Friday, March 21, 2014

Reframing Haunting Experiences For Homeowners


I'm greatly influenced by my own body of experience and that is what I bring to the field of paranormal investigation. I grew up in a very actively haunted house (see my book "Growing Up With Ghosts").

I was lucky in that I was a baby when we moved into the estate and I grew up there, feeling that all that was happening around me was part of the natural world. I no more wondered about a ghost's appearance or voices with no bodies than I did lightning, thunder, and walnuts falling to the earth from the tree.

My parents framed this in a way that made it possible for my much older siblings to accept moving from a quiet suburban home to a big old house with ghosts and be okay with that. They sat us down and told us that the place was once a Civil War hospital and lots of good men died there. They were away from their families and we have moved in with five kids. My parents let us know that, if we saw them wandering the hall or heard their footsteps on the stairs, to just know that they were doing their rounds and who better to protect us than soldiers?

Nothing bad came to us living there, but much did startle us. The rhythms of the haunting were sometimes clockwork and other times, out of left field. When we thought we knew the phenomena that was there, something new presented itself. But, we understood that they had no control over when they would be seen and heard and we had no control over when we would be in the right conditions and right place to perceive it.

Decades later, as a grown up living in a modern home with no haunting features, I did have one issue - a 3-year-old son who was a bit shy about sleeping at night.  I asked him why and he nervously pointed a little plump finger at the ceiling.

"T-there's an alligator," he whispered as if he didn't want it to hear.


I looked up to see that the door partially opened with a nightlight in the hall made a triangle shadow. He saw an alligator's mouth opened.


I said, "Hmm, doesn't have any teeth. Looks more like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when I cut them into triangles, hmm? I can almost see the crust." I pointed and squinted. 


He studied it with squinted eyes too. "Hmm, yeah. You're right."


He rolled over and went to sleep.


The next night, so he wouldn't be scared again, I started to open the door fully so there was no shadow and he called out,  "No! Mom, I wanna see the sandwich on the ceiling."



Perspective

Your best tool in dealing with haunted house residents is shifting perspective.  Take the teeth out of the unknown threat and let them see it in a different way.  Is it really harming them, or just startling them?


Interviewing

You can't address someone's fears until they voice them, so sitting down with a homeowner and reviewing any religious concerns, physical concerns, or just heebie jeebies, can help you sort out your approach. 

Once you have determined no real threat is apparent, you will want to help them see this in a new light. It's like patients with chronic pain. If they rename pain from "unbearable agony" to "warm tingles," it loses some of its overwhelming potency.

Here's some of the basic issues - 



Spiritual

The homeowner is afraid of possession or demons, bad mojo, curses, and the like.  He might be afraid a past deceased lover is after him. 

Physical

Something sat on her bed or touched her hair and now she worries it will punch her, kick her down the stairs, or even sexually assault her. 


Heebie Jeebies/Anxiety

The unexpected has made the homeowner unable to sleep, avoiding the bedroom, looking behind him as he shaves, and every corner of the house now seems to be alive with some unknown force he cannot control. That lack of control and unpredictability has made him a bundle of nerves.



Children
Little Johnny is talking to someone who isn't there, won't sleep without the light on and the closet door closed, says there is an old lady living in the guest bedroom who shouldn't be there. 


Evaluating


What is the actual harm or is it just startling? Might it be ineffectively trying to gain attention? What other explainable things might cause these issues?  

Once you've gone over the places in the home where activity is reported, the types of phenomena, whether it was visual or sound or just creepy feelings, you can now try to sort out explanations for conditions in which visuals are seen, sounds are made and if creepy feelings might have more to do with the mechanics of a room.



Practical explanation first!

It's critical that when someone calls you and is using the "H" word (haunted), that you don't start talking to them and referring to the ghost and haunting. That shows you have already assumed this is a true and genuine explanation for what's happening. You must first identify the situation before you ever consider bringing up the "G" and "H" words. 

Example

This homeowner casually asked me for help. He was not willing to let anyone know he was freaked out by his guest room. He had set up his computer in there and decided to claim the space since he didn't have any guests. 

