Thoughts about de-constructing the evil-self image of abused ‘witch children’
For the so-called ‘witch children’ and other abused children it is often easier for them to accept that they are indeed witches than to accept that they are innocent and have been victims of abuse. They have been dehumanized so that they no longer see themselves as valuable human beings but have adopted the identity imposed on them by the abusers. Jewish victims within the Nazi death camps were not only tortured, starved and killed, there was also a systematic attempt to destroy their self-image and sense of identity and being unable to resist the perpetrators of abuse the victim may turn to self-hatred (Herman 1997:92-95).
Children are even ore vulnerable than adults in this respect because their identity was not yet fully formed by the time the abuse took place. A child entrapped in the horror of being accused of being a witch or in other forms of child abuse may due to the severity of the abuse develop the belief that he or she is somehow responsible for the crimes of the abusers. Surely if the most powerful people in his or her life do such terrible things to me, I must be thoroughly evil (Herman 1997:105). Survivors of severe childhood abuse may think of themselves in terms of what they consider the ultimate evil or filth, such as witches, vampires, whores, dogs, rats or snakes (ibid).
It is important for any counsellor involved in counselling such severely traumatised children to know that they may have developed a stigmatized identity whereby in an attempt to make sense of an otherwise senseless situation and have internalised the evil of the abuser. Even after the child is brought into a safe environment this inner sense of badness does not automatically disappear as it has been integrated into the child’s personality structure. As a result the survivors of such abuse continue to view themselves with contempt, carrying the shame and guilt of the abusers upon their shoulders (ibid). Outwardly the child may be working very hard to appear good and display an almost perfectionist zeal and yet inwardly loathe him or herself. It is essential to help the child to overcome the sense of being evil and bad, and learns to accept that the evil and bad was done to him/her.
It is not easy to undo witch-indoctrination in a culture in which the prevailing belief-system affirms the existence of witches and interprets most disasters, illnesses, deaths and misfortunes to the activities of witches. A young orphan who has been brought up in this context and loses his or her parents due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic will need very little coercion to be convinced by the relatives or community that he or she is the witch responsible for the death of the parents. Already traumatised by the loss of the parents and in desperate need to placate the powerful adults in his or her life the child will quickly agree to every accusation in the vain hope that this well bring an end to hostilities and bring the protection, care, love and affection he or she craves for. For the child to construct a more positive sense of self it is essential not to just deal with the physical and psychological effects of the abuse but to address the underlying worldview which provided the rationale for the abuse and which still holds the victim mentally captive in a sense of guilt, shame and self-loathing.
Erwin van der Meer
- Herman, Judith Lewis 1997. Trauma and Recovery. London: Pandora.