This concern seems to get worse when the survivor is known, or suspected, to still be involved with the abusers. I wonder where all this fear comes from? Is it that supporters have been attacked so many times they have become extremely cautious? Well, if so, surely the police would be investigating? Surely of all those I know who support survivors of ritual abuse, I would have met at least one who could tell me horror stories? I have not!
Is it that the fears survivors have are so great that fear becomes contagious? If so, perhaps I am just too thick skinned to catch it? Is there a myth perpetuated by abusers so people become wary of survivors? I don’t know. What I do know is, the most frequently asked questions I get are, ‘aren’t you afraid of the abusers?’ or ‘have you been attacked?’ the answer to the first is easy. ‘No! I am not afraid! Why would I be?’ Abusers are bullies and cowards therefore I have no need to fear them. However, the second question is a wee bit harder.
I have worked with survivors for many years and this may be an obvious statement to make but for the sake of clarity, I will make it. I am still alive and kicking, despite long involvement in helping survivors of ritual abuse. Have I been attacked as a result of work? I’m not sure. You see, there have been many strange incidents, which have been directed at me and it would be so easy to put these incidents down to my work in order to explain them. Then again, perhaps these incidents are completely unassociated with my work?
Let’s look at some of the facts. I am a woman, a feminist, a single parent, live in an area of high crime and deprivation. I work at helping people disclose abuse. I live a different lifestyle from most people. I’m sorry folks, but what this tells me is I am likely to be a target in this society and community. I believe that the incidents I have experienced are nothing to do with supporting survivors of ritual abuse at all. They are more to do with being different, challenging others, prejudice and violence in society. On examination of many incidents, not one incident has ever happened through my work with survivors.
I have been a thorn in the side of many abusers for a while and if any flak was available, I am certain I would have had it by now. I have stolen survivors from abusive situations, have taken survivors to my home, have walked into the homes of the abusers, have helped survivors talk to the police, have written extensively about ritual abuse and publicly spoken out against it. Why, if the abusers are so powerful, and inclined to frighten off the supporters, have they not had a go at me? I think it’s because they do not have the power or the bottle. Also, having a go at the supporters only adds credence to what the survivors say.
Survivors believe abusers are all powerful. This is understandable given their powerlessness in relation to their oppressors, but we don’t all have to swallow this belief. True power does not come from overwhelming the helpless; it comes from overcoming a powerful adversary. I believe, based on my experience, that most of us have nothing to fear from groups of abusers. Rather, abusers have a great deal to fear from survivors and their supporters.
Does anyone out there have any information on, or ideas about, the what lies behind the wave of mysterious and bloodthirsty seal killings in South Ronaldsay, Orkney – which always happen at this time of year , and involve 20-30 seals, either heavily-pregnant females or newborn pups?
The media always report that police are baffled and that the usual leads (to angry fishermen) never seem to go anywhere. The guns used are never found. Press reports last week had seal experts describing the latest shootings, of 19 heavily-pregnant females, as “unbelievable…apparently the work of a gun-crazy individual.”
While previous mass killings have always been reported a few days before Halloween, this year they took place several weeks earlier. Could these either be ritual killings or the work of an individual weirdo affected by growing up with RA? This is not at all a daft question given that South Ronaldsay was the site of the “Orkney child abuse affair” in 1991 and that one of the sites near Burray where seals have been found was in the area where informed sources always said the rituals actually took place. Not in other sites and quarries which were trundled out as a “smokescreen” and then discredited. Informed sources always suggested also that at least 20 families were involved in RA and not the small number who were investigated.
If they are rituals what kind of rituals might they be, and do they serve as a public warning of some kind? Are the abusers still on South Ronaldsay after more than a decade?
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Run Rabbit RunRabbit grew up in a warren. She was always sad. She was always bad. She was afraid. She didn’t like living in the warren. It was dark and cold. She always had to fight. She knew it was wrong. She was always being hurt. She knew it wasn’t right. Rabbit never was able to do baby rabbit things. She wasn’t allowed. She was always in pain, again and again. She was never able to relax or play. She never knew fun. Instead, Rabbit had to grow up fast. She had to learn to run. She had to survive. To stay alive, she had to be the fastest. This she did.
As soon as Rabbit could, she ran from the warren. She was only half grown, but that was enough. She ran. She would grow with time. She knew nothing about the outside but it had to be better than the warren. She chose outside. Rabbit ran fast. She ran from the past. She chose the unknown in preference for the known. Without a backwards glance, Rabbit ran. She had no regrets about leaving. She said no farewells. She told no-one. She would miss no-one and nothing. The only thought that Rabbit had was to run as far and as fast from the warren as she could. This she did.
Rabbit found the outside world to be very different. The only thing she knew for certain was she must hide where she came from. No-one must know about the warren. Beyond that, she knew nothing. It was hard to learn things she didn’t know. She never even knew what it was she didn’t know. She needed to know things, but didn’t know what things she needed to know. She needed to know. But she didn’t know what she didn’t know. How could she? She knew all about warren life but nothing about outside life. She had to watch carefully to try and find out everything. This she did.
Occasionally, some things seemed familiar, but when she looked closer, they were different. At first she made many mistakes. Then she would run. In time, she learned to cover mistakes and pretend. She became very good at pretending. When she could not pretend, she ran. As time went on she made fewer mistakes. She no longer needed to run as often. Rabbit learned very fast. She could learn nearly as fast as she could run. She wanted not to have to run. She studied the outside carefully. She needed to know and she needed to learn. This she did.
