Programming: Taking the Wind Out of Its Sails
by Jean Reisman
For those of you who do not know me, I'm not
thrilled about speaking with a mike in front of people, even
people I know will understand if I goof. I also get very spacey
afterwards, so if I don't recognize you, don't take it
personally. It's just that I'm elsewhere.
Today I'm going to try and demystify programming
and share with you some of the techniques that have helped me
make my programming more manageable. I don't expect them to be
useful to everybody, for we are all so different, but I hope
that many of you can pick up some ideas that will be helpful.
I get easily overwhelmed when I think about
programming. It seems so large, so invincible. Over the years, I
have found that one of the things that helps me break through
the over-whelmedness is to over-simplify the subject. If I can
reduce it to simpler terms, then I can get a handle on it. I can
understand how it works, and get ideas on how to work with it.
Later I can add in some complexities, if I need to. So today I'm
going to use that mental technique and over-simplify the subject
of programming for you - and, of course, for me, too.
Another thing that happens to me is that I
become very trancey. I stare off into space and stop thinking.
My mind becomes passive and receptive because I'm in a hypnotic
state. I'm sure this will happen to me several times as I speak
today. When and if I catch it, I'm going to do some little
things to help me break the trance. If my support person, Jan,
sees me drifting off, I hope she will say, "Jeannie, come
back to earth!"
I invite you to join with me as I do these
trance-breaking tricks. None of them are very fancy and none
hurt me or frighten me. I doubt if they would hurt or frighten
you-all. You don't have to, of course - just because something
is a good idea for me doesn't mean it's a good idea for you. But
if you would like to try, I would like to share. Here's an
Breathe deeply. In. Out. Repeat. In. Out. Got
This works for me because holding my breath is
something that induces a trance.
Okay, here we go. The first thing I want to talk
about is that programming is universal. Let's call this kind of
programming "conditioning." It's how we transmit our
culture to our children. Conditioning is value-free, neither
good nor bad. It just is. Children in China are conditioned to
use chopsticks, children in America learn to use knives and
forks and spoons. Both ways of eating work just fine. You can
think of thousands of examples of this kind of cultural
Conscious versus Unconscious Conditioning
I began learning English before I was a year
old, French when I was six, and Latin when I was twelve. Guess
which language I'm most fluent in?
There's another factor at work here. I spoke
English every day but I only spoke French to certain people in
certain circumstances. And of course I hardly spoke Latin at
all. I "practiced" my English a lot more than I did
the other languages. Constant conversation in English guaranteed
that I remembered words and grammar.
When I was eighteen, I spent a year in Italy
after studying Italian for only two semesters. During that year
I only spoke Italian, and it rapidly became far better than my
French, although I had studied French for twelve years by then.
It was the repetition that did it.
It's been years since I spoke either language,
and both have faded. But if I had lived in Italy for forty
years, I am sure I would have forgotten a lot of my English. It
was already starting to happen in just one year. That's
something to tuck in the back of your mind about programming --
if you don't reinforce it, it fades.
Much of my conditioning is helpful to me living
in the country I was born in. It helps me fit in socially and
guarantees I won't be hit by a car because I walk on red, not
green and I look first to the right before crossing the street.
But there are some things that I learned when I
was very young that I do not like now that I am adult. Take
prejudice, for example. We are all prejudiced, more or less,
against just about everybody that is less than "main-stream
I'm ashamed of being prejudiced. Rationally, I
know it's not my fault, because I'm a product of my culture. But
I don't like it and I certainly don't want to act on it and hurt
others. There are three steps I take to weaken the force of my
prejudice. Simple to say, sometimes hard to do.
I become aware of it and label it as
I refuse to act on it.
I let the issue go -- I don't brood on it.
To name a thing is to take away some of its
power. A name is like an anchor in my mind. Labeling a thought
"prejudice" clearly brackets the thought that I find
undesirable and separates it from the "me" that I
value. It is now something that was put into my mind without my
permission, not my own thinking.
