You've had some really great advice for me in the past, so I didn't know where to turn with this.
As you may recall, I was indoctrinated with beliefs in spirits, ghosts, demons, and all kinds of life-after-death. I've been working with my psychologist on trying to unlearn all this. She's been reassuring me that these things I'm afraid of do not exist. She's told me a hundred times there are no spirits, demons, etc. and I have finally started to get to a point where the repetition - combined with reading, watching, and listening to more atheist things are really helping me a lot.
Today I was talking to my psychologist about a person who assaulted me years ago, who was supposedly into a lot of black magic and spells and such, who is dead now. But I just wanted reassurance that his ghost couldn't harm me and she unequivocally told me that there are no such things as ghosts. As we talked I thought I said the same thing but I guess I must have worded it differently because I said "there is no life after death." And she said something about how we didn't know that and it can't be proven one way or the other. And that threw me off because she was so sure of the fact that there were no ghosts but she seemed open to life after death. To me, if life after death is a possibility then ghosts are a possibility. If any part of it can be true, then the whole thing can be true.
I asked her to please differentiate. Why can she say that we don't know about life after death, but she is so sure there are no ghosts, spirits or demons? Why is one belief system better than another?
If we are not able to prove either, then how can we treat the concept of life-after-death as if we cannot know this, and treat ghosts as completely false?
I even tried to say things to help myself feel better about it by saying, how can we have life after death if we have no neurons? Where will our thoughts come from if the neurons are dead?
She wasn't able to come up with an answer. And she didn't know what to do to help me. I was unable to believe her after that, that there are no ghosts, if she believed in life after death. She later said she wasn't necessarily saying there was life after death, she just couldn't state it as a fact that there wasn't since we don't know.
She said if there was life after death that they still wouldn't be able to interact with people who are living. (I think she was saying that to comfort me.) And so how can she know that, right? I mean if you don't know if there is life after death, then how do you know they can't interact with us, right? It's just such a logically unsound argument (even if she was just trying to help.)
I just was so upset because I just wanted to know that there was no way this person could ever harm me again. And I had feared the day they died because of the black magic they did and I thought I would be open to attacks. I've been an atheist for at least a year now, so you'd think I'd be over this fear. I'm kind of disappointed in myself that I still am afraid of this person even though I no longer believe it's possible for them to harm me again. I guess opening up the possibility of life after death opens up the possibility of anything.
I'm so sorry that these beliefs are causing you distress. I applaud your efforts at seeking help and talking back to those toxic messages in your mind! I see though that you are still using black and white thinking. Good vs. evil, black or white, yes or no, when, in life there are actually gray areas. Also, in science, people talk about degrees of certainty. No, we cannot be absolutely 100% positive that there is no life after death BUT... considering what we know about the brain and consciousness, and considering the absolute lack of proof of any soul or other vehicle of survival, we can say with a VERY high degree of certainty that it is not possible. Also, take into consideration the reasons why someone might leave this possibility open in their minds (and even your psychiatrist may be doing this.) We miss those we love and want them to still be alive somewhere, we are afraid of dying, or maybe we just love having a little mystery. But none of those reasons are good enough to ignore the evidence in my opinion. I think you were right on target when you said "how can we have thoughts if we have no neurons?" Exactly. The mechanism by which we create thoughts, desires, ideas, and actions will be broken. With that said, there are other possible (though not highly likely) reasons for ghosts. Some believe that a location can "record" events and then play it back later in time. That would be a ghost that appears to do the same action over and over and not notice anyone who is present. Also, some people are thought to be psychic (again, no proof of that either) and can sense things that have happened in the past even though there may not be an actually entity there. Also, demons are not ghosts, as you know. But they are no more likely than fairies, pixies or unicorns. Spirit is a very broad term and people define to mean different things. I don't think it's so important how your therapist defines it but how YOU define it. Just because she sees it one way or another does not make it true. Mostly because it can't be tested. I could say spirits are... farts that gain consciousness! How would anyone prove me right or wrong? The point is that you have to look at that idea and think, you know? That's highly unlikely.
