Transcript of Jean Riseman's presentation at Survivorship 12/01 - part one
- This may be very heavy for survivors. You may want to read it with a support
person present. This transcript is not a substitute for other ways of
recovering from ritual
Taking the Wind out of Its Sails
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 example:
Breathe deeply. In. Out. Repeat. In. Out. Got it?
This works for me because holding my breath is something that induces a
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 conditioning.
Conscious versus Unconscious Conditioning
Adults go about their business much of the time without thinking how it
will impact on their kids. They are too busy, too preoccupied, or too
tranced out to even think of their kids. Some of the time, though, they are
aware of them and they consciously try to teach them things. Kids learn
both by listening as the adults instruct them and by copying them.
Think of what happens in different families when a mother says "Say
goodnight to Gramma." In a touchy-feely family, the kids will throw their
arms around her. In a reserved family, they will quietly say "Goodnight,
Gramma." Nobody deliberately taught them to act this way -- they just
picked it up. And then there are families that give off mixed signals.
"Goodnight Gramma. I love you, you miserable old bag."
Am I still remembering to breathe? I think so. Just in case. In. Out. In. Out.
Repetition and Reinforcement
The younger you are when you are exposed to conditioning, the stronger the
conditioned reflex. I started 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 ideal American."
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.
1. I become aware of it and label it as prejudice.
2. I refuse to act on it.
3. 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
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
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. If I slip, I make
amends and move on. But I don't solidify the programming by thinking about
it all day and all night.
I think that this technique for diminishing internal prejudice is pretty
easy to understand. It's so easy that surely it can't be useful in dealing
with an official cult-implanted program, right? Too good to be true? But I
found out, for me, at least, that the process is the same.
Here's how I adapted the technique to a cult-implanted "don't talk" program.
At one point I told my therapist something I was never supposed to
remember, let alone talk about. The internal backlash was something fierce.
I was haunted by strong urges to suicide, usually in particularly revolting
ways. So I tried thinking "programming" every time I spotted a
What happened? For starters, it seemed like every third word I thought was
the word "programming." I had no idea that the "kill yourself if you tell"
program was that compelling. "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 something accomplished.
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 and a whole head of garlic. I can do whatever I damn well
please. Isn't that great?"
Educate. Accept. Don't arm-wrestle with programming. Cool.
Now I'm going to start talking about things that are a little heavier. So
I'm going to make sure I'm all here, all present. I invite you to join me
in shaking my hands and arms about, but I won't be offended if you don't.
Ah! That's more like it!
The Use of Fear and Force
I like to think of conditioning and programming as being on a spectrum,
from simple and benign to extremely complicated and malevolent. Just like I
think of dissociation as being a spectrum. We all have a little, some of us
have a whole lot.
On that spectrum, though, there are points where drastic changes occur. I
think that the use of force marks one of these turning points. Force and
violence reduce a kid (or an adult, for that matter) to a survival level.
The adrenaline rush creates a panic state of fight or flight, the intellect
shuts down, and the person operates on instinct.
People are much more vulnerable in this state. 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.
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 different
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 force.