Introduction: The Purpose of this Article
There are many kinds of networks that abuse children and adults. These include ritualistic abusers, clergy abusers, government mind control projects, sex traffickers, and producers of child abuse materials. Perpetrators of these crimes use many methods to maintain long-term control of their victims. These include standard tactics of organized crime, such as violence and threats of harm to victims and their loved ones, as well as highly sophisticated dissociation-savvy strategies to manipulate victims’ minds – generally referred to as coercive mind control or programming.
In this context, “programming” refers to a process of abuse that usually begins in early childhood to induce the formation of numerous dissociated self-states within a victim’s mind and to then condition these self-states for long-term control. Methods of programming include:
- training through torture and abuse, usually involving punishment and reward (operant conditioning),
- paired associations between stimuli (classical conditioning),
- indoctrination and socialization of particular self-states into abuser beliefs, language, etc.,
- covert hypnosis,
- deception, including illusions, tricks, film, and virtual reality,
- manipulation of victims’ attachment needs, and,
- manipulation of induced psycho-physiological states, especially aggression and sexuality.
The focus of this article discusses one fundamental form of programming – abuser-manipulated corruption of the perception of ordinary stimuli.
This first section of this article describes abusers’ intended effects in corrupting the meaning of stimuli in their victims. The overriding objective is to cause designated self-states within victims to interpret ordinary input/stimuli in the environment in a highly distorted way, such that the environment serves to continually communicate the abusers’ harmful and controlling messages.
The second section provides an overview of the kinds of stimuli that abusers program to have distorted meanings, followed by some illustrative examples.
The third section describes the experience of a victim-survivor while engaging in a typical social event, that of attending a picnic with friends, to illustrate the devastating day-to-day effects of living with ubiquitous programmed stimuli.
The final section discusses how survivors can apply the knowledge of programmed corruption of stimuli to:
- be increasingly aware of when they are suffering its effects,
- have self-compassion vs. self-condemnation as it occurs, and,
- be more able to recall and work to overcome the effects of such programming.
This section concludes with a discussion of how therapists and loved ones can better support survivors by holding in mind an awareness of the ubiquitous nature of abuser programming to distort the perception of everyday stimuli and its devastating effects.
I. Reasons Abusers Program the Meaning of Stimuli
Abuser networks program victims to perceive highly distorted meanings to ordinary sensory input/stimuli for the following reasons:
- To cause designated self-states to perceive the environment as continually communicating the abusers’ primary harmful and controlling messages.
- To activate programmed self-states to have thoughts and feelings that serve the abusers and to enact specific behaviors, such as reporting in, returning to abusers, and activating suicidality.
- To maintain control of “fronting” self-states (self-states programmed to navigate normal life).
- To prevent access to memory, to enforce secret-keeping, and to prevent disclosure.
- To continually erode, define, and control the victim’s sense of self.
- To control the victim’s perception of other people and to sabotage the development of relationships with well-meaning people.
- To sabotage freedom of thought and action to control the full experience of the victim.
II. Examples of Programmed Ordinary Sensory Stimuli
Common forms of stimuli that abusers program with corrupted meaning include:
Language (words, phrases, letters, grammar, etc.) Symbols
Music and other sounds (e.g., sirens, ring tones) Visual stimuli (e.g., colors, shapes)
Parts of one’s body Tastes
Gems and metals
Popular media themes and characters
Dates and holidays
Religious beliefs, symbols, and artifacts
Everyday forms of social communication and interaction Everyday emotions that people express
Common substances in nature
Types of buildings
A few illustrative examples will now be provided that describe how abusers program victims to develop distorted meanings for common stimuli. Many more examples are included in a book entitled, How the Cult Programs People, by Svali. This book is published online in full: http://911cd2005.unaux.com/svali.pdf?i=1
Abuser networks with a high level of psychological sophistication begin to globally corrupt the meaning of language in their victims beginning in earliest infancy to develop victims’ language to suit their own purposes.
