punishment. Part of the work of the therapist is to help them piece this knowledge together.
Type 2. Aggressive, angry personalities created by the child’s mind when the other personalities could no longer tolerate the terror, helplessness, heartbreak, etc., of being tortured and being torture-coerced to harm others
“Abuser personalities” often form when the other personalities “break” because they can no longer tolerate the terror, helplessness, and psychological and physical pain of being tortured, and the heartbreak suffered when being torture-coerced to harm other victims. In response, they “identify with the aggressor” and assume the aggressive, power-wielding demeanor and behavior of their abusers. They can now do whatever the abusers require without terror, heartbreak, hesitation (which is always severely punished), etc., and the other personalities are spared having to perform these functions. This response also affords these “abuser parts” an outlet for the rage that so many parts of the victim unconsciously hold toward the abusers. It is too psychologically threatening and dangerous to experience rage toward the abusers while still being abused. Now, the rage finds a displaced release toward other victims. These “abuser parts” may also take executive control of the body and commit abusive acts while other personalities are amnesic, having experienced only a loss of time. Other personalities may view them as “cult-loyal” and/or as psychopaths. They are neither. They were simply subjected to more concentrated abuse than any human could bear without “breaking.” Given enough time and enough consistent attunement from a therapist or other kind of support person, they respond well to insight, understanding, and compassion.
Type 3. Abuser-compliant personalities that formed in the hope of being spared worse abuse
All victims comply rapidly in response to torture. It is simply unbearable, even to trained soldiers. Abusers offer a stop to the torture, something to drink or eat, a hug, a promised ally, promises not to harm those they love, promises of future status and less abuse within the abuser network, etc., in exchange for compliance. In children, personalities reliably form in this process. These personalities comply out of terror. They do as they are told, including following commands to harm others. They hold on to the false hope that the abusers’ promises are true, that they will be harmed less, spared, if they perform as they are told. They are watched closely for any sign of anything less than full submission in thought and action, so they adopt the beliefs and agendas of their abusers. Anything else would be dangerous. Quite possibly, some of these personalities develop into the angry, aggressive personalities described immediately above.
Goddard and Stanley (1994) explain that in response to child abuse, in general, including less than torture-level abuse, the child victim’s dependence on the abuser results in submission and perceived alignment and loyalty to the abuser. The formation of these personalities can be partially understood in the context of Stockholm Syndrome, a term coined by the criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot, who assisted the police during a robbery of a Stockholm bank in which the robbers held four employees captive for 131 hours in 1973, and referred to the syndrome in a news broadcast. Stockholm Syndrome was defined by psychiatrist Frank Ochberg in a memorandum to the FBI in the late 1970s (See Boaz & Ochberg, 2014) to aid the management of hostage situations. Here is the historical account:
“At 10:15 A.M. on Thursday, August 23rd, 1973 the “Sveriges Kreditbank” of Stockholm, Sweden was rocked by sub-machine gun fire.(1) “The party has just begun,” announced a 32 year old prison escapee named Jan-Erik Olsson. “The party,” indeed, continued for some 131 hours, or five and a half days, as Olsson held four of the bank’s employees hostage in an 11 by 47 foot vault until late in the evening of August 28th. It was reported that an affective tie was developed between one of the female hostages and one of the offenders. Following their release, the victims asked that mercy be shown to their offenders. (P. 43, Burgess, A.W., Regehr, C. & Roberts, A.R. (2010) Victimology: Theories and applications. Jones & Bartlett
Boaz, J. & Ochberg, F (2014) PTSD Questions & Answers: https://www.giftfromwithin.org/html/FAQ-Stockholm-Syndrome-and-Child-Abuse-Survivors.html
Goddard, C.R. & Stanley, J.R. (1994). Viewing the abusive parent and the abused child as captor and hostage: The application of hostage theory to the effects of child abuse.
Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 9, (2), 258-269.
As in types 1 and 2 above, the personal history of these personalities is that they were severely abused and trapped. Once they can reflect on how they were formed, that they had no choice but to comply with their abusers and to adopt their belief systems, they can re-evaluate what they believe and who they choose to be. They require a lot of internal care and support and they may be particularly reluctant to believe that they deserve it.