Steps two (not acting on it) and three (letting
it go) are weakening the prejudice by not reinforcing it.
Refusing to act on it, to tell mean jokes, for example, is
obviously avoiding reinforcement. But refusing to brood on it,
to beat myself up over it, is equally an avoidance of
reinforcement. If I spend three days agonizing over having had a
sexist or racist thought, that is three days of driving that
thought deeper into the grooves of my mind.
Note that this is not the same as denial. I'm
not shoving anything under the rug. I acknowledge it, deal with
it and move on. The result of applying this to a suicide program
"Wow! They really did a number on me,
didn't they? I wonder how they did it."
My mental attitude changed from fighting
suicidal impulses, trying not to think those thoughts, to
curiosity about the past. Which was great, because trying not to
think something is a losing battle, and consumes a vast amount
of energy, besides.
Step two. I gave my kitchen knives to my best
friend to hold and re-committed myself to not acting on suicidal
urges. Just let them be. If I act on them, I will never get a
chance to understand where they came from and what they mean.
I'm sure I would have experienced some relief if I had cut, but
I chose to stay with the thoughts and feelings and see what
Step three. After I labeled the suicidal thought
as programming, I turned my attention back to every-day
activities. No point in hanging on to it, for surely it was
going to come back by itself. Meanwhile, might as well get
Some of you might recognize this as a basic
meditation technique. When you are concentrating on your
breathing, or on a mantra, sensations, emotions, and thoughts
will inevitably distract you. Don't bother worrying. This is
normal. Just label them and let them go, turning your attention
back to your mantra. With practice, the mind calms down.
Now I know that meditation isn't a positive
experience for many people. New-age cults, especially, use
meditation to bring people into a compliant trance state. And
"emptying" the mind can be frightening if it results
in flashbacks. But turning my attention back to dishes, feeding
the cat, or editing didn't have any adverse effects for me.
And so I "out-Zenned" the program,
rather than fighting it, and it ran its course and faded. I
emerged from the situation feeling more empowered. There was
more of "me" and less of the programming. The next
time a suicidal program kicked in, it was less intense and
lasted a shorter time.
I then proceeded to fine-tune this simple
technique. I tried talking to the program as if it were an
alter. I praised its strength, intelligence, and sophistication.
I could almost feel the programming smile. (Of course, I wasn't
really talking to the program, I was talking to the alter or to
that part of my mind that had learned the program.)
I also spent some time telling that part that
nothing bad would happen if we broke the rules now. I explained
that there was nobody around to enforce the old rules, and so
they didn't really apply any more. They had stopped being rules.
We were free!
I walked around my home describing all the
things that were mine. "This is my refrigerator, and I can
buy and eat anything I want now. I don't have to eat what I am
told to, like in the old days. I can eat spaghetti or ice cream
for three days straight if I feel like it, or I can stir-fry
spinach with olive oil...
Control Through Violence
The tremendous fear engendered by violence
creates what has been called a "terror trance." It's
an altered state of consciousness, and what is learned in this
state is driven deeply into the psyche. People are much more
vulnerable in this state.
When violence is used to control behavior, I
stop calling it conditioning and start using the word
"programming." Perhaps that's arbitrary, perhaps it's
a useful distinction. But I do believe that something very
When I spoke about conditioning, I hope I made
it clear that this is something benign that happens in every-day
life, among all families, all cultures. Now I want to talk about
families that shape their children's behavior using fear and
Sometimes this is normative in the culture,
sometimes it isn't. If it's normal in the culture, the children
will show the effects of being raised with violence, of course.
They may be fearful, insecure, or alienated. But since this
happens to all kids, they won't stand out as much as abused kids
in societies that don't condone violence. By the standards of
their own culture, they won't be socially different as adults.
If, however, the family uses lots more violence
than the other families in their community, their children will
soon act, or at least feel, different. They will be more
fearful, more anxious, or angrier than their age-mates. They may
act like their parents and be violent or bully weaker kids.
