A guide for the skeptic.
Maybe you have noticed your friend acting a little differently. For the past few months the joy has left their eyes and they say they haven’t been sleeping well. When you press them for answers they decline to offer any more details, and maybe mumble something about not believing them. Their relationship is fine, no, they aren’t fighting. Their family is healthy and so far work has been ok. But you know there is something going on. Then one day they can’t keep it inside any more.
They ask for your audience and start to tell you about how every night a dark visitor enters their room. They can’t move, they can hardly breathe due to the pressure on their chest and they have never been more terrified. But when you ask about the stranger in their room there is a mix of hesitation and embarrassment. You see, the person is an intangible shadowy figure that whispers terrible things into their ears, and the worst part is, they can’t move or scream, they just have to stay and listen in fear. Are they talking about a ghost? Does my friend believe they are being haunted? Yes they do.
When we think of hauntings and paranormal experiences one may recall the latest thriller movie or NoSleep podcast episode; something made of fiction. Cue the X-files theme song. ”There’s no such thing as ghosts”, is stated in a way to calm your friends emotions. But is there a better way to express support for your friend? In order to be more sympathetic to our friends and family who are dealing with this situation we should first look at what a paranormal experience is and why it can be considered a traumatic event. Dictionary.com defines paranormal as: “of or relating to the claimed occurrence of an event or perception without scientific explanation, as psychokinesis, extrasensory perception, or other purportedly supernatural phenomena”.
In short, it’s an experience one cannot explain away. It’s a tale as old as time, being afraid of the unknown. And, unless a person has put themselves in a situation to have an experience such as a guided ghost tour or a past life regression, the experience and/or intrusion was not an act of consent on the experiencers part. This leaves the experiencer or victim to have to deal with the after effects of the events on their own. Often the victim is left wondering if what they had witnessed is a side effect of a mental illness or perhaps their sanity is in jeopardy.
The risk of ridicule from friends and family is also something they have to consider. Growing up I was taught there was no such thing as ghosts, in fact, the paranormal was nothing that we addressed as a family and I didn’t know how to express myself when I had an experience of my own as a child. I kept my experience to myself, only revealing it to my younger sister and never spoke of it as an adult until I was well into my thirties. Although this experience led me to a deep love of the unknown, I was left feeling I had to learn how to deal with this situation on my own. It was hard to process, I didn’t know if I could trust my mind and the fear of not being believed was hard for me.
In the two years of being a podcaster about paranormal experiences the resounding reasons as to why someone is exposing their private and sometimes traumatic stories is to have some sort of explanation for what had happened, finding someone who can relate, and getting closure. They share their stories with other experiencers in the hope of finding support from someone who will believe them, perhaps because they have been rejected already by their friends and family.
This situation can be particularly difficult for people who come from strong religious backgrounds where discussion of paranormal activity can be forbidden and the risk of punishment or expulsion is on the table. This makes the importance of supporting a loved one as they process the situation even more important. They have heard for years already that what has happened to them is not possible and can’t exist, therefore, their traumatic experience(s) is invalid before they can even get a word out.
When my sister and I started our show we had two rules; the first rule was that we believed every story and the second rule was to never debunk the experience. The paranormal leaves little to no evidence which is something humans strive for but can be impossible to prove, so why should we make someone prove their trauma? You don’t. If someone has come to you with a deep dark secret they never thought they would tell anyone, they already know the risk of not being believed is inevitable.
I will offer a few tips on how to support your loved one while they are processing their experience.
Be a good listener
It takes a lot of courage to speak out about a traumatic or scary event so the best thing a supportive friend can do is listen with an open heart. Allow their story to unfold and withhold any urge to interrupt or impose a solution. This is not the time to insert any sarcastic or comedic relief. Wait for the speaker to pause before asking any clarifying questions. Thank them for sharing their story and express your support.
Try to keep your skepticism at bay
Even if you cannot get behind the thought of ghosts or aliens or bigfoot you can understand that a situation has caused a lot of fear and anxiety for them. Keep in mind that no one is asking you to change your beliefs, they are only asking you to believe them. Try to put your judgement and beliefs aside and consider what your loved one is saying. This isn’t just about your friend or family member talking about something you don’t believe in, this is an event that has caused them to have an emotional response. And now ask yourself, do you have to find a scientific explanation? No. This type of service tends to mock the situation. Unless your friend is asking what you think it is, I think it’s best to keep a skeptical comment to yourself.
Take cues about what your friend wants.
So what can you do from there? It depends on what the experiencer is looking for. Sometimes, just getting their story off their chest can bring some relief. Validation that what they experienced happened can be cathartic in itself. Telling your loved one that you believe them may be all they hoped for.
Resources to recommend
If a matter of mental health is in question among the experiencer, it is always in the best interest of anyone to have a medical exam. This topic can be delicate and difficult to bring up, but, ruling out any possible medical concerns is always a good place to start. In the long run it may bring peace of mind that it is not a mental health issue. But if your friend is still looking for answers, giving advice about the paranormal can be difficult due to the lack of seriousness we, as the masses, give to paranormal research. But it’s out there. Encourage them to research until they get answers that satisfy their needs. Fortunately, it appears thanks to the current spiritual movement and gained curiosity into the paranormal, there are lots of people and organizations willing to help people who are going through this type of trauma. If modern therapy and medicine do not yield satisfactory results, perhaps a medium or psychic intervention is the next step, or, the first one.
I want to take a moment to thank you, the possible skeptic friend, for reading this entry. You are doing your best to support a loved one who is going through something difficult. I, being a believer, can appreciate how difficult it can be for a skeptic to process this information. For a long time I stopped believing in the supernatural because of the ridicule I faced when I would discuss the topic. It was easier for me to “not believe”. In fact, it was so easy for friends and family to make fun of one of my beliefs that I started doing it to myself even though I never doubted my personal experience. I am a strong supporter of evidence based science, medical research and psychological therapy, but it does not sway me from believing there are things out there that we cannot explain. What I can explain is the relief people feel from being supported and in the end this is about the people we love and not our personal beliefs.