Shattered but Unbroken: Voices of Triumph and Testimony, by Amelia van der Merwe and Valerie Sinason

Breaking the Silence


There is internationally the deep power of music, dance, and art with all the meta-understandings and meaning that come from them. However, our species depends on speech, on a voice to communicate. If a baby’s cry did not resonate at a profound level, the baby would die, incapable of attending to its needs. We are constructed in a relational way, primed to hear and be heard. All around the world we are still dealing with the generational pain which was transmitted when a culture developed in which “children should be seen and not heard”, where the unmet need of wounded adults meant there was no space for the actual child. And all around the world we are witnessing groups who cannot bear to hear the pain of others. Subjects are turned into objects by silencing them, not allowing them a voice. Sometimes “the other” is a child, sometimes the other is defined by gender, race, religion, sexuality, class, or politics.


“We are constructed in a relational way, primed to hear and be heard”

The “other” who is the subject of this book is the child or adult with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and the adult or adults who professionally work with them. All experience the societal fearful responses and discrediting processes which come uniquely with this subject. The fearful discrediting responses increase both in relation to the existence of DID itself and to the nature of the abuse described as being part of the condition’s aetiology together with the attachment pattern associated with it.

f1-mediumVan der Hart, Nijenhuis, and Steele (The Haunted Self, 2006) brilliantly elucidated the nature of structural dissociation in which the ANP, Apparently Normal Part of the Personality, in the dissociative system functions because the EP, Emotional Part of the Personality, carries the pain and memory of the trauma, usually a child. In the DID field, itself an EP against the ANP of general trauma work, the situation changes yet again and Ritual Abuse (and mind control) become the EP. By the psychological processes of splitting and reversal, the Emotional Part of the Personality then becomes experienced as the persecutory messenger, the perpetrator, the Voldemort (in Harry Potter language) who cannot be named.

Originally, this book was intended to be largely focussed on one voice, an African woman who has called herself Anna. Anna was a survivor of ritual abuse and her family are still alive and, we consider, a danger to her. Anna told us about her life when she arranged to meet us at a conference in South Africa, and allowed us to read her haunting memoir. This memoir was intended to be Part I of this book and she was to be a co-author.

We wanted to publish her memoir and now we cannot. The legal department of the University where Anna has started her degree realised that publication of her memoir would endanger her, and Anna realised the truth of that. Although it was for her safety and met with her reluctant agreement, Anna had been silenced again. Although she has seen the manuscript and made comments, the book had to be reconceptualised.


“Ritual abuse exists around the world”

Anna had presented us with a powerful memoir of ritual abuse. Ritual abuse exists around the world and yet evokes powerful negative responses. It was the ritual abuse she experienced which had led to her DID and both were equally denied. Even in professional circles which are concerned with DID there can be a wish to deny ritual abuse as part of its aetiology. Anna made us consider anew the social and clinical question – what does it mean if the abuse you experienced as a child or adult is not allowed to have a name and the condition it causes is equally denied? We are indeed seeing the power of our culture’s difficulty in dealing with these subjects. However hard it is for the clinician or researcher, this pales into insignificance when compared to what it is like for the survivor.

Of course, the fact that ritual abuse exists does not mean that each narrative of such abuse is accurate, as Anna has been the first to agree. Similarly, the fact that DID exists does not preclude the possibility of confabulation, fictitious disorders, absorption, etc. The same applies to narratives of mind control and specific groups (Illuminati/Satanists, Celts, Pagans, MK Ultra, Paperclip, Artichoke, etc), and indeed any human enterprise.

It must also be remembered that extreme trauma, particularly at an early age, can distort memory, and can be confused, merging with fantasy and magical thinking, which of course, does not negate the existence of trauma; it just changes how it presents. However, it must also be noted that it is remarkable how little attention is paid, for example, to congressional records from the US, where, hiding in plain sight, are the statements showing the ideology behind mind control experimentation. Jose Delgado, Professor of Physiology at Yale University, was happy to publicly say (Congressional record No 262E, Volume 1178, 1974) that the liberal orientation concerning personal independence needed changing, as “Man does not have the right to develop his own mind. We must electrically control the brain” (Sinason, in Forensic Aspects of Dissociative Identity Disorder2008).