(This is an example of the famous and misused phrase
"acting out." They are showing in their actions what
is happening to them, rather than tattling on their folks and
telling in words.) They may become so fearful that they flinch
when somebody touches them or hide under their desks at school.
Afraid to try new things, afraid to make friends, afraid to
stand up for themselves, they attract bullies because they are
an easy target, which makes them even more fearful.
Or they may consciously or unconsciously realize
that their parents are violating society's norms. In this case,
the kids will protect their parents by hiding the violence at
home. They will also try and hide their symptoms and attempt to
appear "normal," like the other kids. (That's mainly
what I did.) They will be ashamed of their symptoms, of the
effects the violence has had on them, and will probably blame
themselves, either for being so "bad" that they
deserved the violence, or because they believe there is
something wrong with them because they are not like the other
children. Or both.
Any of this sound familiar?
Factors that Increase the Trauma of Violence
Now I would like to discuss some of the factors
that increase the trauma of violence on kids. These factors
serve to increase the force of programming. In other words, the
more factors are present, and the more often they are used, the
more "effective" the programming. I'm sure there are
more, but these are important ones. Later I will go through the
factors and apply them to kids raised in cults.
Violence is unexpected or unpredictable.
Say a kid is quietly playing and singing, and
uses a phrase that shocks and offends the mother, who suddenly
slaps the child's face. The kid is hurt and totally bewildered.
"Why? It makes no sense. Why did she hurt me? Why now? What
did I do? How can I avoid it happening again? I can't. It was
just out of the blue."
The child's sense of thre and spending a
tremendous amount of physical and psychic energy trying to avoid
or at least lessen the violence. Life itself is lived in a
terror-trance. That's going to be an adult who is constantly
looking over his shoulder, constantly braced to duck a blow, or
to run, or to fight.
It's sort of like drinking. If you consume a
bottle of whiskey over the course of a year, it isn't going to
affect your life much. But if you drink a quart a night, well,
that's a whole different story.
Violence is bizarre.
By the time children are in school, they pretty
much know what is usual in their community. They see what
happens to other children when they misbehave and they see how
adults treat each other. They also learn lots from television.
In some communities the adults say "please" and
"thank you" and children are punished by having
privileges taken away. In other communities, kids see gang
fights, drug deals gone bad, shootings, and other kids being
smacked right and left. They compare what they see to what
happens at home.
Of course, "socially usual" violence
is going to have a deleterious effect. But it's the unusual
forms of violence that really make children feel ashamed and
different. And remember that in our society, sexual violence
against children is still considered unusual. It's only been a
few decades since we were told (and we believed it) that incest
only occurred in one in a million families. Honest. That's what
the textbooks said when I was growing up. With 77 million
households in the US, that would give a grand total of 77
American incest survivors!
Violence is done in secret or denied.
This is a biggie. Consider the magnifying
effects of threats to a child for telling. Imagine the reaction
of a five-year-old whose father says "If you ever tell
anybody, I will take you up to the top of that mountain and
spank you one hundred times and leave you there." Imagine
-- well, you most likely don't have to imagine -- being told
"If you tell, you die." Told this over and over. The
child is left all alone. Can't talk to anybody, can't be
comforted, can't be rescued, can't even get ideas on what to do.
If the violence is flatly denied, kids learn to
doubt their own perceptions. In addition to being absolutely
alone, they lose faith in their own minds, in their sanity.
"Everybody says one thing, I think another. I must be
wrong." With no faith in their ability to assess reality,
they are wide open to accepting other's views: that is, to being
"Daddy wasn't drunk last night. There was
no fight. You must have had a bad dream."
"Nobody does that to children. You must be crazy to think
"In our family, we never ... fill in the blank."
The child gets a reputation within the family of
having bad dreams, of being crazy, of making things up, or of
being a malicious liar. And thThe gentle family dog is tortured
to the point of attacking. Nothing is consistent, nothing is
what it seems to be, nothing can be predicted. There's no solid
ground to plant your feet on.