Type 4. Personalities that form naturalistically that are then further developed by the abusers
Types 1, 2, and 3 of “abuser personalities” form in response to the psychological needs of the torture victim. In many cases, abusers discover these personalities and then manipulate them and exploit them for their own purposes. For example, dissociation-savvy abusers often readily observe the formation of a rage-filled personality and then develop it further to serve their own purposes, such as coercing it with torture to harm or kill other victims. Then, they define it as “evil,” “a criminal accomplice,” and tell it that it could never belong anyplace else in society except in the abuser network, that the Judeo-Christian God will never forgive it, that it has now pleased the deities that they worship, etc. As described above, they may groom “abuser personalities” for an eventual position of leadership in the abuser group, or falsely promise such status. In some cases, abusers show films of battle to such a personality to make it identify itself as a soldier for the abuser group, a tactic also used in the development of child soldiers (See the memoir of child soldier Ishmael Beah (2006): “A Long Way Gone,” Sarah Crichton Books)
Type 5. “Abuser personalities” induced to form by abusers to serve them
In calculated, psychologically-sophisticated, dissociation-savvy abuse, such as ritual abuse and mind control, abusers intentionally induce victims’ minds to form new personalities whom they define and develop to: a) control personalities in the victim’s inner world, and, b) to further their own criminal agendas in the outside world. Many survivors and professional helpers of survivors, including some psychotherapists, use the term “introject” to designate induced-to-form “abuser personalities.” One way that abusers accomplished this is to apply torture, often a form that was not used previously, until the pain and terror become “too much” for all prior-existing personalities and a new “split” is induced to form in order to “hold” this torment apart from the rest of the victim’s humanity. This newly-formed self-state is primed through the torture it just suffered to do whatever it must to survive. Victims report that the abusers immediately assign newly-formed parts a name, a “job” or function, an abuser to whom it must submit, stimuli that the abusers will use to call it forward into executive control, and often a group or place where it
is to reside within the inner world, that is, the system of self-states. If the abusers plan to use this new self-state to harm, control, lure, etc., other victims, the abusers may test this new part for compliance by issuing commands to hurt or kill another person or animal. If the newly-formed part does not comply, the torture continues until a self-state forms that is completely servile and compliant. Further torture and threats may be used to ensure its silence.
As discussed in the introduction, some newly-formed new self-states will usually be programmed to do the job of inflicting severe physical injury or to place the survivor at risk for suicide if other personalities begin to recall or disclose the abuse.
It is important to understand that abusers do not “create” such personalities nor “place” them inside the victim. The victim-survivor’s own mind forms them in response to unbearable torture. They are parts of the survivor’s own mind even though they were calculatingly induced to form and then skillfully manipulated by their abusers to develop their identities.
For example, complex programming will usually include ”abuser personalities” who have been programmed with illusions, film, and other manipulations to be internal replicas of particular external abusers and programmers. These “abuser personalities” subjectively experience themselves as actually being these external abusers, including their attitudes, agendas, and skill- sets, within the personality system’s inner world. They usually consciously lack any awareness that they are part of the victim-survivors’ personality system and are used by their abusers to carry out their abuse and programming to control the personality system internally.
As with the other kinds of self-states described above, once the victim recalls how these “abuser personalities” (or introjects) were induced to form, the abuse that they endured, the directives they were given, that they were coerced against their will to perform functions they never would have chosen to perform of their own free will, etc., these parts can now make their own decisions about what they believe, who they are, and how they wish to live their lives.
Type 6. “Witch” personalities
Many victims of ritual abuse report being abused within cults that engaged in “black witchcraft” and sorcery, including human sacrifice to gods and goddesses of religions that pre-date Christianity. They explain that their abusers believed that they could “attach” parts of their own spirits to their victims by placing their body substances – blood, semen, breath, etc. – into or onto their victims’ bodies within sexual abuse, abusive rituals, and what can be thought of as “spiritual programming.” For example, one survivor described the following Machiavellian ritual (this is very disturbing content that some readers may wish to skip):
“Sometimes the abusers sew some of their skin onto the young victim’s open wound after a “Satanic” ritual where Satan and/or the abuser’s spirit is said to enter the child’s spirit through an open wound created in the ritual, or they force the victim to sew it on. The victimized personality-state may be told that the skin cells will multiply until it becomes the abuser, and then later on is shown a mirror image of itself as the abuser using a trick mirror.
Victims’ abused personalities are indoctrinated into these beliefs since early childhood in order to cause them to perceive their abusers to be controlling and harming them from within. Some of the abusers also believe that if they can “attach” enough of their spirit to their victims, they can attain immortality. They predict there will be “end times” when the gods and goddesses they worship will give them bodies once again.