MK ULTRA is one of a number of increasingly recognised mind control groups (including Illuminati/Satanists, Celts, Pagans, Paperclip, and Artichoke)

Despite clinicians and researchers evaluating different kinds of abuse and their impact and the neurological and psychological changes caused by DID, there are, as Van der Hart points out, ad hominem attacks of a particularly vicious nature which false memory groups engage in, while Amelia Van der Merwe examines the nature of FMS responses. Our societal incapacity to deal with extreme trauma continues to haunt victims and survivors. Eli Somer, in writing about cross cultural perspectives from Israel, underlines the importance of not being silenced and shamed and provides key international examples. Phil Mollon from the UK focuses on the impact of shame on victim and clinician alike. Vedat Şar provides a concerning and rigorous discussion of psychiatric comorbidities, and Kluft points out that “no single model has proven adequate” in treating DID. Hartcollis, in looking at culture and memory, shows how clinicians are turned from being co-authors of a narrative to sleuths in the face of social responses.

4500a2a4519b3bfc1770278fa1baf0b8As a way of reflecting on voices who are compromised, we include fragments, poems, thoughts and comments by a small range of survivors. There are many choices made around levels of disclosure, of having a private or public voice. Many different choices are made and there is no intrinsic right or wrong. Each human has to think of their own safety. We have tried to be representative in including an example of different choices made, anonymity, using a pseudonym or using a real name. There are those who feel safest in their own silence, and who may never tell another and never go to a therapist. We hope they are represented as readers, although they are not authors in this book. Some feel safest in the full glare of public light, giving a full and graphic story full of the exact names of abusers and details of abuse. The range of views printed here form a bridge between those two points in the hope of allowing survivors to consider their own options.

This first reconceptualised part of the book is now dedicated to all those whose voices, like Anna, have been silenced. It contains contributions from adults with DID who tell us of the decisions they have made in order to have a voice. Some use their real name, and some a pseudonym. All give their own authentic reason for the choices they have made. All vary on what they tell of actual abuse and privilege us with their thinking. As their audience, we ask you to read their stories with open hearts and minds, and with respect for their bravery in sharing their stories.


“No one wants this fantasy world to be shattered, and many will fight, even illogically, blindly, to maintain it”

Many readers may recoil from some of the experiences they read, and disbelieve many of the – on the surface – unbelievable details, but we leave you with this thought – perhaps we react this way because of an intrinsic wish to continue believing in an essentially benevolent and predictable world. In a world many of us are familiar with and a world we know, which has none of the peculiar phenomena and evil surprises which Wendy Hoffman and Alison Miller, in particular, speak of. No one wants this fantasy world to be shattered, and many will fight, even illogically, blindly, to maintain it.

9781855758827-usPart II provides the professional response with key writers and thinkers from South Africa, the US, the Netherlands, Turkey, Israel and the UK. Anna is not forgotten. All our professional contributors, noted clinicians in this field whose work had provided solace and inspiration for Anna in Part II, have now been shown her silent testament. Together with the thinking of the courageous survivors who have engaged with the issue of safety and speaking out in Part I, these two strands weave a banner of support.

A banner of support is needed for this subject. Our leading clinicians, Kluft, Van der Hart, Mollon and Somer, who write in Part II, have emphasised the powerful social fears surrounding these subjects and the discrediting process which clinicians face, both historically and geographically.

Our understanding of the psychological pain of others is not independent of the culture we live in. We take pride in our independent vision. Every day we fail people through the limits of our understanding. Thus, we bring you this book, to help expand our audiences’ understanding. In 1966, while teaching infants, one of us (Sinason) commented on a “sexualised” drawing by a child which was concerning, and not fully understood for another twenty years. In the 1980s one of us (Sinason) published a paper about a child who spoke in different voices, not understanding she had DID until twenty years later. This brings about an internal shame which is quite separate from the shame which is experienced from outside attacks (the external response). In most subjects you can feel pride when you improve and learn more. In the therapy field, learning more means being aware that you failed previous patients!  Mollon usefully emphasises the centrality of shame in this work, to the client, the therapist and society. Let us try and unpack that a little more.

512py6nymkl-_ac_ul320_sr214320_An adult patient comes to therapy with great shame and embarrassment. With great difficulty the patient manages to disclose that following the trauma of childhood abuse there has been nightly bedwetting which has made the thought of any adult sexual relationship impossible. The therapist comments on how hard it was for this to be voiced and what a step forward to voice it. The therapist could have come from a range of different theoretical, cultural and clinical backgrounds but the response is standard. Hopefully the painful sense of shame will have been momentarily relieved and a sense of non-judgemental positive regard will slowly be internalised. The concept of analytic neutrality was never intended to mean robotic or unfeeling. The point was that the therapist should not become the archaic persecutory figure in the patient’s mind.