Violence is common
Take your typical satanic cult. There are eight
major solar holidays in a year, twelve or thirteen lunar
holidays. That's twenty. Then the major Christian holidays. Say
five or six. Twenty-five. Another five or six secular holidays
or long weekends -- thirty. A few special things like demon
revels, your birthday, the leader's birthday. Forty, and that's
conservative. That's hours and hours of terror and violence
almost once a week, year in and year out. Not to speak of the
training sessions, the preparation of the child for the rituals.
And not to speak of any family violence that occurs outside a
cult setting. That's practically constant violence.
Ack! I just set myself off with a couple of
weird things I remembered. I need to break my trance, leave
those past images and feelings, and come back to the present.
Time for cold water on my face -- works like a champ for me.
Wakes me up and reminds me that I have a real live body in the
present. Ice cubes are even better, but I don't want to go
fishing for them.
I don't think I want to give any examples right
now, for fear of triggering myself again. I think I can just say
that lots of things that happen in cults are extremely bizarre,
and leave it at that.
Violence is a secret
Even in abusive groups that are out in the open,
the abuse is most often a secret. I'm thinking of certain fringe
Christian groups, white supremacist groups, and certain
fraternal societies. Everybody knows they exist, and often
everybody knows who belongs. But what happens behind closed
doors stays behind closed doors.
But it's also common for ritual abuse survivors
to have been abused in groups whose very existence was a secret.
The kind of group that elicits comments like "They don't
exist." "I've heard of them, but we don't have any in
this state." "They are very rare -- and usually it's
not a group, but a lone loony." They are very good at
hiding. And they make sure their children won't give them away.
All four of the factors that amplify the effects
of violence are heavily present in cults. No wonder the
programming is so strong and goes so deep.
Violence, Conditioning, and Programming
Okay. Under cult conditions, children are going
to be programmed as well as conditioned. What I mean is that
they are conditioned in all the usual societal ways -- gender
roles, etc. -- and they are also programmed to follow the norms
of the cult.
Sometimes the two reinforce each other. My cult,
for example, was highly patriarchal. So was my family. So was
society in general in the forties and fifties. Both the day life
and the night life taught me that mena terror-trance endured in
the cult environment is what you learn in the "real
world," then it's going to be like two mirrors held up to
each other, the hidden reflecting what's in sight.
But if what you are taught in a terror-trance is
the opposite of what is learned the rest of the time, there is
going to be a tremendous split. Like a two-family house, with a
day apartment and a night apartment side by side. Except when
you are in one apartment, you don't know the other exists.
Deliberate Mind Control
Now I'm going to talk about deliberate mind
control, which is at the far end of the conditioning-programming
spectrum. Once again, there is an abrupt change, and we are
talking another quantum leap here, not just a little tiny
I think that if you are a survivor of
mind-control experimentation and have a resulting complex
internal system, you will easily follow what I'm going to talk
about next. If you aren't, what I say may be confusing, or you
may have to stretch to understand. If you start to get confused
or overwhelmed, remember that there is a safe room available, or
look at your "Note to Myself" sheet for other ideas.
I wish that we used language that distinguishes
between conditioning, programming and mind-control. But we
generally don't. I try to use the word "program" only
for mind-control programming, and I use "cue" instead
of trigger for setting off a mind-control program. This helps me
separate the two concepts in my own mind.
There are two words that come immediately to me
when I think about mind control: "deliberate" and
All abusive groups, in one way or another, use
mind-control techniques. Isolation of the victim, control of the
setting by the perpetrators, and control of information by the
perpetrators, are all basic mind control techniques. So are
fear, pain, fatigue, hunger, and thirst. So is unpredictability,
as in the "good cop, bad cop" technique.
These are the techniques that are used in all
forms of brainwashing. Some groups aren't really aware that
that's what they are doing, others (or at least their leaders)
are very aware of it. In other words, groups, and individual
members of a given group, are more or less cynical about their
But what we are referring to when we talk of
mind-control experimentation is the deliberate and skillful
manipulation of parts of a person's mind so that is becomes, and
remains, under the control of another. The experimenters,
trainers, and handlers have a particular goal in mind and they
select the techniques that will enable them to achieve that
goal. They are familiar with many different techniques, and when
they aren't satisfied with the results, they modify their plan.