Survivors of such groups report that such abusers begin abusing victims in utero, commonly delivering electroshock to the pregnant mother, and in early infancy in order to induce the formation of a dissociated self-state in the infant that will divide the mind of the victim in half. The abusers work to develop one half to lead a normative life in the outside world and to be amnesic for the other half, and to indoctrinate the “witch” half into their practices and beliefs. Victims explain that the “witchcraft” side of the system, including an internal leader– a “witch twin” – are tortured and manipulated into harming others from a very young age in order to be pronounced as “evil,” “powerful,” future leaders, etc. They explain that much abuse is also done to convince victims that the abusers control their “life force,” such as inflicting life-threatening abuse followed by rescue that the abusers claim is afforded by the gods or goddesses that they worship. Victims often report that rival abusers competed to dominate them internally by being the one who applied the most abuse to “attach” themselves the most, and that this resulted in the formation of multiple “twins,” each who experienced itself to be controlled by a different abuser.
The basis for overcoming this “spiritual programming,” as in overcoming all of the machinations abusers use to develop all kinds of “abuser personalities,” is for victims to become conscious of their abusers’ manipulations, in this case, including the above-described forms of spiritual abuse. “Witchcraft personalities,” including “twins,” who had previously believed that they embraced the practices of their abusers and who had thought themselves powerful and loyal to the group are usually horrified to discover the abuse that was done to control them. Once they learn this, they have the freedom to exercise their own will about who they wish to be. Victims describe this work and these decisions as both psychological and spiritual. For example, if they perceive spiritual attachments to have been accomplished in their abuse, they can now make the spiritual decision to refuse them to allow them to remain and can choose to “send” them to their spiritual source.
Type 7. “Robotic implants”
In calculated psychologically-sophisticated abuse, abusers may “implant” through torture and hypno-conditioning the perception of inner “robots” who perform specific limited behaviors, such as telephoning the abusers at particular times or entering a particular building. “Robots” are fragments of personalities that perform behaviors in response to commands or other stimuli. They operate based in stimulus-response and lack the capacity that more developed personalities have to think – to evaluate external circumstances and make decisions about how to behave.
When victims discover “robot” parts and how they were torture-conditioned, they can relocate them to a healing place in the inner world where they will no longer respond as conditioned.
Type 8. Internalized representations of abusers who are not part of the system of self-states
This type of “internal abuser” is a perception of an external abuser in the inner world who is not a true part of the personality system of the victim-survivor. It is actually only a representation of an abuser. Abusers often intentionally “implant” such representations of themselves in their victims.
Carol Rutz, mind control survivor, provides an example of this process in her book, “A Nation Betrayed” (Rutz, C. (2001). Grass Lake, Michigan: Fidelity Publishing.) She describes being programmed by Sidney Gottlieb, who became director the MKULTRA program of the USA Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1953, and who, in 1972, destroyed all MKULTRA records. (See: United States Senate (1977). Project MKULTRA, the CIA’s Program of Research in Behavioral Modification. Joint Hearings before the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research of the Committee of Human Resources: https://www.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/national/13inmate_ProjectMKULTRA.pdf)
Carol Rutz explains that using drugs and hypnosis, Gottlieb induced twin self-states to form specifically for government mind control and assigned them locations within her internal world – “Baby,” who was told it lived in “Neverland,” and “Guy” who was assigned to live in “Shadowland” (Rutz, personal communication, 2009). Then Gottlieb commanded, “The genie appears when Neverland is opened. Remember, I am your master and I am the genie” (Rutz, 2001, p. 19).
The internalization of this Gottlieb-Genie was a psychological representation of Gottlieb, while “Baby” and “Guy” were self-states that were parts of Carol’s system of personalities.
Survivors can usually distinguish “abuser” personalities from internalized representations of others. The survivor’s true self-states, even those with a hostile veneer, desire a human connection with other people, are motivated to feel “better,” can engage in meaningful dialogue with external people, and their hostility has a quality of underlying fear and pain. Internalized representations of abusers are largely limited to “speaking” only the things that they originally spoke to the victim, essentially recordings made during the abuse, or brief communications that convey the general attitude they felt toward the victim during the time of the abuse, such as short phrases of hatred or directives to commit suicide. These are essentially only memories of abusers’ words and essences, not a part of the survivor’s own self.
Type 9. Perceived internal evil “spiritual entities”
In many kinds of ritual abuse, abusers seek to cause victims to believe that they have “attached” malevolent entities to them during their abuse and in abusive rituals. Sometimes, this is a ruse, i.e., the abusers do not believe in these kinds of spiritual control. In other cases, the abusers believe it wholeheartedly and indoctrinate their victims to believe it as well beginning in very early childhood. Accordingly, these victims then perceive malevolent spiritual entities within themselves, including the spirits of their abusers and non-human entities such as the deities and demons that the abusers seek to propitiate.
