How to Support a Survivor (Svali Blog Post 2017)

How to Support a Survivor

First, it is important for supporters to realize how being raised in the cult can affect the survivor’s worldview. The survivor often will:

  • Be raised in facilities, in groups
  • Have their earliest attachment needs/bonding heavily manipulated
  • Experience betrayals and abuse in all close relationships
  • Will have extreme performance orientation and need to please
  • Views having emotions and needing help as “weak”
  • Have extreme self-hatred instilled along with extreme pride
  • Be programmed to believe that only the cult can “love” them and that no outsiders can
  • This will have a serious impact on the healing relationship, as the survivor frequently will demonstrate some of the following relational dynamics during their healing:
  • Ambivalence: This is part of disorganized attachment, with the push/pull of wanting to draw away from the caregiver (in order to feel emotionally protected) and wanting to draw near. This is a deeper form of testing, often by younger parts who were abused/betrayed by the people they loved most.
  • Internal conflicts: What is happening inside is often expressed in the outside relationship. If parts are angry or fighting inside; or in conflict about whether the survivor wants to heal (due to fears that loved ones will be hurt if they do), the anger may spill over into the healing relationship.
  • Self Sabotage: This can range from coming late to appointments, cancelling therapy, to using up therapy time going in circles; or, deliberately engaging in behaviors that the survivor knows will annoy the helper to try to push them away. More serious forms of self-sabotage include continued cult contact/accessing.
  • Suicidality: Almost all survivors of extensive mind control will battle suicidality at some time. This reflects the survivor’s hopelessness and belief that they can never truly heal, which the helper needs to be prepared to address.
  • Warfare: This is a form of self-sabotage and/or projection. Because the survivor is unable to get angry yet at her abusers, she may get angry at you – and send warfare. Or, cult loyal parts who are angry that the survivor is getting free may send warfare in order to get you to “stop” helping the survivor.


To have a relationship with the survivor that promotes healing rather than reinforces beliefs the survivor is unlovable and can never heal (etc.), the caregiver or therapist needs to be able to:

  • Be led by God and not her own wisdom or understanding.
  • Stay true to her own heart values amidst painful interactions; and help the survivor learn to stay true her own heart values amidst painful interactions
  • Recover from any of the “big six” emotions (fear, anger, shame, disgust, sadness, hopeless despair) when the survivor invokes them; and help the survivor to learn how to recover from these.
  • Repair the relationship when there have been difficulties, including helping the survivor to learn how to repair.
  • Identity the “level” of pain the survivor is experiencing and apply the right intervention
  • Identify the supporter’s own attachment style and resolve any of the supporter’s own attachment injuries. This is critical to having the ability to have healthy boundaries. It is also important to identify the survivor’s attachment style and help him/ her to resolve attachment injuries. Attachment, Trauma and Multiplicity: Working with Dissociative Identity Disorder (Sinason, V.)Ritual Abuse and the Manipulation of Attachment Needs
  • Transforming Fellowship: 19 Brain Skills that Build Joyful Community (Coursey, C.)
  • Codependent No More (Beatty)
  • Some good books for further reading:
  • Without the right skills, the relationship could end up being hurtful to both the caregiver and the survivor, despite good intentions and genuine love on both sides.


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