The outside was difficult to live in for Rabbit. She didn’t fit. She didn’t know the ways outside. She did not know the rules outside. She did not even know the language outside. It was difficult. It was more difficult because she could not ask anyone for help. She didn’t need it. She had to do it alone. No-one knew of the warren therefore no-one knew her ways. No-one could understand. She had to learn the outside ways. She had to learn the outside rules. She had to learn the outside language. She had to do it all alone. This she did.
All that Rabbit ever wanted from life was to be left alone. She never was. In the warren, she was never left alone. Someone was always getting at her. So she had run. On the outside, it was better. Mostly, no-one got at her. That was much better. Every once in a while though, something bad would happen. It was sad. Just as she thought she was going to be left alone, someone would get her. Again and again this happened. Rabbit would always run. She would run fast. Rabbit had a strong will to escape. She had the strongest will to survive. She could always run. This she did.
Rabbit grew tired of running. She liked where she was on the outside. She wanted to stay. She didn’t fit properly, but she managed to try. She knew she would always be different but she copied and coped. She knew it would always be difficult but she hoped and survived. Sometimes she still pretended, but no-one minded. Rabbit was getting by. Rabbit was helping. She was contributing. She was nearly doing good enough. She would try to do better. This she did.
One day, Rabbit was feeling scared. She had been got at again and wanted to run. This time though, she didn’t. She was fed up with running. Instead, she stopped and thought. Why wasn’t she left alone? Who kept getting at her and hurting her? Why did they do this? She thought long and she thought hard. Suddenly, she knew. It was the warren! They had come after her. It must be them. Again and again they had got to her. They would never leave her alone. She had dared to leave. Leaving the warren was not allowed. Terrified by this thought, she thought harder. The warren was on the outside too. It was everywhere. She needed to hide. She needed to think. This she did.
As she thought, she watched and listened. She saw warren signs everywhere. The outside didn’t see them. They must be blind. She watched rabbits running and hiding everywhere. The outside never noticed. They must be stupid. She heard burrowing all around. The outside couldn’t detect the digging. They must be deaf. Then, suddenly she realised the outside didn’t know anything. They didn’t know about the warren. The warren was not safe. The outside was not safe. Rabbit needed to stay safe. There was no safety. She needed to survive. This she did.
Rabbit was afraid. She didn’t want to run anymore. There was nowhere to run. The outside was stupid. Why didn’t they see the warren? Why didn’t they defend themselves before it was too late? The warren was dangerous. Rabbit wondered how the outside didn’t know. The outside should beware the warren. She had not said, but she couldn’t say. She was afraid. The outside should be aware? Someone should warn them. Rabbit liked the outside. She didn’t want the outside to become like the warren. The outside should know about the warren. Not from her. She had to stay alive. To survive she had to stay silent. This she did.
Then Rabbit remembered she didn’t know what she didn’t know when she first came outside. She remembered all the hurting in the warren. She remembered others got hurt too. She remembered the pain and fear. She remembered the dread and she remembered the dead. She remembered she did not like the warren. She remembered why she ran. She did not like to remember. She had to survive. To stay alive, she had to remember. This she did.
The warren was on the outside and no-one was safe. Not her, nor any other. Someone had to warn outside about the warren. She lived outside now. The outside was in danger and didn’t know it. They had to know about the danger. They had to be told. They had to know about the warren. Before it was too late someone had to break silence. She looked for someone. There was no someone. Rabbit grew frantic. Someone had to tell…..
This Rabbit did!
Amongst the names provided, were some names I knew. Strangely, these were not names of people I already knew as alleged abusers, but rather, were the names of people that I knew to be supportive of survivors. Now, while I believe survivors, and believe that the most unlikely people might be involved in ritual abuse, amongst this particular batch were names of people that I did not believe to be capable of ritual abuse.
I have been thinking long and hard about this and would like to throw in a note of caution regarding survivors naming their abusers. Firstly, abusers in groups rarely let survivors know their names. Think about it! Dressed up scary person about to abuse child stops and says, ‘Incidentely, my name is Joe Bloggs, I work in social work…’ I don’t think so! The names that survivors know for certain are their own family names; survivors of ritual abuse seldom know the real names of all people involved.
Secondly, there are a lot of people who are taking on ritual abuse in a serious way, yet, survivors are uncertain about who they can trust. This is particularly the case if the survivor is considering talking to someone in police, social services or health. When we find people in these agencies who take on ritual abuse, it can be quite easy to discredit them. All it needs is someone to drop a name, someone to believe it and then repeat it. Survivors are then afraid and steered away from a person who may have been able to help them. What finer way to isolate survivors and discredit supporters than to spread a rumour that a supporter might be ‘one of them’.
Names bandied about coupled with rumour and innuendo. What can I say? It’s a great way to undermine supporters and survivors and a tactic, which I believe abusers are employing in Scotland to great effect. Supporters need to be cautious that they do not do the abusers work for them. Be careful, what you end up spreading in the way of a rumour.
I believe survivors, and believe that they believe what they are telling me, however, I do not swallow everything wholesale. If I am told a name of someone I know, I note it and approach that person and tell them there is a rumour about them and what it is. Why not? If the person is on the side of survivors, are they not better equipped to help if they know what the opposition is doing? Equally, if the person is a baddy, they know that someone is on to them. Obviously, I always safeguard the confidentiality of survivors.