Listening comprehension may be systematically developed in efforts to ensure that there will be no misunderstandings or “glitches” in victims’ training and programming.
Some kinds of programming of the meaning of the words “love” and “weak and strong” will now be described to illustrate how abusers corrupt language to control victims.
The meaning of the word “love” is routinely corrupted in order to entrap victims in the social structure of the abuser networks and to extinguish all hope for benevolent relationships.
Dissociated self-states within child victims are trained to attach a positive emotional valence to many forms of abuse and to believe that these experiences constitute “love.” Such abusers may speak the word “love” as they inflict abuse and pain. The word “love” is often used in the context of training children to develop the following behaviors:
- To be loyal to the abusers, to serve them, and to never betray them,
- To be open and honest with the abusers,
- To feel obliged to comply with every wish and command of the abusers,
- To meet the abusers’ emotional needs,
- To anticipate and gratify the sexual wishes of the abusers and to sexually serve whomever else the abusers direct them to “love,”
- To willingly withstand long periods of isolation, neglect, hunger, cold, etc.
These self-states are praised for achieving these abuser objectives. This praise is the closest thing to positive and/or non-violent attention provided to these self-states. The innate survival-driven needs for attachment, emotional and physical sustenance, and adult protection ensure that victims work hard for any crumbs of “love,” praise, cessation of torture, etc., they can extract, maximizing the control of the abusers.
The abusers’ goals in perverting and confusing the meaning of the idea of love and the word “love” for victims are:
- to manipulate victims into interpreting abusive forms of attention as “love,”
- to perceive facsimiles of positive attention, such as praise for compliance with abuse, to be “love,”
- to be driven to work harder for these forms of attention, and,
- to have no awareness or experience of love that is caregiving, protective, kind, or caring.
The next paragraph about the abusive distortion of the meaning of the word “love” may be particularly disturbing to readers who are survivors of trafficking and to their abused child self-states.
Abusers commonly distort the meaning of the word “love” as they traffic child victims. For example, abusers sometimes train designated self-states in children to interpret the phrase, “You love him,” as a directive to sexual serve someone. In non-abuse contexts, if a well-meaning individual uses the term “love,” these self-states may misinterpret this as a directive to engage sexually and feel an impulse to respond with sexual behavior.
Weak and Strong
Many abuser networks pervert the meanings of the words, “strong” and “weak” to strengthen their control of their victims.
This programming has significant similarities to the corruption of the term, “love.” Victims are praised as “strong” and “powerful” when they fully cooperate during abuse, training, and programming, as they endure increasingly extreme pain and torture, and as they demonstrate “loyalty” to the abusers, including keeping the abusers’ secrets and participating in their agendas.
Victims are shamed as “weak” if they show any sign of feeling pain. They are branded as “weak” if they resist the abusers’ authority, training, or directives, even momentarily, including directives to harm other victims. They are mocked as “weak” if they express any wants, any need to rest during abuse and training, or if they beg for mercy while being tortured. They are humiliated as “weak,” “disloyal,” and “traitors” if they do not fully adopt the abusers’ criminal, spiritual, or political goals.
Abusers promise victims rewards for demonstrating “strength.” They often reward them with promises of future status and leadership. Victims hope that the “stronger” they become, the less pain they exhibit while being tortured, the more suffering they endure now, then the less abuse the abusers will inflict on them in the future. In almost all cases, these are manipulations and lies. When higher status is granted, it is likely to be in one or a few sub-groups, but not necessarily in the larger abuser network, and not necessarily the status the victim believes was granted.
Victims who form large numbers of dissociated self-states in the process of being tortured are of great value to abusers and are told that they are “strong.” Such victims can be programmed with more programs, more complex programs, deeper layers of programming, and can serve more functions for the abusers. The capacity of such victims to withstand torture also satisfies the sadistic appetites of many abusers. Abusers also benefit from trafficking such victims to other abusers who want victims who can endure highly sadistic, life-threatening abuse.
