The Ultimate Challenge: A Revolutionary, Sane & Sensible Response to Ritualistic & Cult-Related Abuse Paperback – Nov 1998
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Most important to me was Woodsum's careful and insightful discussion of triggers and programming. Her insight into this area will enable many people to understand why the danger is very real, even though it is not visible to others.
However, unfortunately, Ms. Woodsum, in her attempts to desensationalize the subject of ritualized abuse, debunks multiple personality disorder. She is mistaken on several key elements of MPD. For one thing, MPD is not a mental illness, as she refers to it; it is a survival mechanism. Nor is MPD something that was made up by sensationalists. Most multiples would do anything to avoid others knowing about it. In this area, I would recommend that readers look at Doris Bryant's "The Family Inside," and Dr. James Friesen's "The Truth About False Memory Syndrome," and "Uncovering the Mystery of Multiple Personality Disorder." Also, in support of the greater part of Ms. Woodsum's work confirming the existence of ritualized abuse, but illustrating one case of MPD (Paul Bonacci), see "The Franklin Conspiracy," by John DeCamp.
Finally, although I believe it is true to some extent that absolutely avoiding all triggers (desensitization) may be beneficial for survivors of abuse who do NOT have MPD (or for those alter personalities, or "parts," who are on the surface, eg. the dominant personality), I do not believe this is true for those who DO have MPD, or for their inside alters. For those people whose parts and memories can only be accessed by allowing that part -- which retains all the characteristics associated with a memory (including personality traits) -- to speak and tell, it could be a death sentence to that part (and the person as a whole) if the trigger to that part or memory is completely avoided. I do agree that it is important for a victim or survivor to remove him- or herself from triggers which will put that person back in the hands of abusers. But, once in a protected situation, triggers are an important clue.
There seems to be some confusion in current literature over what the term "trigger" means, and I believe that Ms. Woodsum gets tripped up here. Sometimes the term is used to mean that a programmed behavior is being enacted. Other times it is used to mean that a memory (or a part which contains a memory) is brought out. Cleary, the former is undesirable; just as clearly, the latter is desirable and beneficial.
In sum, despite what I consider to be a very deep, damaging flaw in Woodsum's thesis, this is a remarkable book.
The Ultimate Challenge is extremely well organized and sequentially addresses a vast array of issues affecting victims, survivors and those people trying to help and support them. It is concise and to the point but by no means simplistic. The reader moves fluidly through chapters and subheadings gaining increased understanding with each page. The book begins with a view of incest and ritualistic and cult-related abuse as part of a continuum with excellent explanations of denial and silencing; the purpose of abuse; how offenders get away with these atrocities; how levels or degrees of sophistication affect victims and survivors; and how the types of abuse along the spectrum are similar and different. Woodsum identifies components of ritualistic and cult-related abuse and dispels generally accepted myths that are pervasive in the media and in the minds of individuals. She provides invaluable information regarding the detection and recognition of abuse along with a list of indicators. However, in this section, as throughout the book, Woodsum repeatedly states that each victim's history is different, and it would be not only a disservice to victims and survivors, but in fact harmful, to treat them all the same or make assumptions based upon generalities. So no list of indicators is complete or applicable to every victim/survivor. Nevertheless, the list is extraordinarily helpful when trying to assess one's own history or the possible abuse history of a friend or client.
The chapters regarding brainwashing and programming are extremely informative and provide profound insight as to how triggers and programming messages function to control victims. The guidance offered for dismantling programming, once again, does not adhere to a "prescribed" method, but instead offers suggestions and assistance based upon the information one has about an individual's history. Physical, emotional and mental aspects of breaking programming are included.
The complex issue of memory constitutes its own chapter. Woodsum addresses a myriad of related aspects ranging from having or not having memories to what constitutes memory (dreams, smells, sounds, etc.) to how to cope with memories. In addition, she takes a look at a variety of therapeutic techniques and conventional medical diagnoses and offers her unique perspective on these topics. Throughout the book, but especially recognizable here, is Woodsum's profound respect for and recognition of the voice and self-knowledge of victims and survivors. She expresses with clarity and conviction her political perspective regarding how institutions and the individuals within them can further oppress victims and survivors and reinforce programming through their words, behaviors and the environments in which they operate. Woodsum does not hesitate to confront the most entrenched practices or accepted theories in her efforts to do what is best for victims and survivors.
The Ultimate Challenge contains excellent information regarding assessing for safety and current victimization and the complex issues surrounding children, partners, friends and family when attempting to break free of ritualistic and cult-related abuse. The chapter entitled "Personal Freedom Work" is full of valuable, practical suggestions and guidance, and the ultimate goal of relocation is addressed in detail. Throughout The Ultimate Challenge helpful, appropriate guidance is provided for people trying to help victims and survivors. In addition, Woodsum has included a chapter specific to the needs and concerns of professional helpers, which I believe therapists will find to be an invaluable resource.
Throughout the text, Woodsum offers factual information, feminist analysis, examples which support her perspective, and guidance. She does not advocate any one prescribed method of healing and breaking free, but consistently recognizes the unique needs of victims and survivors, their incredible strengths, and the quintessential notion that they must be validated, empowered and respected. As a survivor reading The Ultimate Challenge, I felt empowered, honored and respected while simultaneously feeling an indescribable sense of hope for the future. Given my/this history, to see one's life reflected on the printed page is more profound than words can ever describe. Woodsum echoes my sentiments and belief that, as survivors, we are not "damaged goods" but instead creative, strong, courageous individuals capable of actualizing our dreams in spite of an abusive past. Thank you, Gayle Woodsum, for this powerful message which I hope will reverberate throughout the minds, homes and workplaces of victims, survivors, social workers, therapists, law enforcement officers, medical professionals, court officials, teachers, daycare providers and anyone else who has ever hoped for a world free of abuse and violence. To each and every one of you, I highly recommend The Ultimate Challenge.