Sanctuary for the Abused
Tuesday, April 03, 2018
Programming: Understanding, Recognizing & Nullifying It
(note from Barbara: MANY abusive relationships are considered "cultic" -- just use the word relationship in place of cult in the following article to see just how abusers 'program' their victims)
Warning: The contents of this article may be triggering. If you’re a survivor, you may want to read it gradually at different times or with a supportive friend or partner. It also might be a good idea to make sure that you are in a safe space while you read this & for some time afterwards. You might want to remind yourself of a safe place inside you that parts can go if they need to. It’s a healing & nurturing thing to respect your limits & boundaries & what you can hear, for now.
This article is an overview of programming. There are many specific programs & effects. However, in my experience, the ways to change or halt the effects of programming, no matter what the specific program, are similar, just as some of the most common effects of programming are similar. So although this article is "only" an overview, it should help you to effectively deal with programming.
What is Programming?
Programming involves a message or series of messages (often accompanied by sensory, emotional, or body memories) that repeat or resonate inside a survivor’s mind at a certain cue or trigger (delivered by personalities who were trained, through torture, to do that).
Programming is a deliberate tool used by cults to control their victims. It is trained into victims through the use of mind control & torture at a very young age. The degree to which a victim incorporates programming into her personality system is often a large part of her chance at survival. Often the torture does not stop until the cult is assured that the victim not only knows the new message, but has taken it into a deep core level. The survivor often has to create specific personalities to withstand the torturous event & message & has to accept particular names & roles for personalities that the cult sets for them.
When a program is set off & personalities begin to do the job that they were trained to do (through torture), the survivor re-experiences much of the same trauma & terror that she did while being tortured, along with programming messages. She may not consciously hear or register the programming messages, or may assume that they are her "thoughts."
Why Should I Care About It, Anyway?
Unless a survivor is aware of her programming or knows what it looks & feels like, she may simply be responding to these old messages. Programming messages can be put forth by other personalities so that they seem like the survivor's conscious thinking & it is only with struggle that she recognizes that no, she doesn't think or feel that way, or want to complete that action.
There are also times when a survivor can be fighting programming without realizing that that is what she is doing, such as when she hears a cue but doesn’t recognize it as a cue & spends the next few hours trying to contain, suppress, or counter the thoughts, images, or impulses that were triggered.
Regardless of whether or not a survivor recognizes programming occurring inside her, the messages can feel compelling & strong & can be extremely convincing. They often create great emotional trauma & internal disorder, chaos & fighting between parts. It can take a lot of conscious work & emotional energy to combat programming messages & to change or halt their effect. However, once a survivor is aware of her personality system, her process, her own programs & what helps her when those programs are occurring, programs can be more easily diverted, worked with & changed.
Working with programming messages can help a survivor access information about the original events that led to the programming message. For instance, she may be able to uncover memories of the first time those messages were forced on the survivor & of other abuse & torture events that reinforced those messages; information about how a survivor's personality system is set up - origin (survivor or originally cult-created parts), names, jobs, background about specific parts & beliefs that they may have learned & retained from the cult, etc.
Having such information can help you make more sense about things you react to or believe in & can help you form a greater picture of your abuse experience. It can help give you a firmer foothold in understanding & controlling your own reactions & triggers & help you to work more effectively in your healing. Of course, you may not want to know all this information & may find it overwhelming. That’s fine; if it doesn’t work for you, don’t use it.
Programming Can Be Recognized By:
Phrases that repeat themselves, that feel very familiar & that often have a great emotional impact (such as panic, desolation, extreme mistrust, or being utterly overwhelmed), or that trigger self-harm, dissociation, switching, or inaction. An example would be: "My life is slipping through my fingers," "I'm all alone."
