The visual hallucinations specific to survivors alone are powerfully predictive of a history of childhood sexual abuse. The proponents of “false memories” no doubt have a point about overly zealous, and very sadly misinformed, clinicians who try to pin all sorts of suffering on a history child abuse when none exists, but it is so incredibly simple to detect reliably such a history that their arguments disintegrate into dust in the face of the post-abuse syndrome being serialized here. As with nearly all symptoms, hallucinations are more likely to occur when the survivor is alone in the home.
Multiple investigators have been able to confirm that this syndrome is indeed predictive. A psychology PhD candidate I consulted for developed a written test based on the syndrome. It turned out to be more predictive of a history of childhood sexual abuse than any existing psychological test including such standards as the MMPI and combinations of tests.
These hallucinations involve furtive, shadowy figures which appear in the peripheral vision of survivors. Once again, the probability of their occurrence is raised by being alone and it being night. Typically, the shadowy figures, usually moving, will appear going past a doorway, a window, or in the corner of a room. If asked to reflect on them, survivors will pretty much universally describe them as male and experience them as dangerous. The hallucinations can be as persistent and frequent as to be as bothersome as being pestered by a bunch of flies. This particular hallucination is not only predictive of a history of abuse; it is predictive of the existence of other hallucinations.
These hallucinations are far more frightening than the sneaky shadows. This experience involves seeing a figure standing at the foot of the bed, or perhaps in the bedroom doorway. The figure is nearly always described as male and threatening, even though it is a featureless silhouette. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand this hallucination as a form of memory. Survivors will report that they can look away (or perhaps hide under the covers a few moments) and, upon looking back again, find that the shadowy figure has disappeared. For this and a variety of other reasons, survivors will nearly always position their beds so that they can see their doorways. (Few, for other obvious reasons, would ever position their beds under a window either. Their sense of safety relies on being able to see points of potential threat, much like the old gun slingers always choosing a corner in a saloon with a full view of the door and room activity.) With some exceptions, the hallucination is silent and inert yet nonetheless profoundly threatening.
“MIND’S EYE” HALLUCINATIONS
This is a bit more complicated to explain in a manner that can be grasped easily. Survivors will sometimes describe an experience in which, if they close their eyes, they “see” a threatening figure approaching them from behind with evil intent. In their “mind’s eye” the experience is very real and prompts them to look behind to see if the potential attacker is really there or not. It is perhaps a stretch to call this a hallucination as it borders in experience somewhere between a vivid imagination and an actual sensory experience. It is the reaction of the survivor, both emotionally and physically, that pushes it closer to being considered a hallucination.
The perpetrators of sexual abuse do indeed tend to be sneaky. Often they are attempting to pull off the deed in their own households and to do so undetected. The sneakiness is not necessarily as much targeted at the victims as it is a means to an end. It is, of course, necessary to carry out the deeds undetected if opportunities are to continue. Memories of that sneakiness are the basis for sneaky shadows. (See also Hallucination Primer which includes hypnopompic and hypnagogic hallucinations that involve sleep.)