Let’s not fall into the trap of rumour, innuendo and fear of talking to others. Rather, l would suggest that we be open, share what reliable information we can with each other and let the abusers know that we are onto them. Secrecy and silence protects only the abusers, not the survivors.
I’m going on holiday and I won’t be able to see you that week:
Abandonment and the therapeutic relationship
My therapist went to a conference this weekend. I felt like she had abandoned me and was running away from me. My session was a day late and it felt like I hadn’t seen her for years. We were in constant contact but it felt like she was avoiding me.
These are difficult feelings to manage, particularly when my safety relies on the consistency and stability of the therapeutic relationship. These feelings are even harder to tolerate when I feel like I’m being unreasonable and irrational. This article will look at why I feel like this, in the hope that it will apply to you too, and it will suggest ways to manage and reduce these feelings of abandonment.
Why do I feel abandoned?
There are a number of reasons that I have found for why I react in an extreme way to any disruption to therapy.
Firstly, it takes huge trust to go to therapy at all. I have been tricked and betrayed many times, and this and my abusive experiences in general make it very difficult to trust anyone, let alone to trust them with my secrets. It can often feel that I am putting myself in life-threatening danger to go to therapy and sometimes I feel very suspicious of my therapist. It requires a lot of faith in my therapist to feel confident enough to begin to tell my story and to feel that my therapist can be trusted with what I am telling her.
If I feel that therapy has been disrupted in even the slightest way, this feels like a threat to the safety and stability of the therapeutic relationship, and therefore a threat to my trust. If my therapist has gone away for a few days, I feel very suspicious that this is the point at which everything is going to go wrong, everyone will find out my secrets, and I will be in trouble. I then often go further than that and feel that she definitely has abandoned me, which feels like a horrendous betrayal of my trust and is very destabilising.
Secondly, therapy requires me to be open about my needs – and I really need my therapist. Gradually I am more honest with my therapist about what I need from her and how important she is, so if she goes away, I feel like I have been humiliated as well as abandoned. There is a big risk in being open and the vulnerability of it makes me feel exposed, so I need things to stay very stable and consistent to help me to feel that the risk hasn’t gone wrong.
Thirdly, I think in an all or nothing way. My therapist is either here and committed to me, or she has gone and I will never see her again. It is very difficult and requires disciplined thinking to even consider the thought that maybe it is somewhere in between and she has gone but is still committed to me – let alone to believe that thought. I find it uncomfortable to consider grey areas and it is much easier to think in black and white, even though the black thinking is very distressing and not very helpful.
Fourthly, I have Dissociative Identity Disorder, and there are parts of me who are children. These parts think in childlike ways, which are also very all or nothing, and their world view is based on traumatic experiences. These children believe that my therapist is there when she is there, but when something changes it is difficult for them to have a bigger picture or understand the concept of a long term and committed therapeutic relationship. These children just feel abandoned and sad. This doesn’t only apply to people with Dissociative Identity Disorder, because I believe that everyone has elements of themselves which are more childlike.
Fifthly, I don’t cope with change well. I like it when things stay exactly the same and I find this very reassuring. When things change, I feel frightened and threatened. The concept of a world which is dynamic feels alien and threatening to me and I resist every change as strongly as I can. This is particularly important in the therapeutic relationship, which should be as stable and safe as possible. So when circumstances change, even if only temporarily, I feel very unsettled and anxious.
There are more reasons why I can feel abandoned by my therapist, but the simplest way to explain it is this: what I have been through has given me a lot of issues with attachment and trust, and I need my therapist to stay as safe and stable as possible so that healing through the therapeutic relationship is possible. If I feel that there is any disruption or unsettlement in the therapeutic relationship, I try to protect myself by making predictions about what will happen, and I act and react to that. However, these predictions are based on a world which is different to the one I live in now, so what should protect me ends up hurting me.
Why shouldn’t I feel ashamed of feeling like this?
These strong feelings of abandonment, distrust, and fear are completely normal. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels like this!
Feeling abandoned because of even the slightest change is a logical response to bad experiences. Further than that, the experience of therapy requires me to make myself vulnerable, in a safe and supportive place. It is important to become vulnerable and open in this way because it is only by doing this that I can be honest about what I need and move towards having those needs met. This vulnerability can at times be excruciating and can make me feel abandoned, but it is an essential part of the healing process through therapy.
If I turn the situation around to look for positives, I can see that these feelings of abandonment can actually be a sign that things are going well in therapy. For me to feel abandoned, I have to feel that the relationship is important. So if I am feeling abandoned, it means that therapy has reached the point of becoming important and valuable to me, and that I am becoming attached to my therapist. This might feel scary but it is actually a very positive thing that shows progress.
Also, it is important for me not to forget that my therapist is a professional. The majority of us who have therapy go through a phase (mine has been a very long phase!) of feeling so vulnerable that we feel abandoned after the slightest disruption. This is part of therapy, because it is an aspect of relearning attachment. So this is a part of my therapist’s job, and she has seen this many times before.
What can I do to make the feelings more tolerable?
Here are some suggestions which have helped me to cope with feelings of abandonment:
It is quite common for feelings of vulnerability and abandonment to turn into anger. This is a defensive mechanism to try and protect you from being hurt if you are feeling vulnerable. However, it is not helpful to keep it inside or to make decisions based on it.
