Ritual Abuse Survivors and Meditation

There were a couple of happy years before I got my memories when I was experimenting with self-hypnosis, meditation, and paganism. Every morning I would light incense before a representation of the God and Goddess and set an intention for the day. That was a cross between a prayer and a resolution, and it started me off in a good mood. Every afternoon I would choose a favorite record, put myself into a trance, and let my mind wander. My very favorite music was The Incredible String Band – does anybody remember them?

“This moment is different
From any before it
This moment is different
It’s NOW”

I don’t think this was an accepted form of meditation, but it left me relaxed and open to experience. I loved doing it, and I didn’t understand why I slipped away from it. I’ve never been able to get back to those practices. A couple of days in a row, and then once again, I slip away from it.Nothing unpleasant ever happened to me, and I never felt it was selfish, dumb, or a waste of time. It was just all in all lovely.

Looking back, perhaps it made the barrier between my conscious and unconscious mind more porous, and I subconsciously knew that I needed to keep my past buried a little longer. I had some difficult things to handle at the time, and it wasn’t until I had finished dealing with them that the 24/7 flashbacks started coming.

I have heard other survivors say that they don’t meditate because, when they tried, stuff came flooding in from the past. I suppose it would be worth meditating if they felt they needed something heavy to work on, but otherwise, there was nothing in it for them. And they felt isolated because everybody else thought meditation was great, and they dreaded it. The fear each time of what might come up, feelings that came with the buried material, and the energy it took not to fall completely apart – all were overwhelming. It just wasn’t worth it.

If they didn’t experience flashbacks or overwhelming feelings, they heard many voices all talking at once, all clamoring to be heard, all needing attention and reassurance, and all needing it RIGHT NOW. It was impossible to listen to all of them at once, impossible to get them to speak one at a time, and difficult to shut them down again.

I heard these reports often enough that I wondered why it wasn’t talked about. There was nobody to say, “Oh, this happens some times. Here is what you can do to manage it.” So the survivor was alone, feeling crazy and defective, and longing for an instruction manual.

When I went Googling for material, I found that it *is* being talked about these days, but this is not widely known. I didn’t find anything that directly addressed multiplicity, but I did come across a couple of interesting articles.

The first article I found is “Mindfulness and Meditation Can Worsen Depression and Anxiety.”   https://www.newscientist.com/article/2251840-mindfulness-and-meditation-can-worsen-depression-and-anxiety/.

It’s a summary of “Adverse events in meditation practices and meditation‐based therapies: a systematic review” by M. Farias, E. Maraldi, K.C. Wallenkampf, and G. Lucchetti. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 21 August 2020. The complete article is at:   https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acps.13225

This article reports that, in the 55 research articles studied, “adverse events (AEs)” occurred, on average, to 8.3% of meditators. “The most common AEs were anxiety (33%), depression (27%) and cognitive anomalies (25%); gastrointestinal problems and suicidal behaviours (both 11%) were the least frequent.” They occurred to people both with and without a history of mental health problems and both during or after meditation. Some resolved rapidly, while others lasted for weeks or months.

Besides anxiety and depression, psychiatric adverse events included psychotic or delusional symptoms, dissociation or depersonalization, fear or terror, trauma re‐experience, and suicidal ideation or behavior. Somatic adverse events included stress or physical tension, pain, and gastrointestinal problems. Neurological or cognitive adverse events included thought disorganization, amnesia, perceptual hypersensitivity, impaired memory reliability, and involuntary bodily movements and muscle contractions.

Not everybody would view these reactions as unpleasant or harmful. For example, back when I was practicing my idiosyncratic version of meditation, depersonalization gave me a high – I found it “trippy.” Some people might consider unpleasant events as part of the process, to be expected and accepted. Others might be so distressed that they vowed never to meditate again.

The second article I found is “The varieties of contemplative experience: A mixed-methods study of meditation-related challenges in Western Buddhists” by Jared R. Lindahl, Nathan E. Fisher, David J. Cooper, Rochelle K. Rosen, and Willoughby B. Britton. It was published in Plos One: on May 24, 2017. (Plos One is an open-access peer-reviewed research journal.) You can find the complete article at https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0176239.

I was fascinated by this article. It describes a qualitative study of Western (mostly U.S.) practitioners of Buddhist meditation in the Theravāda, Zen, and Tibetan traditions, meditation teachers, and clinicians working with meditation-based therapies. Using primarily open-ended questions, the authors obtained descriptions of unusual experiences, the context in which they occurred, and interpretations of the experience and reactions to it. The study is beautifully designed and implemented.