Intense self-hate in any form should be looked at as possible programming, including any thought, feeling, or action that leads you (or would lead you) to be hurt, damaged, controlled, or re-traumatized - emotionally, mentally or physically. The messages may not be as obvious as programming, might only sound like "I shouldn’t get close to anyone," but if you dig down a little deeper beneath this conscious message, you may hear more of the whole message - "I am contaminated & contaminating, therefore I shouldn’t ever get close to anyone." Programming messages that involve self-hate may also be blatant statements: "I’m no good," "No one will ever like me," that you may have absorbed or believed for a long time, or they may be much less blatant messages that seem to come out of nowhere: "I’m a slut."
Feeling that you have to do something & have no choice, or can see no other way out of a situation. This could appear as a blatant message that tells you: "________ is preordained," or a less blatant message that tells you: "If I don't do ______ right now, then ______ will happen (I will die; lose my friend; fail at what I'm doing; be hated.)."
Images of hurting or killing yourself that suddenly appear in your mind, as if for no reason & that make you feel like you have to act on them. These are sometimes accompanied by auditory messages or body feelings. For instance - you are feeling fine, you’re waiting for a subway train to take you home & suddenly you have a flash of yourself stepping off the platform in front of the train - or an urge to jump onto the tracks. Or you may hear repeated messages or "thoughts" telling you that you are dead or will be dead, or that someone close to you will die.
Any "thoughts" or messages that discredit your experience as a survivor & a multiple, or that disempower you should be examined to see whether or not they are programming. This can include constant harsh judgement of yourself; degrading, hurtful & damaging "thoughts" about yourself & any "thoughts," feelings, or messages that trigger intense feeling & make you want to act in such a way that would hurt, isolate, or trigger you.
Messages or phrases that tell you to do something that would be dangerous, hurtful, or go against your intuition or feeling of what is safe for you. For example, "I must call/write/email my mother (or abusive relative) because she’s waiting to hear from me & really loves me."
Phrases that use language & thinking that do not feel like your own, that sound biblical or prophetical, or that sound like something you may have been told. For example, "I am walking to my doom if I am walking away from _______ (my parents, the cult, etc.)," or "The cult can see/hear me no matter where I am & they know what I'm saying."
Hearing or seeing inside your head, or overlapping the physical world, sounds or images that are used to "warn," frighten, or threaten parts inside, or make them compliant, or that you remember being used in your abuse. For example, alarm bells, flashing lights (usually red), certain symbols (such as the spiral, the peace symbol, the symbol for anarchy, the symbol for life, the yin yang symbol, etc.).
Phrases that are not heard loudly or clearly, but that seem to be continually running behind your conscious mind. Often the language will be formal.
Familiar common sayings, nursery rhymes, children’s songs, or portions of popular songs are often cues or triggers for programming. They may be an indication of programming if:
you hear them repeating over & over in your head & do not like them or how they feel but can’t make them stop,
you didn’t grow up hearing them but they persist inside your head,
you remember them being used in your abuse (or the same tune but violent or cult words instead of the "regular" words) & consistently hear them repeat inside your head.
Symptoms or Effects of Programming:
feeling like you are spinning, the room around you is spinning, or your head is spinning.
everything around you suddenly becoming too bright or too loud, or feeling like your senses have suddenly been intensified past what is comfortable or normal.
having your head suddenly feel dizzy or fuzzy.
feeling literally unable to talk (I describe it as having "cement mouth").
finding yourself suddenly spilling out detailed information about yourself, your personalities, your internal healing process, or where you’re at right not when you did not want to share that information, or when you’re sharing it with someone you don’t particularly like or trust.
sudden violent, injurious, or death-related images that appear in your head about yourself, someone you know, a stranger, or a pet.
sudden & repeated images of yourself doing something inappropriate that would hurt someone else or that would jeopardize your career or feeling of self-worth.
a desire or obsessive thoughts to suddenly contact a family member, an abuser, or someone you don’t trust, even though you have told yourself you should & will not contact them
a sudden impulse to go to a specific location that you do not know or don’t remember having heard of before (ie. no one’s suggested it to you).
a sudden or repeated belief that you will die or someone close to you will die.
It is a good idea to recognize & identify the programming messages that you do hear & to consciously work on understanding & changing those messages. This gives you more power over your own reactions & triggers, your feelings & state of being &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp; your life - & it will help you in your healing.