Whether perceived spiritual “attachments” are actual or are simply perceived to be real is a large spiritual and psychological question. Regardless of the beliefs of the therapist, clergy-person, or
others working to support the survivor, the survivor’s beliefs and perceptions must be respected.
Approaches for Victim-Survivors, Psychotherapists, Clergy, and Other Support People, to Help “Abuser Personalities” who are True Self-states
1. A position of compassion is the essential foundation and over-riding approach to helping “abuser personalities” to begin to discover the truth of their own histories as self-states, to understand that they were also victims of their abusers, to be able to re-consider who they perceive themselves to be, and to be able to make their own choices about who they wish to be. This stance is required for victim-survivors to feel safe to acknowledge the existence of “abuser personalities” and to help them come out of hiding.
2. It is important to understand the above-described mechanisms that cause “abuser personalities” to form and to further develop. This knowledge provides the basis for reaching toward these personalities with compassion and for helping them to understand: 1) how they formed, whether in efforts to protect themselves and other self-states from unbearable torture and heartbreak and/or whether their abusers calculatingly induced them to form, 2) how they were terrorized, manipulated, deceived, etc., into serving functions for the abusers initially and over time, and, 3) the degree to which they were entrapped, controlled, and double-bound. This knowledge can help the victim-survivor as a whole and the “abuser personalities” re-evaluate the degree to which, if any, they had any other options to the functions and behaviors that they performed. Compassionate exploration of all of these processes helps victim-survivors understand how terror, helplessness, and heartbreak fuel psychologically defensive identification with abusers, that this is a common and normal response to abuse, the mechanisms by which this inevitably occurs when victims are coerced through torture and terrorization to harm other victims, and the “moral injury” and shame this engenders even though the responsibility lies fully with the abusers who executed the torture.
The following pages on my website can help them to consider these ideas:
Treatment of Victims Who Condemn Themselves for Harm Done to Other Victims (2020)
Are Victims of Extreme Abuse Responsible for Harm Done to Others While Not under Direct Torture? A Complex Psychological, Moral, and Legal Issue (2019)
For Those Who Condemn Themselves for Acts Coerced Under Torture (2017)
3. “Abuser Personalities” need trauma therapy. They are among the most tortured personalities in a victim’s system. They must be helped to gradually become aware of their trauma and to express their pain. They need to recall that they were forced into submission and loyalty to their abusers with terrorization, threats of harm to those whom they love, lies, deceptions, tricks, and empty promises of love, protection, and status, and sometimes abuse to cause them to believe that they had allowed “attachment” of “spiritual evil.” They must be helped to accept that all parts share the same body, that although abusers spared some parts in return for compliance, other parts of their humanity were endangered or harmed by this compliance. They must be helped to reclaim their own volition, free will, true feelings and thoughts, and to reject their abusers’ authority and lies.
4. “Abuser personalities” need to understand that everything their abusers did was in the interest of their long-term agendas. This important insight helps all parts to critically evaluate the reason for all of their abusers’ torture, deceptions, tricks, and false promises. Most importantly, this insight helps victims understand that their abusers coerced them to harm other victims in order to exploit them for long-term criminal purposes, as set-ups to deeply entrap them, silence them, to use them to entrap others, and to use them as their enforcers and soldiers. This knowledge can help “abuser personalities” as they struggle with the moral injury of having harmed others. They can come to see that all of this was carefully planned and calculated, that they were being used as an enslaved victim every step of the way, and just how little choice they actually had – often none at all.
5. When “abuser personalities” remember how they were manipulated and controlled, they are freed up to choose new functions, to reject whatever names and titles their abusers assigned to them, and to select a name of their own choosing. This process takes time and patience because these personalities are likely to fear that they will die, that they will no longer exist, if they leave behind their abuser-assigned functions and identities. The abusers have usually had a hand in inducing these fears as well. It is likely that they have told them, “I made you,” “I control your life,” and, “You are nothing without me.” The deeper truth is that they are very substantial part of the survivor’s humanity and story. They have suffered extensive abuse and neglect of all of their human needs. They long for human kindness, even though they may maintain a “hard” outer demeanor for quite some time. They often choose benign, but powerful, new functions, such as guards against external threats, protectors of child personalities, or victim advocates.