Also, let's talk about this person who is supposedly so powerful that they could defy death to bring harm to you. What great feats of magick did he perform in his lifetime? Was he incredibly weathly? Surrounded by beautiful women? Could he control animals and the weather? Did he have superhuman strength and health? oh wait, no he did not, cuz he's dead ;) I'm hoping you will see the humor in this! He may have scared you in life as much as any person can, but he's dead now. You're alive. You win! I'm willing to bet that his so called magick was just a sad attempt to gain respect and control and he probably failed in those things if he had to resort to violence and intimidation.
I believe we've talked a little bit before about the nature of the spiritual attacks that you've experienced. Have you been able to come up with a logical explanation for them with the help of your therapist? I am hoping that you will be able to one day, live without fear of attacks from ghosts, demons or living people :)
Thank you, Allison. You are very kind.
The last few days have been difficult. After I posted here, I asked someone to help me find resources for deconversion so I could get over my fears – but instead they confirmed my fear that psychic attacks on a human body are possible – when I “saw” someone attacking me they said maybe it's a memory but maybe it was really happening. It put me back in an awful place emotionally where there is no escape and it happens repeatedly :( Now I seem to both think it's possible again and to feel like it's real when I “experience” it.
I feel like I actually believe in that stuff again. I feel like I can choose to not believe that stuff but if it's real, then I am just closing my eyes saying “I can't see you” and just denying it.
Anyway, on to your thoughtful response:
Yes, I probably do have black and white thinking. I don't know how to change that because being uncertain (even with a high probability on my side) still doesn't feel safe. An analogy would be a little kid who wouldn't be comforted if their parent says there's only a certain probability of a monster under the bed. Perhaps this is the part of the mind that stops aging when there is early trauma.
I'm sure it would be good for me to be more comfortable with gray areas of thinking and to better understand the probabilites you mention. It would especially be good for the emotional part – since that's the part so convinced everything is real.
Before this conversation with the therapist and the person who believes in psychic attacks, I wasn't at the point yet where I was able to think about things as rationally as I wanted to -- as in being able to hear both sides of an argument and then be able to decide for myself what was real or unreal. I just wanted to hear all the arguments against the existence of anything supernatural. I didn't want to hear any arguments for it because every time I did, I kept getting pulled back by believers because it felt so familiar.
I still don't feel strong enough or that I have enough facts to back up my position. Especially because like you said, even science doesn't have all the answers and even science deals with probabilities. I can't be completely convinced if there is still a possibility. So I guess that goes back to the black and white thinking. It's just so scary to step outside that.
I don't know how to come up with my own answers. I don't trust myself because I'm so conflicted.
I know what I feel and I go based on that. I feel attacked. It doesn't seem like something that happened long ago. It seems like it happens in the present and that's why I think it is some other worldly or supernatural type of thing.
The rational part of me who'd convinced myself over the past year that these things are not real is the part of me that's taken a hit right now. All my thinking got reversed on Thursday. It makes me really confused as to what reality is. And now even in my rational mind nearly anything seems plausible – even that my astral body can go off to the astral plane and be hurt by the spritual creatures that live there or someone else who happens to have their astral body there for malicious purposes.
Right, all the things you mentioned are all things that somewhere in my mind I still believe can really happen. I lump them all together because I'm kind of “accusing” all of them at once since I don't know which is causing my experience of being assaulted repeatedly. I know that no one is here with me, but it looks like someone is here and sometimes it feels like it, too. I keep visualizing someone attacking me and it feels like a supernatural creature so I'm not sure what to call it. I used to be convinced it was a demon because it looked like one, but additionally, I was also afraid of the person who died and thought they could attack me psychically even when they were alive since it looked like they were coming after me.