I have found that it is a good idea to talk to my therapist about what is going on. It is important to acknowledge my feelings and it is helpful for her to know how I am feeling and that they have had an impact on me. She might be able to tell me her side of the story and explain anything that I feel hurt by. It can be very helpful to be able to tell my therapist that I feel angry with her and to talk about it, and it can feel very healing to be met with a listening and accepting response, and even to get an apology.
I try to be aware of the reasons for why I feel angry. It helps me to remember that it is a defensive response to feeling vulnerable, and not necessarily a response to my therapist doing anything wrong (unless she has also done something wrong). This is important to remember because it would not be sensible to take action like quitting therapy based on these feelings. It is always more helpful and effective when I deal with the root cause of a feeling, and in this case the root cause is how the openness and vulnerability of the therapeutic relationship makes me feel and why.
It helps me when I find ways to express how I am feeling. Anger is a difficult emotion to cope with. I try to be creative: I draw, paint, write about, sing about, and generally try to be creative in expressing how I feel. Sometimes I try doing something physical like going for a run. Occasionally I allow myself to express it by having a little shout or a cry. It is crucial that I express how I am feeling in some way, and before it turns in on myself and becomes destructive and harmful.
Sometimes a disruption to therapy can have a negative impact on therapy, and it is important to try and deal with this as soon as possible. When my therapist is back, it is very important to address the issues and talk about them. Every rupture which is addressed and dealt with is a big achievement and will strengthen trust – but it is essential that it really is addressed and dealt with. It is also important for me to try and hold onto hope that things will get back to normal. I read through old emails to remind myself that my therapist is worthy of my trust, and try to get through the period of rebuilding that trust.
How can I prevent this from happening again?
Unfortunately, I can’t, or at least not for the time being. These feelings are part of the therapeutic journey, as I become open and fully engaged with my therapist, and as I start to heal. I have found that the foundations of the therapeutic relationship have got much stronger over time, which helps me to stay rooted. However, there are things I can do right now to make it more manageable, which might help you too: forewarned is forearmed.
Physical vs. Psychosomatic: What’s the Difference?
I am in constant pain. I don’t mean emotional pain – dear me, please! I don’t feel emotional pain! – I mean physical pain. Aches and pains and creaking and groaning. Often I can identify a link between my inner pain and my physical pain. Sometimes I wonder what the difference is between physical and emotional pain. In this article I will discuss some of what I have learnt through experience and describe what helps me in the hope that it will help you too.
What is somatisation?
As I understand it, somatisation is the process where emotional pain, or unprocessed trauma, is transformed into physical pain. I see similarities between this and other things like conversion disorder, psychosomatic pain, and body memories. For me, it essentially boils down to: my heart can’t hurt any more, so my body has to take some of the hurt. Or: my heart refuses to hurt, so my body has to instead.
What causes it?
In my experience, the reasons behind somatisation are complex and the term somatisation seems to include many different types of pain. Dissociative disorders form when we are subjected to horrors which are too great to endure, and so we escape by escaping in our minds. We can’t cope with the memories or the knowledge, so we just don’t remember or know about it. The out-of-body experience of dissociation makes it seem as though we never felt anything. But unfortunately, I have found that my body does remember, and my mind does hold the knowledge and memories somewhere, even if I can’t or won’t access them.
What types of somatic pain are there?
For me, there are distinct types of somatic pain. These vary from person to person, and it can be difficult to distinguish one from another. This is my interpretation, each illustrated with the example of a sore neck.
I have a checklist for myself which is based on what has worked for me in the past. This checklist may differ from person to person, and it is not a substitute for medical advice.
The following are some suggestions based on what has helped me. It isn’t a comprehensive list and some aspects of it may not be relevant to you, but I hope that it can help you or at least be a launchpad for your own ideas.
Firstly, and unfortunately, the best way I have found to fix psychosomatic pain is to deal with the root cause. I say unfortunately because of course none of us want to face up to the horrendous things that have happened to us. It is also unfortunate because it is not a quick fix. For me, this means years of therapy and constant outside-of-therapy therapeutic work. But we should actually look at this as fortunate, because it really is possible for us to fix our agonising pain and to come to terms with our experiences. It certainly isn’t easy, but it certainly is possible.
Secondly, it is important to ask why. I find it very empowering if I can work out the reason why I am in pain. I heard recently of a three step approach: 1. Notice it (in this case, notice the reason behind the pain). 2. Acknowledge it. 3. Let it go. Easier said than done! The point is that it is helpful to work out the root cause for the pain and to take control of the pain by knowing why, but it isn’t helpful to be a detective and dig too deep. The reason why you are feeling the pain physically is because it is too much to manage emotionally, so it’s not going to help the situation to investigate too thoroughly.
Thirdly, acknowledge it for what it is. It is all too easy to use physical pain to distract from the cause. I much prefer to feel sorry myself for my aching back than to open the can of worms that is the cause of the pain. But, as above, it is a much more effective pain relief to acknowledge that the can of worms is there.
Fourthly, look after yourself. Do whatever you do when you are triggered: deep breathing exercises, relaxation music or guided meditation, pilates or yoga, painting, running, having a scream, having a cry, writing, listening to your favourite music, put on some children’s cartoons, be around someone safe, talk to your therapist, post on a safe forum, distract yourself, watch a safe film… Do whatever you can to make yourself feel safe and soothed.