Many abuser networks communicate to their victims that people outside of their networks are “weak,” that is, ineffective, incapable of hearing about their abuse, disbelieving, uncaring, and unworthy of respect. Only the abusers and compliant victims are deemed strong and worthy. The purpose of this programming is to destroy hope for non-abusive relationships and to entrap victims in the network.
Abusers gain status in abuser networks based on how well they control their victims. Victims are torture-conditioned to endure great pain to prove their “strength” and help their abusers gain status.
Abusers commonly program victims to be controlled by exposure to foods. This process includes both classical (pairing stimuli together) and operational (reward and punishment) conditioning.
For example, abusers commonly reward victims with food to cause particular self-states to feel bonded to their abusers and to reinforce programming and training. Victims are commonly put in a state of starvation before programming sessions and other abusive events. Once an abuser judges that the child has been successfully programmed, trained, or indoctrinated, the abuser often uses food to reward the hurt and starving child.
Some abusers use sweets and other processed foods that activate reward centers in the brain to reinforce their programming and training. Victims then associate this kind of food with the alleviation of pain, the cessation of starvation, and the bond to this abuser. At other times, when in a state of distress, victims crave this particular food. When the victim eats this food, both the bond to the abuser and the programming and training are reinforced internally, in a kind of vicious cycle. The “fronting” personality is unaware of the source of the craving or the effects of eating this food. This kind of programming causes victims to remain trapped in internal submission and loyalty to the abuser(s) and, even in adulthood, to feel bonded to the abusers and to return as instructed.
Some abuse involves force-feeding victims noxious substances, including bodily substances, and contaminated food and water. Foods or liquids that resemble these substances in color, consistency, etc., become “trauma reminders.” Exposure to such “trauma reminders” often re- traumatizes the self-states who were abused in these ways, causing them to relive this torture, and reinforcing the programming objectives of this abuse. “Fronting” self-states that were not directly victimized in such abuse experience deep aversions to the sight, smell, and taste of many foods and liquids and often suffer from eating disorders.
When benign other people unknowingly expose the survivor to foods used in their abuse, the abused self-states may register this as an intentional betrayal, while the “fronting” self-states may experience only anxiety or an aversion to the food. Other self-states may know that these people did not intend them harm, and in some cases can help the re-traumatized self-states. The example that follows of attending a picnic describes how this process can be experienced by a survivor.
Victims of extreme abuse also often have a fear and aversion to water, based on the use of water within the abuse, such as various forms of drowning, forced ingestion of contaminated water, etc. An aversion to water can have a very broad detrimental effect on the ability to drink water, to bathe, etc.
Abusers commonly use popular media characters to program their victims. This usually begins in infancy. Infants are deprived of nurturing relationships, while popular media characters are introduced in video and music, as stuffed animals, toys, etc. The child is encouraged to attach to these characters. The objective is to cause “fronting” self-states to be drawn to these characters and to remain nostalgic toward them in adulthood, especially when they have no other bonds to emotionally sustain themselves. At the same time, the abusers program other self-states to experience these same characteristics to internally abuse, intimidate, and continually re-program them in the inner world.
In cases in which abusers allow a child victim to play with other children, and this play involves the media characters used in the victim’s programming, such as watching them on TV together, some programmed self-states may feel nurtured by the experience, while others may feel internally abused by these characters. “Fronting” self-states may experience discomfort without understanding why. Meanwhile, the child’s non-programmed friends seem content. The victimized child often feels different and alone. Suffering while others seem comfortable becomes the child’s normal psychological state within social interactions. This contributes significantly to victims’ hopelessness and depression.