What would the impact have been on the patient if the therapist had replied, “It seems you have the perception you have been wetting the bed“?  What would the impact on the patient be if a GP letter had also said, “Please see this adult who alleges nightly bedwetting”?  What about an adult with a psychiatric diagnosis of PTSD being told by a senior police officer that they had “alleged” posttraumatic stress disorder and “alleged” flashbacks as the trauma had not been proven by law yet?

Let us take it to the ordinary human interpersonal sphere. A woman has just heard her mother died in a car crash. She rushes in to a friend’s house, weeping with her news. The friend says, “I see. This woman who you say is your mother, you say has just died. Do you have the birth certificate to prove your parentage? Do you have your alleged mother’s death certificate yet?”

We can see immediately that such a stance would mean the end of any friendship, unless the bereaved person sought out sadistic relationships. However, within the therapeutic sphere such a stance would also be profoundly anti-therapeutic. Yet when the presenting problem moves to the field of sexual abuse, all common sense disappears. Instead of accepting the patient’s narrative, with internal understanding that any discourse is subject to error and distortion, some therapists feel compelled to sound like poorly trained lawyers or police officers.

9780415498166-us-300Bedwetting, even if it is a psychological consequence of a crime, is not a crime. However, the lay therapist, faced with an increasingly litigious environment, can lose the relational link with the patient the moment a crime is mentioned. It is as if an adversarial unpsychological courtroom has entered the privileged space of the therapeutic relationship. Human relating is not the province of the courtroom which has a different social task and function.

Of particular historical and legal note in the reduction of adequate therapeutic support and treatment in the field of trauma and abuse has been the impact of relatively small numbers of family members becoming spokespersons and prime movers for False Memory Societies (as Hartcollis, Van der Hart, Mollon, and Van der Merwe have written). Regardless of whether they are innocent or not, it is clear that their main attachment pattern is one of control as they seek to dominate the social discourse concerning the freedom of their adult children, largely daughters, to have a private reflective space. If they are not controlling the words and thoughts of these children they assume the therapist or other professionals are. The identikit of projection and reversal they conjure up – someone who ignores the sovereignty of the adult’s mind, contaminates it with their own poisonous agenda, causes estrangement from the rest of society, and seeks to manipulate – is indeed that of a criminal abuser who recognises no generational boundaries.

This identikit is an accurate representation of the adult who continues an incestuous relationship right into adult life and, of course, there are a small percentage of therapists and other mental health professions which fit this pattern and have committed a crime. However, it is of interest that False Memory researchers rarely mention criminal therapists who sexually and financially exploit their patients or clients. Their focus is on those who, they consider, “believe” a narrative they, rightly or wrongly, do not accept.


In a context where, for example in the UK, eleven million citizens are considered by government to have had an abusive experience in their lifetime, and in SA, 22,781 children reported sexual offences in one year (South African Police Services, 2013–2014), and 84% of those who were raped were raped by someone they knew (Vetten et al., Tracking Justice:The Attrition of Rape Cases Through the Criminal Justice System in Gauteng, 2008), the small number of allegedly innocent families in False Memory groups have had to agree that abuse is more prolific than they originally considered. However, they can gain some validation by attacking the reality of more extreme kinds of abuse such as ritual abuse. Against a context in which the small number of allegedly innocent families appear to have a disproportionate impact as opposed to the eleven million citizens just in the UK who government consider could have an abusive experience within a lifetime, and the 22,781 SA children who report sexual offences, where does extreme abuse fit in?

dailyexpress_uk_jimmy_savile_part_of_satanic_ringIn the UK the country was shocked by the multiple abusive acts of Jimmy Savile, a previously loved entertainer. Slowly it was accepted that he had abused physically and intellectually disabled children and adults while they were in hospital, he had abused emotionally disturbed teenagers, he had had a key to wards in Broadmoor Hospital, and engaged in necrophilia. But abuse children and adults whilst wearing a cloak? No. That was not bearable.