They are thorough and systematic. They know what they are doing.
The technology they have at their command is
much more complicated and sophisticated thaization, with a CEO,
advisory boards, etc. Sometimes the pattern is more like a video
game, with castles and dragons and all sorts of tricks and booby
traps for the unwary.
Handling mind-control programming
It's this kind of programming which really
frightened me for a long time. I thought it was so exotic, so
other-worldly, that I didn't have a fighting chance against it.
It didn't help that my programming didn't seem to contain any
recognizable alters. Everything was geometric patterns and
mathematical codes, and I had no idea how to talk to
non-Euclidean geometric figures. What could I say? "Nice
figure! You are really flexible!" I was totally snowed.
Finally it dawned on me that a sentient part of
me must have been present when all that mysterious math junk was
put into my brain. I decided to work with the part of myself
that had learned all this stuff. Remember how in the beginning I
said that it worked for me to over-simplify? I figured that it
was a try, at least. I decided that I would design an extremely
simple technique and see what happened, just as I had in working
with my prejudice.
ven if it didn't work, I was convinced that the
very fact that I was using common-sense things that any teacher
or mother knows instinctively would help me cut the mind-control
programming down to size in my own mind. I was no longer
paralyzed when thinking about it.
Again, I broke it down into simple steps.
Set the stage for respectful internal
Educate about the present, the past, and its
Offer opportunities, but do not try and
change anything internally
Step One: Setting the stage. I start by giving
permission to my parts to learn, without being coercive.
"Anybody who wants to listen can. Nobody has to. Anybody
who isn't listening can ask others inside about what I said. And
I will explain again, too, in case you want to listen later
on." I've snuck in the idea of freedom of choice.
"Anybody who objects to or doesn't like
what I am saying can let me know if they want to. Anybody who
wants to give me information may, as long as it's okay
Then I educate and explain in simple language. I
explain that we were raised by people who liked kids to obey and
liked to hurt kids. But those people aren't around anymore. We
don't have to follow their rules. We don't have to agree with
them any more. We can make up our own rules. We can change our
rules any time we want. We can choose! We are free!
I steer away from words that have a weird
connotation to me. "Safe" for example, means to many
of my parts that I am locked up, and that therefore I cannot
hurt anybody or anything. I am "safe" because I am
imprisoned. This is not a message that I'm trying to convey
inside, so I avoid the word and find words that weren't used
back then. "Okay" is a fine substitute, as my perps
were too pgs had been normal, there was nothing wrong with me,
and I was in a different situation now, one where I could feel
So it worked in an emergency. But it works
equally well for me when there isn't an emergency, and it helps
lessen the panic when the next emergency comes along. I've put a
framework in place for my parts to understand and cope with
whatever comes up.
Within this simple framework you can add almost
anything you can imagine. Some people make an internal
"healing pool" for newly-awakened alters to wash away
the hurt and pain. Some make a special place where there are
kind and competent alters to take care of the wounded ones. Some
find relief in making small internal changes, like laying an
hourglass on its side or giving a frightening fire-breathing
dragon the job of lighting a fire for coffee every morning. The
number of ways you can adjust things to suit your system is
limited only by your -- and your therapist's and friends' --
So that's basically how I work with my system.
Start simple, see what works and what doesn't, and then tweak my
technique. Accept. Educate. Work with, rather than against, my
parts and my programming.
Now if you want to, we can jump up and down some
before the question period.
you are going to work with ritual abuse survivors, you
must also get educated if you want to be effective. And
you must learn to be humble. Trauma survivors do not need
to be around ignorant, modern-day Pharisees. Survivors in
pain need people who will connect with them on an
emotional level, get right down in there where they are,
and listen. --Kathleen Sullivan