"I only have one issue, the guest room." He informed me.

"How long have you lived here?" I asked. I knew him casually and vaguely recalled he was fairly new to the area.

"Six months."

"Has it always been like this or did it just start happening?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I just moved my computer in here a month ago and that's when I noticed it."

I looked around the room. There was a table with a computer set up, a couple enlarged photos of some snowy mountains from some vacation, no doubt, and a full-sized bed.

"Even my dog hates this room." He nodded to the dog in the hallway lying down on the cool tile.

The room did admittedly feel strangely stifling. 

"Describe what's happening here?" I sat down on the edge of the bed and he turned his desk chair around and collapsed into it wearily.

"I come in to work and within an hour, I feel like I'm being watched."

"Any particular place you feel you're being watched from?"

He shook his head. "Don't know. Just an uneasy feeling. The air feels heavy and kind of thick."

Come to think of it, it felt that way for me too. I looked around the sunny happy room and remembered the feeling I used to have in my mom's home. She had a huge 6000 square foot home, but was Depression Era raised. She would block off the vents in rooms she didn't use and they were exactly like this room.

I got up and went over to the vent above the door and studied it. I went out into the hall, looked at the vent there, then the ones in other rooms. I came back a few minutes later.

"I take it this is the only room that feels oppressive?"

He nodded.

"You might want to open the air vent." I pointed above the door.

"Oh." He opened the drawer, pulled out a letter opener, pulled the chair over and pried it open. The air-conditioning sent a gush of fresh cool air instantly and the room suddenly felt dynamic and alive instead of a tomb.

The dog came over to see what was up, jumped on his owner, sniffed my pant leg and then jumped on the bed and made a happy place to lay down.

"Okay, Duke has never come in here and used this bed as a rest spot."

"No wonder." I remarked. "He knew the room was insufferable."

He was skeptical that was all there was to it, but a couple weeks later, he called me to thank me. He said he felt like a ninny for not realizing that it was something so simple, but since he had moved in, he just hadn't used the room or noticed how the past owners left it.

Sometimes, it just takes an outsider to listen to the description, stand in the place, feel it too, and then wonder what could cause that feeling.


Kids and perspective shift

I am a practical woman and I always ask myself, "what am I hoping this sharing of information will do?" There is no reason to wave the "G" word around children unless you think they can benefit from knowing there is a ghost afoot. Otherwise, I am a big advocate of giving them more "natural world"  explanations for occurrences when you aren't positive there is a ghost about. 

One family I worked with had issues with the two children, ages 7 and 11, having trouble with the haunting qualities of the home. They had seen apparitions and heard whispering voices and sometimes cabinet doors opened and closed in other rooms and were becoming fearful. There was no way that I could tell them they did not see or hear things, that would be wrong. You don't want to teach children that their own judgment is suspect. Then, they will learn to adapt other's perceptions and ignore their own inner warnings. 

So, I sat them down. We went onto their computer and I showed them some interesting things like stories about fish landing on a village during a rain. We looked into the background to find that unusual winds were able to funnel fish up into the air from a lake and drop them as the winds died down. We looked at northern lights and discussed St. Elmo's fire and ball lightning. 

When we were done looking at the wonders of the universe, I explained, "not many people get to witness those parts of nature that are so cool and so weird. When you see and hear these things in your home, you're getting to see  something not many people ever get to do. Some people search their whole lives to experience that. Nature is a wonder. Some things in nature we don't understand, but we are lucky when we glimpse them, if we're there at just the right time." 

Then, I asked the kids to come up with their own explanations for what was happening in their home, as many as they. They were creative. One thought fairies were delivering dream people and the other one was sure that she was seeing the past. They talked about ghosts, some kind of mist that looked like a person, and more. When they no longer could come up with explanations, I reminded them, "we can't know how it does it or what it is, but we do know that they are just things you see and hear, and nothing that can hurt you. They may not be aware you're here and you may seem like a ghost to them if they catch a glimpse of you coming and going." 