Each step forward the public takes in recognising the extent and nature of paedophilia, there has to be one frontier which is too far to cross. Despite the amassed knowledge of ritual killings, especially of babies, across the ancient world, and the use of rituals or ritualistic behaviour in many kinds of abuse (Treating Survivors of Satanist Abuse, 1994), it would seem that the one way a paedophile can successfully commit a crime now is to wear a cloak and chant in Latin! Denial has to find a staging post, a place to state, “I can believe my country betrays its children so far, but surely not this far”. The semi-secular society might find it more frightening to consider abuse within a framework of apparent belief. Even with mainstream religions, there has been enormous public fear at considering priests, vicars, mullahs and rabbis could be guilty of abuse and using religious objects and words for that purpose. It is even harder to face the context of abuse in minority groups which are considered “way out”.

bishops-council-chart-bWhether certain paedophiles are using aspects of religious ritual from a genuine belief system or to frighten their victims further is irrelevant. The fact is that it is successful. A terrified child internalises the threats of their abuser, especially when s/he is an attachment figure. As Childline pointed out in the UK in 1994, children do not ring a helpline saying they are being ritually abused, they talk about people frightening them who wear masks and cloaks.

Ironically, countries which are semi-secular or have a liberal existential sense of hell as an estrangement from God tend to react with more fear to the idea of ritual abuse within a belief system than countries which are Catholic or have malignant deities.

Perhaps it is the struggle between religious belief or disbelief, in a country which projects onto the reality of child abuse such a curious focus or fight. When we are asked, “Do you believe me?” by a traumatised child or adult, it is easy to answer, “Of course horrible things have happened to you. You would not be in this pain otherwise”. There will be all kinds of distortions as memory can not be total. However, to deny the existence of pain which caused a post traumatic state is to take a very dissociative stance.

Anna has DID but she is not dissociative. Each part of her is alert and feels to the full. Slowly, in adult life, she has understood the tragic sequence of betrayal and pain which led to her condition. She is not a patient of ours. She is a person who privileged us with her presence. It feels obscene that her experiences are a subject of controversy, denial, discrediting and shame. May this book allow others to voice their feelings or to feel that something in them has been acknowledged. Thanks too, to the scientists and researchers who are finding other paths to social acceptance.

Dr Amelia van der Merwe has worked in the area of violence and its psychological consequences since 1999. Her research has focused on community violence, intimate partner violence, and ritual abuse and its effect on psychological outcomes. She has worked at the University of Cape Town (SA), the Policy Research Bureau (UK), the Human Sciences Research Council (SA) and the University of Stellenbosch (SA) in both research and teaching capacities. Shattered but Unbroken is her fourth book, and she has written many book chapters and journal articles on the effects of violence and abuse, particularly on child and adolescent emotional and developmental outcomes.

Valerie Sinason is a poet, writer, child psychotherapist and adult psychoanalyst. She is Founder Director of the Clinic for Dissociative Studies and President of the Institute for Psychotherapy. She is an Honorary Consultant Psychotherapist at the University of Cape Town Child Guidance Clinic and Chair of Trustees of the First People Centre, New Bethesda, South Africa. She is a Patron of Dorset Action on Abuse (DAA), editor of Trauma Dissociation and Multiplicity and co-editor of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy after Child abuse. She has published numerous articles and books, including two poetry collections. Valerie Sinason was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the ISSTD (International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation) in April 2016.

   Their book, Shattered but Unbroken: Voices of Triumph and Testimony, has recently been published by Karnac.


Reviews and Endorsements

37395‘Amelia van der Merwe and Valerie Sinason have pulled together a stellar group of authors who bravely confront the fact that in the most industrialised nations in the world there persists the idea that systematic mistreatment of children, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, including infanticide, is normal, desirable and unquestioned. For a child to survive such experiences, as is now well known, dissociation is essential. Stories of survival fill these remarkable pages, together with vital mappings of the traumatic journeys that have been navigated by so many brave souls – individuals who have survived, who have questioned, and who have moved towards integration and a robust joyful valuing of self and others. Mental health professionals of every stripe will find this book invaluable.’
– Howard Steele, PhD, Professor of Psychology, New School for Social Research, New York City

‘This is a very important book. It demonstrates a passionate commitment to hearing the voices of people who are least likely to be heard, together with a depth of scholarship and debate across a number of disciplines. The contributors demonstrate the personal and intellectual courage to engage with subject materialthat is challenging. The implications of this book go far beyond the question of dissociative identity disorder itself; each chapter asks the reader to think about what is at stake in trying to understand and help people whose stories may be very difficult to hear, and to bear.’
-Leslie Swartz, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa


One thought on “Shattered but Unbroken: Voices of Triumph and Testimony, by Amelia van der Merwe and Valerie Sinason

  1. Pingback: Mabel Dodge Luhan, A. A. Brill, and the Psychoanalytic Adventure in America, by Patricia R. Everett |

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