In adulthood, because the survivor is extremely love-deprived and has no positive nostalgic relationships to draw from in memory, ordinary-life “fronting” self-states may psychologically return to these characters to nurture and soothe themselves. While doing so, the self-states who have been internally abused by these characters suffer. This places the victim-survivor in continuous, intense internal conflict. Ordinary-life parts need some form of emotional
sustenance, yet other self-states are harmed as this need is met. This painful conflict continues until the survivor becomes conscious of how the abusers programmed dissociated self-states with these characters, and until the survivor can help all self-states affected by this programming. With good support, survivors can eventually explore new sources of emotional sustenance, such as bonds to therapists, friends, etc., that can help meet this desperate need for love.
Extreme abuse networks also commonly corrupt the meanings of commonplace religious stimuli to better control their victims. This is another source of frequent distress for victims because religious references, buildings, symbols, etc., and participation in mainstream religion are commonplace and, in many cases, a large part of the victims’ “normative” life.
Extreme abuse networks often attempt to indoctrinate and entrap victims in spiritual beliefs that serve themselves. Some of these networks engage in spiritual and ritualistic practices that they truly believe empower the deities they worship. Other networks do not hold such beliefs, but threaten victims with various forms of spiritual harm solely as a means of intimidation and control.
These abuser networks also often do extensive programming to attempt to deprive victims of any faith in benevolent and loving spiritual sources.
For example, some abuser networks ensure that the child’s first exposure to the idea of God is to apply the term to a primary abuser or programmer. In inter-generational ritualistic abuse, this primary abuser is often a biological parent.
Many abuser networks refer to the deities that they worship as “good,” protective, and powerful. In contrast, they portray the deities of mainstream religions as “evil,” weak, and their enemy.
If such victims participate in a mainstream religion where reference is made to a “loving God,” their programmed self-states commonly have strong aversive responses. Their “fronting” personalities are programmed to have no conscious access to the mental processes of the indoctrinated self-states, but experience their anxiety, aversion, hopelessness, and distrust of the congregants and religious ideas and practices.
When survivors discover that they have been programmed in these ways, and that they are having aversive responses to religious stimuli, beliefs, etc., they can begin to have conscious control over these responses. They can then begin to define their own beliefs and have the option to choose spiritual beliefs that provide sustenance and hope, should this be their choice.
The process of reclaiming one’s own agency in response to programmed stimuli and trauma reminders is discussed more in the last section of this article.
Everyday Forms of Social Communication and Interaction
Many psychologically-sophisticated abusers program victims to experience common benevolent social interchanges in such a way that they reinforce the abusers’ harmful internal controls and to isolate victims from people outside of the abuser network.
A common social exchange when people greet each other is: “How are you?” and, “I’m fine.”
One form of programming trains specific self-states to reply, “I’m fine,” when someone asks, “How are you?,” while other self-states are programmed to re-interpret the phrase, “I’m fine,” to mean, “I’m programmed,” and to perceive that outside people also understand “I’m fine” to mean that they have been tortured and programmed and that they feel no care or concern in response.
This programming is intended to continually reinforce victims’ beliefs that any disclosure will be futile, to rob them of any hope of receiving any kind of help from the external world, and to cause them to believe that, “I am not wanted,” and that, “No one ever cares.”
Another purpose of this programming is re-direct any feelings of anger toward the abusers toward people outside of the abuser network and to society at large.
III. An Example of a Survivor’s Experience Living with Ubiquitous Programmed Stimuli
For non-abused, non-programmed people, a picnic is usually a pleasant, conflict-free experience.
For victims of extreme abuse and programming, a simple picnic is fraught with intense internal conflict and significant re-traumatization, based in both trauma reminders and programmed distortion of the meanings of everyday stimuli. This will now be described in story form.
A survivor was invited by some friends to a picnic where she believed that no other survivors of extreme abuse would be present. She was very lonely and wanted a chance to enjoy being with other people. Her therapist had also been encouraging her to be more social whenever possible.