Fifthly, listen to what your body is telling you. Your pain might be showing you that you need to start acknowledging something, or that you need to talk about something in therapy, or that you’re taking on too much and you’re overwhelmed, or that you’re in a triggering situation. Value your body as another voice which deserves to be equally heard (another easier said than done!).
Sixthly, don’t blame yourself. Sometimes it can be hard not to feel guilty for being in pain. But it isn’t your fault that you’re hurting, and it’s good to notice it and take action by looking after your body and you.
Finally, have hope. It isn’t always going to be like this. It might be a while before it gets better, and it might fluctuate in strength and frequency, but it isn’t going to be like this for the rest of your life. I can’t promise that you will be pain-free, but I can say that it won’t always be at this intensity. This is just another part of reeling from horrific things and gradually picking yourselves up from it and moving forward. It isn’t always going to be like this: there is hope.
I often say that I am dissociated, but this is actually an umbrella term that covers a wide range of experiences and sensations. According to the DSM-IV, there are six main types of dissociative experiences and/ or disorders. In the following article I will explain some of these terms by describing how I personally experience them.
The first is amnesia, which is basically forgetfulness. This means that I very frequently have absolutely no idea of pretty important things like where I am, who I am, what year it is, how old I am, and what I’m supposed to be doing. This can be really alarming and frightening, and can put me in danger. It can also be really alarming for other people.
The second is depersonalisation. If you have ever had a sudden trauma like being in a car accident, you may have experienced this. It is an out of body sensation, feeling disconnected from your physical self and your whole sense of self. I experience this in many different ways. I may be floating, sometimes inside my body, sometimes outside of it. I may be observing myself from afar. I may not recognise my face and be puzzled when I look down and see my body. I may not be able to feel my body (which is dangerous, eg when cooking). I may not be able to move very well, seeing as it’s not my body. I may just simply feel on another planet.
The third is derealisation. This and depersonalisation get a bit blurred for me. Derealisation means that the outside world goes weird. Again this can happen in many ways. One way to describe it is the Alice in Wonderland effect. I feel tiny and the world is huge and intimidating. The walls are closing in on me. The floor is rippling and moving. The floor is slanting upwards or moving around. If I look at people who I am close to, I might be able to recognise who they are but they seem somehow unfamiliar and very far away and I stare at their faces wondering who they actually are. Noises might be distorted or muffled, sensations numbed, and speaking is a strange experience, trying to project into such a bizarre and distant world.
The fourth is fugue. This is essentially one of the consequences of other types of dissociation and lost time. Imagine that you are sitting comfortably in your house. The next second you find yourself curled up in a wooded area by the verge of a busy main road in the middle of the night. This is fugue. There is a big gap between now and the last thing you remember, you’ve found yourself somewhere and have no idea how you got there, and you also have amnesia so you don’t know who you are or where you are. This experience, until you work out what’s going on and sort things out, can be very short, or it can last months or years. It goes without saying that this can be extremely frightening and dangerous.
The fifth is Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, or DDNOS, which is diagnosed in 40% of dissociative cases (O’Neil et al (2008)). This diagnosis is another umbrella term. The most common presentation of DDNOS involves either people where there are not two or more distinct personality states evident, or where the person does not have amnesia for important personal information (Spring, R., Multiple Parts (2013)). For example, the person experiences themselves as lots of different “me’s” and watches their other selves from afar. DDNOS is a controversial diagnosis because the line between it and DID is not clear and there are many issues with the process of diagnosis. It is a difficult diagnosis to have because it does not have the recognition that DID has and can leave the person feeling even more confused and isolated.
The sixth, and the furthest along the dissociative spectrum, is Dissociative Identity Disorder, or DID. Here, all of the dissociative symptoms above are present, and the dissociation has occurred to the extent that the person’s personality has actually fractured. According to the DSM-IV, having DID means that you have two or more personality states and have amnesia between them. Sometimes the term polyfragmented is used, which I understand to mean 100+ parts, or multiple systems (separate groups of parts). Life with DID is extremely confusing and fragmented. Non-DID life is linear, which means that you can remember your day from the moment you got up until now in a straight line with no gaps. My experience of life is completely different. My life is shared between hundreds of people, and that means my time too. I cannot remember a whole day without lots of gaps, and my experience of time is here there and everywhere, like a jigsaw taken apart or an exploded party popper. My experience of living is also very different. There are few moments in my life where I am not experiencing some kind of dissociation. That means that there are few moments when I am fully connected and in step with the outside world.
Finally, there are other aspects of dissociative experiences which are not given a label. Some of these can be explained by the intensity of my inside world which is often much more real than the outside world, for example, voices and chatter, screaming, sensations from inside my brain, and so on. Some can be explained by body memories, flashbacks, and hallucinations, such as crawling skin, seeing things on the outside, and feeling things on my body. This, and multiple parts, can also explain things like feeling much shorter or taller, older or younger, weaker or stronger, in agonising pain or unable to feel pain, and more or less well. Dissociation has lots of day to day effects, like clumsiness, loss of balance, and poor short term memory. There are lots of other dissociative experiences but I can’t think of them right now – I’m too dissociated!
