Published on: May 20, 2000
Ritual abuse victims -- Anecdotes
Survivors speak out on: Dissociation
One of the most lingering effects of ritual abuse in a survivor's life is the reality of dissociation. Dissociation can take many forms, and describes a complex continuum of methods to cope psychologically with intense pain.
Ritual abuse is some of the most horrendous psychological pain and trauma that a human being can face and survive. Often coping with its effects manifests in the form of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and DID (dissociative identity disorder, formerly called MPD).
DID has caused some controversy in the media: is it real, does it exist? The DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition, published by the American Psychiatric Association) certainly recognizes it as a reality, and defines it as:
The presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states (each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self). At least two of these identities or personality states recurrently take control of the person's behavior. Inability to recall important personal information that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness. The disturbance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., blackouts or chaotic behavior during Alcohol Intoxication) or a general medical condition (e.g., complex partial seizures). Note: In children, the symptoms are not attributable to imaginary playmates or other fantasy play. Dissociative Identity Disorder is also referred to as Multiple Personality Disorder.
*Note: I find it extremely interesting that supposed "syndromes" such as "false memory" are not listed in the largest book for diagnosing psychological disorders in the world; perhaps because there is absolutely NO objective evidence for the reality of this supposed syndrome?
But what is it like to live with the lasting effects of trauma? In my survey, I asked survivors to share what the reality is like for them, as they deal with DID in their life. I believe that their insights and experiences as well as courage in coping with the effects of ritual abuse in day to day life speaks far more than any scholarly definitions.
Ellen, a survivor of cult abuse, is not DID but describes the symptoms of PTSD that she experienced when first getting out of a cult group:
When I was initially out of the cult I would feel waves of terror going through my body. There was nothing that I could do to relieve this. I just had to wait it out. These terror waves would come often during the times that the cult was “praying”. I slept very little the first year that I was out and still have trouble getting quality sleep. That first year I would
doze and then awaken in terror with the programming of the cult going through my mind……the warnings of disaster and hell, etc. I would sometimes experience darkness surrounding my bed. I was terrified of the cult coming to kidnap me or to harm my daughter.
It was difficult for me to focus with all of this going on. I would have floating episodes and lose touch withwhat was happening around me. I had been programmed to never speak of the
inner workings of the cult or any peculiarities with the leaders. To talk was quite a battle. Once I told someone, I would be up all night trying to work through the fear from breaking the silence which had been imposed upon me. I would often be in a state of full blown panic. I had also been
programmed to “never leave my post”……..so I tended to isolate.
It was a major battle to go anywhere. When I did go anywhere, I was fearful of running into a member of the cult. I was programmed to perform ritualistic “prayers” every hour. I no longer performed these rituals; but had to work through lots of guilt feelings and the fear of satan attacking me because I
did not do as told. The doubts that maybe I had left the only group to lead the Church and the world into the new era would flood me. I could almost hear the voice of the leader telling me why the bizarre things that were done in the cult were valid. I had to work hard to function since my thoughts were scattered and confused. It took a long time before I could
shed some of the props of this cult……..like wearing a rosary with a crucifix around my neck. I feared that if I took them off that satan would attack.
Joanne, another survivor, describes her reaction to her recent diagnosis of DID:
Just been diagnosed with it recently and still coming to terms with it, and having a lot of problems with it too, can't even admit to people who know and are aware (like psychiatrists) of what is going on. Nobody other than my therapist and psychiatrist know of my diagnosis, but will only talk about it
with my therapist as I know she doesn't judge me in any way. My alters (and I hate that word too) have only just begun to make their presence before other people, usually its when I'm just with my kids or by myself (especially driving), although for a number of years I have been aware of the voices inside my head and I thought I was going crazy. Constantly asked about voices but always denied it because I felt that it was a sign of
madness basically, but they were always referring to schitzophrenia voices as in auditary hallucinations and not the voices in my head.
John, a survivor from outside the United States, has some excellent things to say about DID and how he views it:
I have issues with the negative term of “dissociative
identity disorder”. Firstly, dissociation is a natural
and very sane and creative way of dealing with abuse
and memories of abuse. It becomes a “disorder” when
working people (working and middle class people) are
told that they have to fit into what society expects
with a work routine. It also puts a sole emphasis upon
the abuse that caused and causes the dissociation.
There is also an injustice as ritual abuse is
generally not accepted by society. It would be better
put that the abuse has stopped me from have a fully
Vicky, a fifteen year old, discusses her experiences with DID which resulted from ritual abuse:
I hate that I have people inside sometimes. I wish it would all go away. At school, my friends tease me. They say, "why do you sound just like a little kid?" I joke back and tell them "Oh, you know me, I"m always acting". It's so embarrassing. My littles like stuff, though, like candy or hugs. I didn't ask for this, it just happened, and feels so unfair at times.
copyright 2000 svali