Nonetheless, she felt very conflicted about attending. In social situations with non-survivors, she felt that she needed to hide her severe posttraumatic stress and suppress her dissociated identities. This took great mental effort and usually depleted her both psychologically and physically.
She decided to go, but the inner turmoil began even before she arrived. She could hear multiple child self-states saying things like, “I’m scared of strangers,” “Please don’t go,” and, “I just want to go home and hide.” She tried telling them, “If we don’t go, we won’t have any friends at all.”
She also heard punitive voices telling her things like, “You are going to be really shit at socializing today,” and, “No one’s going to like you.”
She tried to tell herself, “Just do your best.” She reminded herself, “The abuse in the past; it is not going to happen at the picnic.” However, she could not anticipate the degree of difficulty she would have because she had not yet remembered much of her abuse and the programming in childhood to cause her to distort the meanings of so many everyday stimuli.
As she arrived, she saw a mix of people, some whom she already knew, and others she had not met before. She felt her heart suddenly start to pound and she thought to herself, “I wish I did not have such severe social anxiety.” She felt ashamed of being so anxious and uncomfortable, when everyone else seemed so cheerful. She thought about what her mother would say about how shy she was, how she had no reason to be shy, and that she needed to push herself to overcome it.
In fact, this was neither shyness nor social anxiety. Many internal self-states had already entered a state of panic. They had been heavily programmed against spending time with people outside of the abuser network. Many self-states saw some people sitting in a circle and believed an abusive ritual would soon commence. Their terror leaked into the consciousness of “fronting” self-states flooding her with fear. A terrified child self-state came forward who was terrified of trees and could not be soothed. The survivor felt completely overwhelmed. She did all she could to push the child who was afraid of trees back inside, to suppress her fear, and to appear normal.
She first approached a friend she knew. The friend smiled, greeted her, and moved toward her to give her a hug. She wanted the hug, so she accepted. Self-states who had been starved of affection for a lifetime desperately wanted to be a part of the hug too. However, other self-states, such as ones who had been sexually trafficked, did not like hugs, but wanted to appear normal, so tried to accept the hug. The result was that her side of the hug was a mixture of warm and familiar and cold and resistant. Perhaps the most disturbing programmed response was that some of her sexually abused self-states were trained to interpret hugs as sexual and to respond in kind. She worked, with some success, to suppress that unwelcome and confusing impulse.
All of this conflict caused her side of the hug to be very awkward. She believed that her friend noticed this, so she became embarrassed. The familiar self-condemnation, always present to some degree, intensified. She thought about how much she hated herself because she could not fully control her self-states and the social signals she was sending.
The other people at the picnic did not know about her abuse, nor were they trauma-informed. They had come to the picnic to have fun. They did not stop to ask what was troubling her.
She wondered how she could explain this struggle to her therapist. Would her therapist understand that trying to make friends often felt alienating, shunning, uncaring, and even abusive?
One of her friends began to show her around: “Here’s the food we brought. Looks good, huh?” She tried to smile and replied, “Yes,” as she scanned the environment.
Beneath the surface, many of her self-states were re-traumatized at suddenly seeing all of the various foods. Some self-states associated specific foods with specific abuse and abusers. Some self-states were sickened by foods with colors and textures that reminded them of noxious substances that they were forced to ingest. Self-states who had been subjected to some of the most horrific rituals were activated by this scene and re-experienced their unspeakable abuse.
“Fronting” personalities felt a sudden compulsion to leave the picnic, although they did not know why. They tried to stay, but could not suppress the confusing feelings of fear and nausea mixed with actual hunger. All the while, she worked hard to continue to conceal this struggle and to appear social.
None of the other people at the picnic had any idea of how the gathering of people and the sights and smells of all of these foods affected her. And she felt that she would ruin the fun of these “normal” people if she were to ever share her genuine feelings, struggles, and abuse history.