*After reading your descriptions of the various different supernatural things:
So what you're saying is that even if life-after-death was possible it would only make ghosts more likely, but not make demons more likely since they were never humans to begin with. So if there were a demon, it would have nothing to do with the man who died – even if he thought he was involved with demons. You're saying there's no way that he can harm me now if he's dead.
*Right, I do understand why she might be leaving open the possibility of life-after-death. Part of me holds on to these beliefs because when I lose people I care about, I want to believe they visit me to say good-bye. The flip side is that it leaves room open for the bad ones to visit me after death, too. So that's the dilemma I have to work out – which could be one of the reasons I have such a hard time letting go of the old beliefs - I have a hard time letting go of the good parts.
*Yes, my psychologist and I tried to come up with logical explanations of why I think I have spiritual attacks. She thinks I'm experiencing flashbacks of multiple traumatic events in my life. All the memories seem to get mixed up with this supernatural image. They look like demons because of my fear that demons (or other supernatural things) can sexually attack humans - and I've seen it as a running theme no matter what religion I was indoctrinated with – whether gods like Zeus or Hades to the supposedly low-life spirits from the Oujia board that supposedly did that. So I'm very leery of creepy spiritual beings.
I can see how her explanation of muddled flashbacks is a possibility, but it's hard for me to completely agree unless I can rule out that it's not a spiritual attack.
Thank you for that hope. I would definitely like to live without fear of attacks of the supernatural. It's hard for me to live without the fear until I can first come to the understanding that they are not real and so they don't pose a threat to me. Underneath that fear is a strong belief in the supernatural that was hiding under the surface. On Thursday it got brought to the forefront and I've been in that belief since then. It's holding on strongly and doesn't want me to get rid of it, even though I really want to and need to get rid of it to feel safe.
Sorry so long! Your response prompted a bit of journalling! As usual, you had many interesting things for me to ponder :-) Thank you again.
Hi Again :) don't worry about your answers being long. This dialogue has been helpful for me too. Especially around this time of year, I yearn for the spirits of my dearly departed (as you said, the "good parts" of the supernatural) and it does hurt to know that they are really gone. What first popped into my mind after reading your post is that A) you probably have a great imagination! Are you an artist of any type? and B) that the brain is a complex and imperfect machine. It sounds like maybe your brain (and many other people's, so you're hardly alone) was negatively influenced by the early traumatic experiences you mentioned. Could you have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder?) I've heard that the flashbacks people experience can feel very real and very much in the present, not like a memory at all. Also, I would ask your therapist if she has a diagnosis for you. Perhaps your mind would be eased by reading that many of the experiences you attribute to psychic attack are really symptoms of your own psychological make-up. For example, you mentioned astral travel. Under stress, people have been known to disassociate, actually view the scene that's happening to them from a different vantage point, as if it were a movie, like they had left their bodies, or that the trauma is happening to someone else. People with good imaginations and certain dispositions are more prone to using this coping mechanism. Also, I have to say this as someone who has had numerous chats and visits with gods and goddesses of every pantheon... just because we see something in our head does not make it real in any way, shape or form. I know that in most pagan and supernatural systems we are taught to believe the opposite. We are taught that if no one can prove it wasn't real, it could be real. Actually, the burden of proof is on us to prove our claim is real. It's not someone else's job to prove that the totem wolf or the spirit dragon I'm seeing is real, it's mine. So, can you prove that the demon you're seeing is real? Has anyone else seen it? Does it leave any evidence in the real world (other than your emotions and fear in reaction to it)? If not, you can rest easy in the knowledge that it is just in your mind. I know that the fear and the feeling of not being safe makes it seem more real to you. But those can also be attributed to past trauma, don't you think? I think you're doing a great job in working all of this out :) It really seems like you're seeing your experiences in a new light. Just hold on to that! It takes a long time to shake all of this off, I've been working at it for over 5 years now. well, I have to go now... just want to say, I'm no expert either :) I'm just a person who's been through a lot of therapy and done a lot of spiritual work. I can honestly say the therapy was more worth my time :)