There are many different ways that young children can become involved in the activities of a group practising ritual abuse. Frequently, the members of a group deliberately produce children for the group to use. They use the women within their groups, either willingly or unwillingly, as vessels, which they impregnate and thus, in time, provide live babies. The woman may be kept hidden as her pregnancy develops so that no one outside of the group will know that she is even pregnant. Providing she is not a person who would be missed by anyone, it is relatively easy to keep her out of circulation for a few months. On other occasions, a woman may carry the child openly and later tell people that she miscarried the child or that the child was stillborn. Certainly no one would ever think to check her story.
Other women may be so totally controlled by the abusive group that they are rendered permanently silent. They may be in the position of being so controlled that they are allowed little or no access to the outside world. They may be so traumatised that they cannot talk about what happened for many years, if ever. They may suffer from learning difficulties or be so damaged by the abuse that they are not capable of ever telling. They may even simply believe that there is no one they can ever tell, have no trust in anyone and/or believe that it is useless to try and tell about the child.
Many children produced in this way are subjected to extremes of torture, mutilation and eventual murder with no one ever able or willing to admit that they ever existed. Few of these children ever live longer than the first few years of life and it is very rare for one of them to reach adulthood.
Children Born into itSome children are born into the culture and tradition of ritual abuse. One or both parents may be active members of a group and be quite accepting of involving their children in the activities of the group. Not only do they allow their child to be actively used in terrifying rituals and ceremonies involving extremes of physical and sexual abuse, but also usually, they reinforce the message of silence and compliance within the home setting on a daily basis. Parents such as this, no matter what belief system they employ to justify their behaviour, benefit financially and personally from the abuse that their child suffers. Like most abusers, particularly those who belong to organised groups, these parents will rarely be brought to justice. Currently, the best that can be hoped for is that the child, somehow, for some reason will be removed from them before too much damage is done to them.
Children born into and raised in such families are taught from a very early age that the lives they are leading are right and proper. Long before they reach school age they have been taught the rules of silence and the many traditions of the group. In the same way that any child growing up within a religious family are taught and conditioned to accept the faith of their parents, so too are these children. They will be taught the group version of history, the philosophy of their religion, languages, what is expected of them and the implications of ever telling about the group or the religion. They have absolutely no choice in any of this. Neither can they ever know or begin to understand while young that what they are experiencing is completely unacceptable within society. To these children their lives are normal to them and they have nothing else to begin to compare it with.
It is only when the children get older, if they are able to have enough freedom that they are able to begin to question whether or not there is any other way to live. By then, they are so thoroughly silenced and conditioned, that it is unlikely they will ever try to tell anyone or seek help from anyone. They have absolutely no choice in how they live and no matter whether they question what is going on, or not, they are well and truly stuck in the situation while young.
Depending on the family these generational children are born into, the child may feel that they have too much to lose by telling. Some, even while still quite young, will have given in and accepted their roles and position within the group. Few consider what is happening to themselves and others to be abuse but rather they accept things as right because their parents and their faith dictates it as such. For some, they have too much to gain from the group to ever risk exposure. If they themselves are destined to win a position of power within the group, they very quickly reap the rewards of behaving as they have been taught to behave. Some of these children grow up to be the next generation of abusers.
Some of those children born into the faith are regarded purely as property to be used by the parents and the group in whatever way they want. They are not destined to gain in power or position and are taught from an early age that they are completely worthless and should be grateful for ever being allowed to live. These children are very much controlled by the family and the group to the extent that they may be kept totally dependent on the group for all things.
Single Parent Marries into Ritual AbuseThere are, these days, an increasing number of single parent families as it is now more acceptable to leave partners and bring up children alone. Abusers often actively seek out and pursue a relationship with single parents in order to get access to their children. So too with those abusers who are involved with ritual abuse. Single parent, who are usually women, sometimes become involved with men who are, unknown to them at the time, involved with an abusive group. These women, over time, may become victims themselves of the brainwashing and abuse that frequently characterises domestic violence and become less able to protect their children. They may be totally taken in by the man and not know that he has set out to abuse the children.
The children in such a situation quickly become isolated from their mother and are carefully ‘groomed’ and prepared to becoming involved in the group activities. Usually, the abuser takes everything very slowly and gently at first so as to gradually introduce and accustom the child to its new situation. Over time, as the child becomes accustomed to accepting more and more in the way of abuse and ritual, the child is exposed to more and more until they accept anything that is done to them and others. As the silencing of the victims is always an absolute priority so as to ensure the safety of the abusers, long before any extremes of abuse takes place; the children will know not to talk to anyone about what is going on.
Close Relative or Family Friend takes them into Ritual AbuseSome children are introduced to ritual abuse through close relatives or family friends. As the parents trust these people, they can often have easy access to the children from quite an early age. Like many child abusers, they ingratiate themselves into families with young children and are quickly regarded as being ‘good with children’. They offer to look after the children, take them on holiday and generally succeed in spending a great deal of time alone with the children. This provides them with adequate time and opportunity to begin to abuse the children. Again, silencing the child is the key to allowing this to continue to happen and they generally progress slowly to more frequent and more extremes of abuse.
As the parent trusts the abuser, the child can easily be persuaded that the parent has permitted all of what is going on. Young children are seldom able to work out for themselves the validity of this. All they will know is that they are repeatedly handed over to the abuser and their parent seems quite happy with this. They will also see that the parent is friendly with and accepting of the abuser. Few young children would ever seek to question this. A child in this situation does at least have a sense of normality at home but this can serve to make everything all the more confusing as the child slips from one reality to another.