"So we have ghosts, right?" The elder asked.

I then took something from my pocket and threw it across the room. "What was that?" I asked.

"I don't know." They both exclaimed.

"That was a UFO." I announced.

"No," the elder child scoffed.


"It flew through the air and you couldn't identify it. That was an unidentified flying object. We use the word `UFO' to explain what is in the air that we can't name. We also use the word `ghost' to explain all kinds of strange things that happen that we don't know what they are." 

When I left, the mother reported back that the girls were now keeping a diary on their bedroom dresser where they left notes of what they saw and heard and actually looked forward to witnessing things. In fact the oldest daughter became obsessed with weird weather phenomena.  The younger one proclaimed she was a scientist. 

As well as that interaction went, it was possible because the parents allowed me to shed some new light on phenomena for the kids and help them shift their perspective from only one view "ghosts" and the popular beliefs about such phenomena.

Some parents, however, will put their own fears and anxieties into the subject of ghosts so that the children are truly unsettled and scared by the concept. They talk openly and with great nervousness about what's happening in the house and the last thing a child needs to see is a parent who has no control over things. This leads me into my next subject - 


"Scapeghosts"

A scapeghost is a term I coined that (quite simply) is an excuse and a focus for a family with bad dynamics to blame something "other" on their real problems. Perhaps they don't discuss things that are going on, they have a family member with mental or substance abuse issues, a couple with anger towards each other, a troubled child who hasn't been diagnosed, or some other unseen issue to the viewer, that creates a need for them to focus on another "unseen force" as the seat of their problems. 

In some cases, this helps a family that otherwise would be broken up by a situation like a troubled teen versus parents, that now turns into a team that works hard against this interloper. Instead of talking the REAL issues, they talk the "bad guy" who might have been influencing the teen and making them act up.




Real Counseling

As much as I've worked with people who have anxiety disorders and depression, I also know I'm not a professional and any ghost hunter should know when they are limited, whether it is by what they can offer spiritually or emotionally. I try to offer the mental - how to work your thoughts so the resulting emotions are more in order and give a perspective on the phenomena, but I also know that there are conditions in which a person is not able to function, frantic, using substances, and other sorts of dynamics where clergy and counseling experts are what they really need. It's important to clarify with a homeowner that when they are done seeking such help of spiritual and emotional nature, that they can call upon you again if there are issues that need some light shed on them from a paranormal point of view.  If they balk at the concept of seeking help, you might want to explain that the emotional state of the people in the home, influence the degree and amount of haunting activity. 


Key Points

When you deal with people in active locations, just remember these things when speaking with them:

a. We do not know if the home is truly haunted.
b. We do not know exactly what ghosts are and how they work, but we do know that if they were capable of hurting us, then every dead killer would be having a field day. They apparently are not effective in interacting with our world.
c. The state of mind of the occupant determines the outcomes. What you think, you react to and that action has a reaction. So, perpetuating fear creates more fear and bad choices.


In Conclusion

Every case is completely different and a good investigator is going to take into account the personalities, belief systems, situations, and phenomena of the client. You won't always be able to tell them what they want to hear or make the "bad things" go away, but you can teach them to take control of their mind and their home and empower them to realize that ignoring such things is the best method for making it simply go away. It's something like that show "Ghost Whisperer." If that woman hadn't have been startled to see dead people, they might not have kept coming around and bugging her. 

Announcing the house is yours, ignoring the phenomena, and going on with life are the best ways to not only discourage the attraction to your family or your home, but to also make the family feel in control while they co-existing with phenomena.

Go with the flow, your instincts and what you are hearing the homeowner voice. Be adaptable, be understanding and yet stable.  Sometimes, the homeowner just wants to know if this is normal compared to other homes and other situations. It's not like people talk readily about their haunting habits. So, reassure them, give them insight, give them curiosity instead of fear and power instead of caution. 

You might not always be successful at showing a homeowner a new way of looking at phenomena, but sometimes the simplest assurances go a long way for helping them feel less alone.

 

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