How To Come To Terms With A Ghostly Experience
Paranormal experiences make more sense when viewed through the lens of Haunted People Syndrome.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | June 23, 2022
A new study published in Spirituality in Clinical Practice explains that an individual experiencing hauntings and ghostly experiences may have 'Haunted People Syndrome.'
Haunting phenomena are complex intertwined phenomena involving personality, ideology, culture, and previous experience towards making sense of an event or series of events deemed 'haunting'", explains psychologist Brian Laythe.
Collaborators Jim Houran and Brian Laythe, along with other colleagues, recently finished a five-year research program which culminated in twenty peer-reviewed research papers and their recent book "Ghosted."
Their goal was to use research to build a better understanding of hauntings and related paranormal phenomena.
Haunted People Syndrome was one of the primary theories built out of this research.
Laythe and Houran propose four core features of Haunted People Syndrome, namely:
- Distress and unease facilitates anomalous experiences
- Anomalous experiences tend to be contagious, i.e, anomalous experiences can spread to others
- The meaning-making or narrative created around haunting experiences is influenced by personal backgrounds and beliefs
- Anxiety and distress regarding hauntings is a function of the nature, closeness, and spontaneity of anomalous experiences
According to the researchers, Haunted People Syndrome recognizes that much of the reports of hauntings and the people involved in them can be successfully understood by treating the events of hauntings as "symptoms" purely in a labeling sense.
"Just like symptoms of the flu, the severity of the diagnosis is a function of the degree and rarity of symptoms and their length," explains Laythe.
Apart from believing in the paranormal, the second most important predictor of anomalous experiences is 'transliminality.'
As a concept, transliminality represents a thin boundary between the conscious self and unconscious self, as well as the outside environment.
"Information from any of these three sources tends to pass more easily with a person high in transliminality," informs Laythe. "The state and trait nature of transliminality have documented relationships with creativity, imagination, fantasy traits, disassociation, and temporal lobe lability."
In parapsychology research, Laythe adds, it has been previously associated with extra-sensory perception, out-of-body experiences, and visionary-like experiences in general.
When trying to understand the factors that prime an individual for a haunting episode, the researchers found that hauntings were almost always a mixture of the right people within the right environment.
Interestingly, they also found that the core experiences associated with a haunting have also been found in accounts of imaginary friends and gang stalking.
This means that the core phenomena experienced by an individual can be the same and yet can be interpreted differently (as either haunting, spooky imaginary friends, or a gang stalking account) as a result of the person's worldview and belief system.
The researchers also draw attention to the pressing need to recognize and treat ghostly or paranormal experiences as real.
Laythe points out that ghostly episodes, shamanic experiences, and general high strangeness have been well documented throughout history. Furthermore, over 100 years of modern empirical psychology show they are not going away despite changes in society's zeitgeist.
Therefore, the people who experience them should take the experiences seriously (and should be taken seriously), as the Haunted People Syndrome model suggests the nature of such experiences can be shocking and sometimes anxiety-provoking to the individual. Any denial of such experiences is not beneficial to an individual's well-being.
"Clinical professionals certainly do not tell people with anxiety or depression that their experiences are not "real" or valid," highlights Laythe. "At the very least, Haunted People Syndrome is a valid cross-cultural commonly experienced phenomenon and should be treated as such."
For anyone who has experienced a haunting and might be struggling to come to terms with it, Laythe has the following advice:
"In these sorts of experiences, knowing that your experience is actually not uncommon, and has some predictable components is often helpful," he explains.
According to Laythe, whether people choose to interpret anomalous experiences as 'paranormal' or not, they do not have to feel alone or crazy for having gone through them due to the following reasons:
- Having just one paranormal experience is extremely unlikely. According to previous research, long histories of a variety of subtle and sometimes overt paranormal experiences are common.
- Anomalous phenomena tend to be both subjective and objective. The internal aspects of the experience include sensed presences, or somatic touches or marks whereas external aspects include objects moving, or apparitions caught by technology.
"Obviously, this is the most controversial characteristic of Haunted People Syndrome, but we would note that our model remains predictive regardless of the reader's personal preference for mainstream or paranormal explanations," clarifies Laythe.
For the future, the researchers hope to start exploring transliminality in the context of religious and ritual practitioners, who regularly and purposely invoke these types of phenomena.
"We strongly suspect these groups have developed significant mental processes and methods for facilitating their transliminality towards spiritual/experiential goals," Laythe explains. "Further, we hope to test and further confirm the Haunted People Syndrome model, both in case studies, as well as collaborating with clinical psychologists to address how to include and incorporate haunting and religious experiences into meaningful and beneficial therapeutic experiences."
A full interview with Brian Laythe discussing his research can be found here: Here's what you need to know about seeing ghosts and other haunting experiences