Foster CarersFor a variety of reasons children are sometimes placed in foster care for a period of time. Some can be in foster care for quite a long period of time from infancy until they move on to other carers, back to their parents or are placed for adoption. Some abusers gain access to these children by becoming foster carers. Although all foster carers have to pass stringent safety checks by social services before being allowed to care for children, some abusers can easily pass these checks as they have never been caught, reported or prosecuted for any abuse of children. Many abusers appear on the surface to be upright and respectable people until such time as a child or adult survivor finds the strength and courage to speak out against them.
Those foster carers who are part of groups who practise ritual abuse usually involve their foster children in the abuse also. It is a case of too good an opportunity to miss. Though the abuse experience by these children is extremely traumatic, because there is involvement with outside agencies and the possibility of the child moving on to a new home at some point, the abusers are careful to abuse the children in the more subtle ways. Abusers are careful to make certain that the children can be thoroughly silenced before and after abuse and a huge emphasis is placed on ensuring continuing silence. These children are often repeatedly drugged and hypnotised, subjected to extreme sensory deprivation and tricked and confused by constant deceptions. The end result is an often a silent overly fearful child who is unable to make any sense of what they have experienced.
It is often a long time before these children can begin to remember or talk coherently about their experiences. Often their memories are very shattered and confused and the pieces they do remember are unable to fit into any order or make much sense to them or anyone else. Because of the confusion and lack of clear and coherent memories, the children can rarely give adequate details of what actually happened to them. Also, because the abusers will have deliberately deceived them, much of what the child is able to say sounds so bizarre that it is unlikely to be believed or be clear enough for any non-abusive adult to begin to understand what actually happened to the child. The only thing that may be really clear is that the child is so traumatised that something terrible must have happened to them.
Often children who have gone into foster care are distressed to start with and sometimes the assumption is made that a distressed or disturbed child in care is nothing to do with the lack of care they receive but more to do with their troubled backgrounds. Seldom are there any thoughts by anyone of suspecting the foster carers of abuse. Yet many adult survivors of a range of different abuses talk about being abused while in foster care. Abusers can be in any position and what better position could an abuser get into than being the foster carer of a vulnerable child.
Child MindersMany children go regularly, and increasingly these days, sometimes for long periods of time to child-minders as their parents work full-time. The vast majority of these child-minders are very good and caring of the children and would never permit harm to come to the children in their care. As with foster carers, registered child-minders in this country are carefully checked out and vetted by the authorities and this is, to a point, a good safeguard for children. However, abusers come from all walks of life and few are ever caught and convicted of offences against children. Just because someone has been checked out by local authorities does not necessarily mean that they may not involve a child in abuse.
Some adult survivors talk about having been involved in ritual abuse through their regular child-minder. These people may not be as likely to be able to take the children into all of the activities of the group, and they have to be very careful to make sure that the child will not talk, is not bruised and that there is no visible evidence that might make a parent suspect abuse. On occasions, some children do tell their parents what has happened to them, but the things they say can be so bizarre that they are often put down to children’s fantasy and imagination.
Though children abused in this way are usually out of it by the time they get to school age and often have the advantage of having good parents and a good home to return to, the trauma to them is no less for this. In many ways, it can be very difficult for the survivors as they get older and remember what went on, to believe themselves that such strange things could have happened to them. They often doubt their own memory of the events even as adults. They remember what happened in a very small child fashion sometimes with no language to know what was actually being done to them or why it was happening to them. They also have no context to place it in or any understanding of what the abusers were doing and why. All they have is a jumble of memories in which adults acted differently from others and sometimes hurt or frightened them.
Traumatised young people can be extremely difficult to live and work with. Their behaviour can become very extreme and very challenging. They may act abusively towards others. They may exhibit criminal behaviour. They may cause harm to themselves through drugs, drink or self-injury. They may withdraw into themselves and refuse to communicate with anyone. Being an adolescent is difficult enough at the best of times, but being an adolescent who has been severely abused can be so much more difficult. While it is perfectly understandable that abused young people are reacting strongly, it is also difficult to help them to help themselves while all this is going on for them.
Perhaps the best way to begin to reach out to a young person who has been severely traumatised is to find someone who can take the time to begin to build a relationship of equality and trust with them. A friend of the family, a youth worker or a worker from a voluntary organisation can be approached for help in this matter. Providing the person is trustworthy, honest and genuinely caring of the young person, they can often begin to make some headway with the survivor. Though it will take some time for a relationship to build, it is worth taking this time, as it will pay off longer term. It also helps a lot if this person does not report everything said by the young person back to the parents or carers but keeps a high degree of confidentiality.
For young runaways, because they are so mistrustful of adults, it can be difficult to reach out to them with any offers of help. Sometimes the police pick up these young people and, either take them back home if they know their identity, or take them into care if they refuse to let the police know anything about them and no missing person report is filed for them.
In a care setting, if they stay long enough, there is a chance that they may eventually relax enough to begin to trust someone. If the young runaway looks old enough to possibly be a young adult or close to it, the police on noticing them sometimes leave them alone. Occasionally, police officers take the time to build a relationship with these street kids and this can be invaluable in terms of the young person realising that some adults, even those working with the police can be okay.
