A look into the psychology of my paranormal experiences

It’s always intrigued me that when you begin to talk about holding any kind of paranormal belief – particularly within a scientific context – you’ll be viewed as strange, stupid or entirely unreliable, despite the apparent evidence base of the paranormal expanding far beyond that of most modern religions. To suggest that there is activity in the world beyond what we can immediately perceive is no unique occurrence, as experiences with ‘spirits’ and ‘demons’ have been reported by millions across the globe, taking numerous forms, yet always following the same trend. Perhaps if this were a different phenomenon, millions of reports across cultures and religions would be considered more than enough empirical evidence to be worthy of further study. Yet, research into the paranormal is often neglected, and believers labelled as crazy. 

For years, I myself believed that paranormal beliefs couldn’t coexist with my atheist, scientific world view and that it would be a pointless venture to research into my own experiences further. However, as I’ve grown and shared the events of my life and childhood home with countless people, I reached the startling conclusion that I was one of the millions of people having what many would consider an ongoing paranormal experience, and that as an adult I had both repressed it and attempted to explain it away in the most rudimentary way possible. Upon going to university to study psychology and receiving a lecture on anomalistic (paranormal) psychology, I realised that what I experienced and how I view that experience is a valid part of my life that is as worthy of discussion and explanation as any other ongoing or formative life event, and so I’m choosing to reflect back upon the events that occurred now, as an adult.

Growing up, I was an only child up until the age of 10, so I used to have the biggest bedroom on the second floor of my house, as my parents thought I could use it to play in while being close to them still. Before moving to that house – a newbuild, which I later discovered was built on the site of the old moors – there was nothing unusual about me to note, and that didn’t necessarily change because we moved. But it was in that perfectly nice bedroom with my hand-painted walls and mounds of teddy bears that I began to develop a chronic problem. When night time arrived, I experienced crippling night terrors, and episodes of total, overwhelming fear and anxiety that we later realised were full blown panic attacks. Often during these episodes, upon waking from a nightmare, I would feel a pressure on my whole body, as though my limbs were suddenly so heavy I could hardly lift them. My mouth would dry up and I would just stare into the darkness of my room with total terror, feeling as though the shadows were staring back at me. I used to come out of that state in total turmoil, and run into the lightest corner of the room illuminated by the crack in the door, to rock back and forth and scream until my parents came to comfort me. Once or twice, we could call this a relatively normal experience; a nightmare, a panic attack, perhaps an early occurrence of sleep paralysis, but this became a consistent issue spanning a couple of years with no stressors in my life to name of that may have been triggering it. My parents were obviously worried, but I was their first child and they initially thought it was an age thing that would pass with time. It didn’t. At its peak, my family latched on to my reluctance to be touched during these episodes and began to fear that I was being abused by a family member or someone from the school. Although this was quickly dismissed, the problem remained with seemingly no real source.

These night-time events began to escalate, though. Some nights, I’d suffer awful, graphic nightmares unlike anything I’d ever been exposed to in waking life. Other nights I’d experience the sensation of being held down by that great weight. And eventually, I began to see a figure in my room.

The first time I saw her, I remember hiding immediately under my covers with my back to the wall, hoping to god that she would go away. Although a face was hard to make out, I felt instinctively that it was a female, older than me but perhaps not an adult. I felt when I saw her that she had not materialised in my room recently, but that she had been the one lurking every night in the shadows, and that only now she had stepped into the light by my doorway. Even then though, I convinced myself my eyes were just playing tricks on me or I was imagining things and hid under my covers every night until I could eventually sleep. It seemed that she too though was half hiding, in the space behind my door, getting braver each night.