The result was that both “fronting” and internal parts of her felt different and alone. They all had their own needs to be known, to be understood, and to be cared about. Instead, they felt different, abandoned, ostracized, and unaccepted – just what the abusers had programmed them to feel in social settings.
The survivor managed to place some food on a plate and went to sit down on a free spot on a picnic blanket. However, one of her self-states associated the print on the blanket with one of her abusers. She felt childish about wanting to avoid that blanket, so she forced herself to sit down.
People commented on the beautiful weather and fluffy clouds. The survivor could see that it was, indeed, a lovely day outside and she tried to amplify that in her mind. However, she felt another wave of anxiety flood over her. As a child, many self-states had been programmed to believe that when something good happens, such as a nice day, then something bad will inevitably happen later. Other self-states had been programmed to punish themselves for feeling good or happy.
She made a mental note to discuss this unexplainable flood of fear with her therapist.
As the reader may expect, exposure to many other programmed common stimuli and “trauma reminders” occurred throughout the picnic. However, the above examples likely suffice to describe how normally-benign stimuli at a simple social gathering usually cause problems for victims of abuse and programming. These include topics of conversation, games, music, if an event is a holiday or birthday celebration, food utensils, the clothing and jewelry worn, etc., etc. No matter how hard survivors work to have a positive experience, they are affected by the re-traumatization of their abused and programmed self-states and intense internal conflict.
IV. Applying this Awareness in Healing
Most survivors of child abuse tend to experience abuse-derived feelings of fear, hurt, shame, anger, etc., when they encounter stimuli that remind them of their abuse, such as particular kinds of people, places, etc. Something as simple as shopping in a grocery store can evoke feelings of being trapped and can provoke panic attacks. The subjects of violence or sexuality in ordinary conversation, in films and books, etc., often activate significant discomfort, anxiety, and fear.
In addition to the distressing responses to trauma reminders that most abuse survivors experience, victims of extreme abuse and programming have the added struggle of having to cope with the harmful effects of intentionally-programmed corruption of the meaning of so many ordinary stimuli.
This final section discusses how survivors can apply an awareness of having been programmed in this way to become increasingly aware of when it is happening, to have self-compassion as it occurs, to do internal work to overcome such programming, and to work to discover one’s own authentic responses, likes, dislikes, etc., to stimuli, the meanings of which had been previously corrupted by programming.
This section concludes with a discussion of how therapists and loved ones can better support survivors of extreme abuse by holding in mind an awareness of the ubiquitous nature of programming to distort the perception of everyday stimuli and the devastating effects of such programming, and to be accordingly sensitive to this issue in interchanges with survivors.
Awareness of Programmed Corruption of Stimuli and Recognizing When it is Happening
Awareness is the first step to coping with and overcoming programmed responses to stimuli. As survivors understand that this is the basis for many of their frequent waves of anxiety, fear, disgust, shame, etc., they have increased agency, and more choice, in how to respond. This insight helps survivors to recognize when current circumstances are not, in fact, the threat that precipitated internal distress, and when the distress originated in prior abuse and programming. This can, in itself, help survivors down-regulate their nervous systems.
Self-Compassion as One Experiences the Effects of this Kind of Programming
Extreme abuse survivors have great difficulty navigating ordinary life, no less trying to enjoy simple things, when the meanings of so many commonly-encountered stimuli have been corrupted by programming. It is also hard for survivors to come to terms with how often these responses become activated and the great negative effect this has on their daily lives.
It is important that survivors try to remain in a state of self-understanding and self-compassion as they do this work, a principle that can be applied to approaching all psychological symptoms.
Abuse survivors tend to spend a lot of time and mental energy comparing themselves to other people. They condemn themselves for not being more functional, more “normal,” less “crazy.” They internally batter themselves, trying to punish themselves into “trying harder,” functioning better. They may even physically batter themselves as they condemn themselves, especially if they were battered as children.