Recognizing programming & combatting can be an important part of the healing process.
To help change or halt the effects of programming:
The first step is to hear & recognize that it is happening.
Next, make note of the specific messages that you are being told. It often helps to write them down.
If you can, it helps to take the message back to its source. Ask parts inside when they first heard the message, who told it to them & what the context was.
Try writing out all the steps of the program that you can recognize in as much detail as you can.
Try to let some of your inner conversations about this take place on paper. This can often help more parts inside you to become aware of what is happening while it is happening, thus they won't be as easily convinced of the lies cult has given you. You may also find out more information than you otherwise would have if you didn’t write it out or let parts write.
Write out counter-messages to the program messages that you hear. Make them strong, positive & healing & have them address or counter the cult messages. Often there will be parts inside who know just what to say. An example of a programming message & a counter message is:
Programming message: "I’m going to die/I deserve to die."
Counter-message: "That is something the cult told us to control us & make us afraid. It is a lie. They may have told us that under torture - maybe even convinced parts of us that it is true, but it is not. We are healthy & strong. We will live a long life - & we will not let the cult control us by fear. This message you are repeating, that you were told, is a lie."
Have compassion for the parts who hold programming messages & find out what they really want underneath the messages, lies & distortions. Often, when you really listen to these parts & get past all their cult-prompted messages, you’ll find that they just want to protect you & keep you/them alive & that they never wanted to hurt others. Parts who hold programming messages were originally created to protect you & to keep you alive - because some part inside had to do that - & underneath all that bluster, they are quite vulnerable.
It often helps alleviate some of the fear & reaction you may have to these parts or their messages when you realize this. This doesn’t mean that those parts should continue perpetuating cult lies; they should be encouraged to stop. But it can help to know that they, like you, only wanted to live.
It may also help to write out empowering or countering messages to programming messages & to put them in places where you will see them - taped to the mirror, the wall, folded in a book, beside your bed - to remind you of the good work you’re doing & that you don't have to act on programming. For example, "It is a good idea to treat myself the way I feel people I care about should be treated."
It can also help to hear some of the positive or counter messages you’ve created from safe outside people that you trust. This can help to reinforce the positive messages, especially if you hear them often; eventually, some of them will sink in.
You may even want to make a tape of some of your positive or counter messages & listen to the tape when you feel you need to, or to ask your therapist or a friend to create such a tape for you, based on counter messages that you’ve created.
If programming is occurring in the moment:
Try to do the things listed above.
If a program is functioning that you’ve already written up, consult the steps that you’ve recognized & locate where you are in the program - or write out the steps that are occurring.
Announce to all your parts inside that programming is functioning & that you need to protect yourselves; you now have new ways of coping.
Find ways to ground or centre yourself & encourage comforting, healing, mothering, or protective personalities to come forward (or out in your body).
Help parts inside to hear each other & be there for each other. (Writing out internal conversation often helps with this.)
Find ways to comfort yourself & make yourself safe. Surround yourself with safe things &/or people (ie. teddy bears, toys, soothing music. Wrap a blanket around you & keep a notepad & pen or crayons beside you. Make yourself a warm drink.)
Express yourself safely as much as you can - through paper (writing, art, scribbling), through screaming or moaning into a pillow, pounding a pillow, or going for a fast hard walk. Try to keep aware of the messages going on in your head; if you only do something like scream & ignore the internal chaos, you may find yourself pulled more deeply into the intense emotions accompanying the programming & the messages themselves. For that reason, I prefer writing everything out so I can see/hear what is going on.
Check with yourself how realistic the thing is that you feel you need to do. Ask yourself whether it's truly something that you want to do, with healing & care on your side.
Remind yourself that what is happening is a program; it’s a good thing not to act on it.
You are stronger than the cult & by looking at & recognizing your programming, you’re not letting them win. Just by recognizing your programs, you are light years away from where the cult ever expected you to be. You are doing real healing work that will help you to heal faster, feel better & gain greater control over your process. A safe journey to each of you.