This went on for a couple of years, though, and my anxiety began to worsen. Every day my mind was consumed by worrisome thoughts, and I was completely petrified of the darkness. This took a toll on my physical health. I lost weight and began to experience chest pains so severe that I once had to go to the hospital because of a suspected heart attack, which was instead confirmed to be chronic anxiety palpitations. Even when I wasn’t having these episodes, I began to feel afraid and uncomfortable in my own bedroom. If my back wasn’t to a wall, it was as though eyes were burning into the back of my head, like I was under constant observation. I used to be especially afraid of my bedroom door, where I saw that eerie little female figure lingering most nights. This made me quite scared to sleep, so I used to pray to god until late at night in order to feel safe, until I exhausted myself.

My brother was born when I was 10, and after my parents had previously suffered a stillbirth, the home needed that happiness. A dark cloud had been lingering around them for a long time now and he made things better for all of us. But since he was only a baby, we needed him on the same floor of the house as my parents. So, they moved me upstairs and gave me the top floor to myself. Finally, out of that room, I felt safe, happy and I started sleeping better. The space felt secure and filled with positive energy. Although I still dealt with severe anxiety, the sleep problems ended, and I no longer saw the female figure. To this day, I can’t stand my old room, though. I’ve always been the type of person to pick up on ‘energies,’ and there’s a real shift in energy upon entering that room, like a wave of discomfort rushes over me; especially at night. I used to run past it because having my back to it in any way would return the sensation of being watched. It still makes me incredibly uneasy. However, that strange energy didn’t stay totally contained in that room for long, and eventually crept out of my brother’s room into the other rooms of the house.

 I began to feel uneasy in the bathroom across the hall, where the lights started flickering a few times while I was bathing alone, despite my dad insisting there were no problems with the lighting. Then downstairs, not just myself but the rest of my family started feeling strange cold spots around the kitchen and living room, a chilling sensation like something passing straight through you. The feeling of being constantly observed returned to me. One day, I decided to talk about it to my parents, and as if we were characters in an overdramatised TV horror, the huge mirror that had been mounted on the wall for several years fell down, shattering all over the floor. The hook wasn’t bent. We knew from looking at it that it had to be lifted for it to fall like that, yet the idea that it had been lifted was too contradictory to our beliefs for any of us to do anything but laugh nervously about it; and stop talking about ghosts.

In that same room at the kitchen table, one of the strangest unexplained things within memory occurred. My brother was now about five or six and residing within my old room, but we had never told him about the stillborn child my parents had had before him. While eating one day, he froze up and his eyes seemed to glaze over, notably enough that my dad began waving a hand in front of his face to see if he was alright, repeating his name. He didn’t look at any of us, but he asked – in a monotonous, very distant voice that was entirely unlike him – “where is my sister?”

I remember chuckling and answering, “I’m right here, mate,” but his unflinching reply to that statement chilled me to the bone. “No,” he said, “my other sister.” My parents immediately exchanged looks, but as quickly as it had happened, my brother sat up straight and looked at us as though he didn’t understand our confusion. When we asked him about his question he’d just say “what?” as though he’d already forgotten the conversation. He went on with that dinner until the lights above our heads began to blink out, and my dad had to get up and try to stop their flickering. Granted, they were temperamental every day since then until we had the fixture replaced, but the coincidence is definitely uncanny to anyone who holds the belief that the presence of a spirit can meddle with electricity.

After time, there was an incident in my room on the top floor which brought my sense of security tumbling down. I started experiencing nightmares again, and sleep paralysis. One night in my paralysed state I witnessed a terrifyingly familiar shadowy figure, stepping over my doorway, getting closer to me. She was back and looking at me, until I woke in a frenzy and buried myself in my sheets, sobbing and sweating. I felt then that it was a hallucination caused by the sleep paralysis, or at least I told myself that, but the fear I felt was very much real.

Soon after that, it was still early in the morning when my mum got home from walking our dog and asked me why I was awake at 7:30am on a holiday. I said that I wasn’t, I was asleep until 9, and I saw the confusion flash over her face. She told me that when she was walking down the street at 7:30, she saw the blinds of my top floor bedroom window lifted on the left side, and a female figure that she assumed was me looking out. Even half asleep, I’d know that my blinds were very stiff, and I would never just lift them up instead of pulling the chord, because lifting it would knock off the flimsy old school trophies on the windowsill. I felt a little sick when I returned to my room and the trophies on the left-hand side had indeed been knocked down behind my dresser.