Unfair self-condemnation and self-punishment never “work” and are traumatic in themselves. They only add to a survivor’s cumulative “trauma load.” They never increase functionality. They deeply exacerbate depression. They drain survivors’ psychological resources, leaving little mental energy to work to heal from their abuse.
Conversely, when survivors can practice self-compassion vs. self-condemnation as they work through their abuse memories and as painful emotions and symptoms occur, their “trauma load” is greatly reduced. The more time and energy they have to devote to healing.
Self-compassion is a powerful internal resource to help survivors overcome the effects of their abuse. It forms the basis for self-accepting internal dialogue, which creates an internal environment that allows for trauma to be resolved.
Here are two examples of survivors engaging in helpful internal dialogue when ordinary outside stimuli have activated programmed responses:
I am feeling really nervous at this picnic. I wonder what just happened to cause this. Did something here remind me of something that happened to me when I was abused? Was I programmed to have aversive responses to ordinary social events, to these foods, etc.?
As I am watching this movie, I am suddenly terrified. I am going to pause it. I need to take some time to be kind to myself, to remind myself that I have been through so much, and to think about what I just saw or heard in the movie that frightened me. It must have something to do with the abuse. It always does! Okay, okay. I am not crazy! I am just hurt! Can anyone inside tell me what just happened in that movie that made us so terrified? It’s okay. Please tell me if you can. Just know that I want to listen to you.
Insight, self-compassion, and internal self-reflection are all needed to overcome the effects of programming related to ordinary stimuli, as is the case in working through all kinds of programming and other abuse.
Memory Work to Uncover Such Programming and Support Programmed Identities
Internal self-reflection, memory work, helping programmed identities, are particularly complex processes for victims of extreme abuse. Typically, programmers work to program victims to:
- be amnesic for their abuse (often with the exception of a few incidents of less extreme abuse and/or particular abusers),
- never discover their dissociated identities,
- never have conscious access to the memories of having been programmed,
- experience painful, frightening internal consequences to becoming conscious of 1, 2, and 3,
- experience painful, frightening internal consequences as one works to overcome programming, as in relocating programmed identities to benign locations in the internal world.
These difficulties are based in the very nature of programming and are the subject of the majority of the internal work and therapy work for survivors of extreme abuse.
All of these difficulties exist as survivors work to become conscious of, and to overcome the effects of, programmed corruption of the meaning of ordinary sensory stimuli.
Each survivor discovers and creates a way to do the work of overcoming programming that best serves the self.
Some resources to guide survivors in this process include:
Lacter, Ellen. (2011). Torture-based mind control: Psychological mechanisms and psychotherapeutic approaches to overcoming mind control. In O.B. Epstein, J. Schwartz, & R. Wingfield (Eds.) Ritual abuse and mind control: The manipulation of attachment needs. London: Karnac.
Miller, Alison (2012). Healing the Unimaginable, Routledge.
Miller, Alison (2014). Becoming Yourself, Routledge.
More books are listed here: https://endritualabuse.org/books/
The intensity of the harmful effects of programming are also mitigated as survivors work through all of their abuse – sexual abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse, neglect. There are deep benefits to expressing painful emotions, somatic forms of expression, artistic expression, allowing oneself to feel sorrow, rage, etc. Self-compassion, self-acceptance, receiving compassion from others, work with a therapist, etc., all serve to weaken the foundations that programming builds upon, that is, believing the self to be bad, unworthy of care, and believing “outside” people to be worthless and untrustworthy.
All of this work takes a long time. It is to be expected that there will be many days when internal self-reflection feels painful and self-compassion feels impossible. Survivors often wish the work would go more quickly. Sometimes, it can feel like no progress is being made. It is painful to realize how deeply one has been hurt and harmed. It can be very disappointing to realize that one’s healing work will probably be life-long. Self-compassion is needed here as well. With time and an increased capacity to be kind to the self, the work to discover and work through abuse and programming becomes easier and more fulfilling.