Although leaving young people living on the street can seem like an almost uncaring thing to do, in many ways, some survivor’s are safer on the street than at home. The reason many young people become runaways is as a result of abuse at home. At least if they are lucky enough while on the street to have a police officer keeping a friendly eye on them, the young person can benefit a great deal from this. Street workers, from a variety of organisations, can also be invaluable in helping young survivors who have run away from home make safe links and safe contacts with responsible and caring adults. In time, the young person may begin to trust, talk and begin to get appropriate help.
Non-abusive parents and carers can suffer great stress and anxiety through trying to care for an abused young person. Unlike a younger child, who will throw tantrums, but can be controlled and comforted with a cuddle, young people are usually too big and far too sophisticated for this sort of thing. Parents and carers often have to endure screaming matches, trashed bedrooms, running away, dangerous behaviours, mental health problems, suicidal youngsters and a great deal more. Unlike most parents who may have to occasionally deal with some of these things in ordinary teenagers, the parents of ritually abused young people have to endure this day after day and hour after hour.
While they may be very understanding, if they know about the extent of the abuse the young person has experienced, understanding in itself, is simply not enough to get through each day with their sanity intact.
Even the most understanding parent or carer would find it hard to cope alone with such a distressed and traumatised young person. Add to that if the parent or carer has other children to care for, the difficultly of looking after the needs of the non-abused children alongside the needs of a traumatised young person. Sometimes too, as the young person feels let down by adults, yet feels safe enough to vent their frustration on parents or carers, these poor people face the brunt of all the anger and distress.
Sometimes parents end up in the position of listening to disclosures. If there is a good relationship between the parent and young person, despite outbursts and tantrums, the young person sometimes feels safe enough to begin talking. Often a great many of these disclosures come immediately after outbursts and tantrums. While it is good that the young person is beginning to talk, the things that the young person talks about can be very difficult for a parent or carer to hear. A lot of what the young survivor says will be unbelievable. A lot will be horrible to hear. All of it will be unacceptable to a loving parent.
Parents and carers have to deal with this without any specialised training or support and frequently with no awareness of the issues at all. The fact that so many manage it is a testament to their love and willingness to care for the young person.
Parents and carers in this position need to get all the help they can to support the whole family, not just the abused young person. Many turn to the psychiatric services or social services for help but often feel let down by the response, or lack of response they get. Parents often need to battle long and hard with agencies and keep on demanding practical and emotional support for themselves as well as help for the traumatised young person. So few people in all the different professions understand, believe or are prepared to work with survivors of ritual abuse that getting help for the young survivor is seldom easy or straightforward.
Parents and carers have to become extremely demanding and be prepared to keep up the pressure until they get the help they need and deserve. They also need to recognise their own expertise with their own child and not be taken in by people who, by virtue of their position, assume or indicate that they know better. Just because someone is a consultant, a social worker or a doctor does not mean that they understand ritual abuse or the particular difficulties of the family. They are not living with it, never have lived with it and probably never will live with it. The parents, siblings and young survivors become the ones with the expertise.
Non-socialised: Many young survivors do not know how to behave normally around other children. They may not know how to play or join in playground games. They may fear children’s group games such as hide and seek, pass the parcel, etc. These games are often turned around by abusers and used to hurt children. These children often do not actively or willingly join in such group games. They may appear fearful, uncertain and uncooperative.
Fear: Many things frighten children but with ritually abused children, there can often be a fear of things out of all proportion to ‘normal’ childhood fears. They may show fear of singing, circle time, paint, colours, making things, animals, stuffed toys, masks, religious items such as crosses or bibles, etc. Ritually abused children may show fear in a different way from other children. Rather than screaming, running away or crying, some children will freeze or even pass out with terror. They may hide in a corner or under a desk. Any unusual reaction to fear in a child should be noticed and gently explored further.
Running away: Most adult survivors report that as children they tried to run away on more than one occasion. Though severely punished for this, many kept on trying. Unfortunately, even on the occasions when police or social work become involved in a child running away from home, the real reasons for running away often remains hidden.
Adults need to recognise that children and young people only run away from home for a reason. The fact that police and social work continually return the children to the abusive home, in the eyes of the child, places them firmly on the side of the abusers. Understandably, these children will not readily turn to these agencies for help.
Touch: Ritually abused children often fear being touched. They are seldom used to okay hugs and the word hug may hold a different meaning for them. If touched they may freeze, flinch, try to get away or not respond in a ‘normal’ child-like manner. They may appear to be afraid of touch or of touching others. Even a simple thing like being told to hold another child’s hand may cause them difficulties.
Drawing: Ritually abused children often find drawing difficult. They may not be allowed to draw or only allowed to draw some things as dictated by abusers. They may be unable to use particular colours in drawings and will react strongly to suggestions of using a colour they are not allowed to or are afraid of. Textures of some drawing or painting materials may also cause problems. Drawings are often mis-interpreted by teachers or play leaders. Adults could learn a lot just by asking the child about their drawings and exploring the use or lack of use of some colours or materials.
Places: Children may show extreme fear of particular places e.g. churches, cinemas, libraries, and graveyards. They may be unable to enter these places without being sick, passing out or becoming very distressed.
Sexualised Behaviour: Some children react to their experiences by becoming sexualised. They may act provocatively, use sexually explicit language, insert objects into themselves, try to touch other people sexually, invite sexual contact with adults, offer sex for money or behave in a sexually abusive way to other children. It is never normal for any child to behave in a highly sexualised manner.