My dog Ally is three years old, and she too occasionally behaves in a way reminiscent of a dog in a horror film, sensing the paranormal before anybody else. One night my parents left my brother and I alone, and the lights started flickering again. The dog immediately became irate and moved in front of me, facing into the corner, barking at nothing and scratching the air, even growling in a way she very rarely did. That freaked out my brother and I enough that we started to walk each other to the bathroom so we wouldn’t be alone. When I returned, the dog was still staring into the corner but whimpering now, as though afraid. So I approached, only to feel a splitting sensation through my head as my ears popped to a shrill, high pitched sound, forcing me to back away in pain. It’s worth noting that this was the only time that one of these incidents actually resulted in any physical discomfort not directly caused by anxiety.

These are a few examples of occurrences other people have confirmed as strange, but it’s genuinely difficult to recall every single one, particularly as I convinced myself for years that it was all in my head. I only opened up to the possibility of a paranormal explanation when I had a far more concrete experience while on a trip to Edinburgh, where I saw what I believed to be an apparition while touring the old vaults.
Recently, my mum asked me to talk to my now nine year old brother about problems he’s been having, and he told me he’s scared of his room and would like to move upstairs now that I’ve moved away for university. Obviously this struck a chord, and when I pressed him, he professed that he had been having awful nightmares, chest pains, and seeing things near his door; including a little girl about his age. I’ve never told him anything about that room in the hopes that whatever happened in there was just me, or if paranormal, that it would leave him alone. But our stories match up, and this is something I struggle to reconcile.

There are of course a number of alternative explanations for all of this, but it’s hard to deny that something unnatural – rather, supernatural – is not entirely impossible. Children do have overactive imaginations, and as I’m writing this many years after the fact, the memories of the girl in my room may be enhanced by my own perceptions of what was happening; a kind of altered or false recollection.

Alternatively, the sightings could be the result of simple neuroscience, as the majority of appearances happened at night. This would open up the possibility of hallucinatory experiences or feelings of a presence occurring just after my REM cycle, when the brain is most active. Concurrent phenomena around the house could merely be coincidence, and the physical issues I experienced are likely to be the result of a chronic anxiety condition I’ve always lived with. It’s worth noting too that anxiety disorders run in my family; which may explain my brother’s experiences mirroring my own.

Those of a less skeptical nature have attributed different factors to my experiences. Due to the fact that I do find myself sensing and occasionally becoming overwhelmed by energies in my day to day life, coupled with certain elements of my personality, I have been called an ’empath’ and even a ‘clair-sentient.’ As impressive as that sounds, it actually just entails being a person who more strongly picks up on the the metaphysical side to the energies which exist in everything. As energy cannot be created nor destroyed, this lends a philosophical explanation to the existence of spirits which I find more plausible than conjuring-esque demonic figures or Dickensian chain-rattling ghosts of Christmas past. As an empath, these spirits (essentially, residual energies of the deceased) may be drawn to your own energy, a tendency which may also run in families, and thus manifest themselves to you more often than not. Believers in this theory propose that to a young child, spirits with negative energy could be extremely overwhelming, as adults with a grounded mental health may be able to more readily shut them out by surrounding themselves in positive energy, and may know not to fear them.

All of these theories are plausible. But if you’re of a mind that spirits do walk the earth, as either full bodies ghosts or as residual energies, I did recently conduct some research on the ground that my house and surrounding estate was built on, and was able to find a source from an aged local newspaper vaguely reporting the drowning of a young girl in the pond that was once situated where my house now stands. Whether this is true or not, is hard to uncover, and truthfully, I’m unsure of my own beliefs on what happened to me in the past and that which continues to happen to me now. But to quote ‘the exorcism of Emily Rose,’ “you don’t have to accept everything that a believer in the mystical and supernatural believes, to accept that it may be possible.”

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