Discovering One’s Authentic Responses, Likes, Dislikes, etc., to Corrupted Stimuli
As survivors work to become aware of how the meanings of so many ordinary stimuli have been distorted by programming, and as they work to overcome this programming, they can simultaneously begin to identify their own authentic thoughts and feelings about the things in their environment. They can think about the meaning that things might have for them naturally.
What do they find beautiful? What do they enjoy? What do they dislike? What foods do they enjoy? What fabrics feel good to the touch? What essential oil smells best to them?
Here are some simple examples of engaging in internal dialogue in this process of self-discovery:
“How do I really feel about trees? Which kinds do I find beautiful? Why? What do I choose for trees to represent to me? My abusers held rituals in the woods. They gave them creepy meanings. They used trees to organize my identities. But, the trees don’t belong to anyone but themselves! Kinda like me! I want to think of trees as symbols of strength, growth, protection, sources of oxygen and shade. I want to grow one myself from a sapling and take good care of it!”
“My abusers tried to corrupt my relationship with all of the colors of the rainbow and rainbows themselves for their own nefarious purposes. That is not okay with me. I will not allow it. I am going to create a new relationship with all of the colors. I will come up with my own ideas of what I want to associate with each color!”
“Human touch! I have a lot of work to do on that! Can I feel a soft scarf on my arm and not feel pain? Can I pet a dog and feel nothing scary, only that its fur is soft? Can I let someone hold my hand for a second and not feel like they get to do whatever they want with me? Can I begin to figure out what kinds of touch feel good and what kinds hurt?”
Through this process, a survivor can increasingly experience the true self and allow space for it to exist in the world, be allowed to “be,” maybe for the first time.
V. How Support People – Therapists, Friends, Family, and Colleagues – Can Help Survivors
Therapists, friends, family, colleagues, etc., can better support survivors when they are sensitive to the fact that many victims of extreme abuse have been programmed to perceive corrupted meanings for many ordinary stimuli.
It is important that support people understand that these programmed responses are generally involuntary, unconscious, highly disturbing, re-traumatizing, and also sometimes cause survivors to feel compelled to take actions that are self-destructive and/or that place them in danger of re-victimization.
When support people are knowledgeable about this issue, they have more ability to recognize when programmed responses to ordinary stimuli may be affecting a survivor. They are more able to notice when such programmed responses have been activated and the disturbing harmful effects this is having on the survivor. And they can work toward trying to avoid presenting these stimuli, and/or ask survivors if particular stimuli would cause pain, fear, etc.
It is not possible for support people to avoid exposing survivors to programmed stimuli, because of the ubiquitous nature of programming to distort the perception of everyday stimuli. However, there are some steps that support people can take to reduce such exposure.
As support people learn more about ritual abuse and mind control, they can work to avoid commonly programmed stimuli. For example, many therapists avoid wearing red and black clothing, common kinds of jewelry, and perfumes, do not display holiday decorations, do not have mirrors in their offices, and ask about food preferences if they offer something to eat or drink.
There can also be great benefits to finding atypical ways of talking about things, knowing that common words and phrases are the most likely to have been programmed. For example, therapists experienced in working with victim-survivors of extreme abuse often avoid the use of the words love and safety and religious terms. They also observe if a client appears unsettled in response to something they have said and then ask about it. They understand that programmed responses to ordinary stimuli are largely involuntary and unconscious, based in the programming of dissociated identities, and that the work to overcome this programming is long-term.
Informed support people must also be compassionate with themselves. They understand that they will not be able to avoid presenting stimuli that may disturb the survivor, because the meanings of so many stimuli have been corrupted. They acknowledge the pain and frustration they feel as survivors have disturbing programmed responses to ubiquitous stimuli. However, they direct their anger at the abuser networks, not at its victims. They hold an awareness and sensitivity to this issue, they remain open to the need to be continually learning, and they provide patience and compassion as they support survivors and work with them to overcome this programming.