What are the symptoms of ritual abuse?
Most symptoms are non-specific to ritual abuse. Trauma is trauma, and physical and sexual abuse is physical and sexual abuse. Because the abuse is so severe, however, the symptoms may be especially severe and recalcitrant.
Symptoms that are suggestive of ritual abuse are either a fascination with or a phobia of objects, events, or symbols specific to ritual abuse and not generally encountered in other types of physical and sexual abuse. Example of symbols includes crosses, crucifixes, pentagrams (stars), eyes, “magick” and “occult” symbols, certain numbers, and certain colors. Objects provoking fascination or phobia can include blood, knives, electricity, coffins, dolls, babies, and certain animals.
Events similar to abusive events may also provoke extreme reactions. These include the holidays observed by the cult, medical and dental procedures, and childbirth or abortion.
What about recovery?
I (speaking for myself only) do not use the words recovery and healing in this context. They imply to me that things can be repaired and thus they minimize the experience of ritual abuse. If I can be fixed, it wasn’t all that bad.
Instead, I prefer to think about how I can live with my past in a different way. I prefer to examine my relationship with extreme evil, the concepts of free will and coercion, the structure of the mind, and the nature of connectedness with life and with other humans. My goals are increased knowledge of my past and of my internal structure, increased flexibility of thought, and increased control over my own behavior.
Many ritual abuse survivors passionately declare that they have an individual path that they must follow. Others are able to grasp the guidance of religion, twelve-step movements, or therapy and to adopt these concepts as their own. Every person’s path is unique, just as every person is unique.
In general, I think that there are several factors that aid in living with the reality of this extreme kind of abuse. First is a willingness, conscious or unconscious, to break the ties that bind us to violence. Second is the strength and luck to get away, physically. And then there are imprecise terms, such as soul, or love, or guiding spirit, that cannot be defined, but which shape our stance to ourselves and to the world.
My advice for survivors
Trust yourself, whether you think you matter or not. Learn all you can, at your own pace. Discard ideas and people that feel demeaning or violent. Try and remember that, given your past experiences, every day that you do not kill, rape, or maim another person (and that includes yourself!) or an animal is a triumph. And your triumph, added to others, is the only hope we have of stopping the carnage.