I’m tempted to quote at length from the article, as it is so rich, but I think it would stray from the topic at hand, e.g., the unhelpful experiences some ritual abuse survivors have had with meditation. I can’t resist sharing this quote, however. “It is difficult to discern to what extent the classification of an experience as an “adverse effect,” a “religious experience,” or any other designation reflects a real difference in phenomenology or is a consequence of an appraisal made either by a meditator, a researcher, or both. Similar challenges affect research that attempts to compare and differentiate “mystical” or “religious” experiences from “psychopathology.”

So for those of us who have had bad experiences with meditation, be heartened that there are people out there finally taking it seriously. You aren’t the only one – you are one of the 8% who have experienced something similar.

And you have something to teach others. You may understand what went on in your system that caused this to happen. Was focusing on one thing only an opening for silenced parts to come forward, all at once? Was it a re-enactment of sensory deprivation programming? Was meditation itself, or something associated with it, a cue that elicited a reaction of fear? Think what a fascinating study that would make!


Upcoming Holidays

10/31 Full moon (Blue Moon)
10/31 Halloween/start of Celtic New Year/start of the dark half of the year
11/1 All Saints’ Day
11/2 All Souls’ Day
11/11 Veterans’ Day (?)
11/13 Friday the thirteenth
11/26 Thanksgiving Day (United States)
11/30 Full moon
11/30 St Andrew’s Day
Sundays of advent: 11/28, 12/5, 12/12, 12/19
12/4 Total Solar Eclipse
12/14 Total solar eclipse. Totality will be visible in Chile and parts of Argentina. Partial eclipse will be visible in southern South America and south-east Africa. See https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/map/2020-december-14
12/18 Full Moon
12/21 Winter solstice/Yule/St. Thomas’ Day
12/24 Christmas Eve
12/5 Christmas Day
12/29 Full moon
12/31 New Year’s Eve

Dates Important to Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups
11/9 Kristallnacht
11/29 -12/16 Chanukah/Hanukkah  (Jewish Festival of Lights)
(NOTE: Not all groups meet on Jewish holidays. Some groups also mark Candlemas, Beltane, Lammas, Halloween, the solstices, and the equinoxes.)


* How to add a comment after a post This blog’s design makes it hard to figure out how to comment. Go down to the bottom of the post (after the calendar) You will see in light grey type: “RATE THIS” tagged (a list of the tags) (the number of) comments” Click on the word “comments” to open all posted comments.

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* You can find more information on the following holidays at: 

Halloween {personal) https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/halloween/
Halloween (background) https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/samhainhalloween/
Thanksgiving https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/thanksgiving/
Yule/Winter Solstice https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/yulewinter-solstice/ 
Candlemas https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/candlemas/
Valentine’s Day https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/02/10/valentines-day/
Spring Equinox https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/the-spring-equinox/
Easter: (personal) For background, see Spring Equinox https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/easter-blues/
Walpurgisnacht/May Eve: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2017/04/20/walpurgisnacht/
Beltane: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/beltane/
Mothers’ Day: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/mothers-day/
Fathers’ Day: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2020/06/20/ritual-abuse-and-fathers-day/
Summer Solstice (corrected text) https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/well-this-is-embarrassing/
Lammas https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/category/lamas/
and https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/august-ritual-dates/
Feast of the Beast/Bride of Satan: Part 1 https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/the-feast-of-the-beast/
Feast of the Beast/Bride of Satan: Part 2 https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/feast-of-the-beast-part-ii/
Fall Equinox https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/the-fall-equinox/

5 thoughts on “Ritual Abuse Survivors and Meditation

  1. Any time I have silence around me my head fills with voices. Anytime I steady myself to settle down, it seems to work the opposite. Any time I drive for a length of time, memories flood. Because of this I have never intentionally intended to meditate. The overwhelm i would feel would cripple me. I’m looking forward to reading these studies you have shared. Thank you.


    1. I suppose when the mind takes a break from everyday things, or worrying, or whatever else normally fills it, it feels like an invitation to all the forgotten parts to take their turn in the sun. And it is them all wanting to come out at once that is so overwhelming!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this. How often have good intentioned folk told me to meditate, and when i told them it was not helpful, they said i didn’t give it a “real” chance. Opening up the mind for meditation opens it up to everything else. The resulting flood paralyzes. Always wondered why i/we seemed the only being unable to reap the benefits. Oh, and have always loved The Incredible String Band – was quite young when an older acquaintance played me a record of theirs. jd


    1. Hey now you know you aren’t the only one. You are one of the 8-plus percent.

      If you ever get a chance to see The Incredible String Band, and if we can ever go to concerts again, and if they are still touring, go! I saw them a few years ago, and they were much looser. People were dancing in the aisle, and they were having a great good time, too. Same songs, totally different feel!


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