Techniques for Working with the Last Two Types, Internalized Representations of Abusers and Perceived Internal Evil Entities
Internalized representations of abusers that are not part of the system of self-states: The first important step to resolving the effects of internalized representations of abusers is to distinguish them from actual self-states. This is because the objective with self-states is to build compassion and understanding between them, that is, psychological integration, and the objective with internalized representations of abuser is to psychologically separate from them. As explained above, true self-states, even those who behave like abusers, tend to desire human connections, can engage in genuine dialogue, are motivated to feel “better,” and their hostility has a defensive quality driven by underlying fear and pain. In contrast, internalized representations of abusers are largely limited to “speaking” only the things that they originally spoke to the victim, essentially recordings made during the abuse, or brief communications that convey the general attitude they felt toward the victim during the time of the abuse, such as short phrases of hatred or directives to commit suicide. In any case, they are essentially only memories of abusers’ words and essences, not a part of the survivor’s self.
Psychological separation from internalized representations of abusers takes time. It can be thought of as a process of nurturing, strengthening, and expanding the self, increasing one’s self- worth, and claiming one’s right to live a life based in one’s own wishes, and simultaneously weakening and shrinking the internalized effect of ones’ abusers. This is a process of grieving for the hurt and terrorized self, asserting one’s right to have not been abused, the right to have been
loved and protected, connecting to anger at the violations and injustices one suffered, and ultimately being able to experience righteous rage toward one’s abusers.
Perceived internal evil “spiritual entities”: As in the section immediately above on internalized representations of abusers, the first important step to resolving the effects of perceived “spiritual entities” is to distinguish them from actual self-states. It would be very harmful to attempt to spiritually extricate any part of the true self. Like internalized representations of abusers, perceived “spiritual entities” lack the depth of victim-survivors’ self-states. They are relatively singular in their messages and motives. They have a more sinister and sadistic quality. Most victim-survivors have a subjective sense that they are not self-states.
In my experience, once victim-survivors remember the abuse or ritual in which the abusers made them believe that they had “attached” a malevolent entity to them, whether through terrorization, deception, or the abusers’ actual spiritual beliefs, victim-survivors can now assert their own will and disallow them to remain. Colleagues with a background in religion and religious studies have informed me that many religions and spiritual practices include the belief that an individual has domain over one’s own spiritual being, including the principle that no malevolent force may remain within an individual against one’s will. I am witness to many victim-survivors who have spiritual beliefs and practices to successfully pray to “send” perceived “evil” to their spiritual source to do what is best, and to use other prayers to declare null and void all of the statements used by their abusers to cause them to be spiritually controlled or harmed, such as curses, claims, agreements coerced under torture, terrorization, and double-binds. They often end these prayers by choosing a affirming belief, a new name, etc. More secular victim-survivors often use less traditional, more psychological approaches to separate themselves from the perceived internal malevolent presence of their abusers’ spiritual and deities..
It is essential to follow the victim-survivor’s lead and beliefs in these matters. It is also legitimate to allow clients to incorporate their spiritual beliefs and practices in psychotherapy.
In years past, psychotherapy was considered a largely secular practice. However, in the past 20 years, movements to establish spiritual and religious competencies have been active for social workers, professional counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other physicians. Accordingly, the American Psychological Association (APA) has a Division: The Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, Division 36.
In 2013, the journal of the APA Division 36, Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, published a proposed set of research-based “Spiritual and Religious Competencies for Psychologists” (Vieten, Scammell, Pilato, Ammondson, Pargament, and Lukoff), a step toward establishing guidelines on best practices for incorporating spiritual and religious issues, beliefs, and practices into psychotherapy.
In 2019, the Journal of Clinical Psychology published an article entitled: “Religion and Spirituality in Psychotherapy: A Practice-friendly Review of Research” (Brian Post and Nathaniel Wade). These authors begin their article with:
“A movement within the mental health professions to understand and address the sacred has surfaced in recent years… The practical question for clinicians is no longer whether to address the sacred in psychotherapy with religious and spiritual clients, but rather, the questions are when and how to address the sacred. (p. 131)
Clearly, these new developments in the field of psychotherapy have great relevance for victims of abuse that included rituals with spiritual beliefs, practices, worship, and propitiation of the abusers’ deities.
I hope that I have effectively shown that so-called “abuser personalities” are victims deserving of as much compassion as all other personalities in victim-survivors of extreme abuse. I have great sorrow for what they have suffered and the wounding of their souls. I wish them healing, kindness and compassion from others (including animals), self-compassion, and inner peace.
Ellen Lacter, Ph.D. Modified: May 2, 2021