Is there someone there?

13th June 2021. Reading Time: 12 minutes General, Stuff paranormal investigators need to know. 779 page views. 0 comments.

From a sensed presence through to sleep paralysis and even experiencing grief, there are many situations where people feel like there is someone there with them. While it could be something paranormal, it could also be our brain. Here are some of the ways our brain makes us feel like we are not alone!

A person often feels like they have a spirit around not because something paranormal has been happening at the time, but more because they just feel like they are not alone. They don't necessarily see or hear anything, but they feel it. How many times have you been on an investigation and you just feel like there is something or someone around? Maybe in a time of need, you feel what seems like a comforting presence to get you through whatever it is you are going through. I know myself there have been so many different occasions where I have thought that I wasn't alone. I didn't see or hear anything to indicate as such, but I just felt it. I felt that there was a presence with me. While it very well could be something paranormal and maybe we are being visited by something supernatural, there are several things that can evoke these feelings, and they are all caused by our brain.

Sensed presence

A sensed presence is something that happens to a person that has become isolated or is in an unfamiliar environment. They are usually experiencing a large amount of stress and could even be in a life or death situation. There are occurrences where people are either stranded or trapped in a location, or in what they feel is a hopeless situation. They feel at the time, that they have someone there with them to help them through the situation. Almost like a guardian angel. A perfect example that I have seen used to describe this phenomenon is from the movie Gravity. Sandra Bullock's character is stuck alone in space. She turns off the oxygen supply in her compartment to complete what she feels inevitable. She suddenly gets a visitation by George Clooney's character who has died earlier in the movie. His character talks her through the situation. Even though she realised it was a hallucination, she still followed his advice and ultimately survived. While this is quite an extreme example, you get the idea. While it is not known exactly what causes a sensed presence experience to occur, research indicates that low temperatures seem are a common denominator.

Possible explanations for a sensed presence include the motion of boats, atmospheric or geomagnetic activity, and altered sensations and states of consciousness induced by changes in brain chemistry triggered by stress, lack of oxygen, monotonous stimulation, or a buildup of hormones. There is in fact exciting new evidence from a research group led by Olaf Blanke demonstrating that it is the precise stimulation of specific brain regions that tricks people into feeling the "presence" of a ghostly apparition.

Psychology Today

Image Source: Photo by Lennart Wittstock from Pexels

A sensed presence experience can range from a person just feeling like there is someone nearby, to having a full hallucination of seeing or talking to the person that isn't really there.

Feeling of presence

Similar to that of a sensed presence, a feeling of presence is feeling like someone is with you, however, it is not under extreme circumstances.  Instead, it is neurological.  We know from things like pareidolia that our brain is constantly trying to find patterns.  If it sees something it doesn't quite understand, it makes it something that we can understand.  It is why we see a cloud in the shape of an elephant or a face appears in the steam on the mirror in the bathroom.  It seems in a similar way, it can also make us feel like someone is with us.  

People who suffer from schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and even epilepsy are prone to these experiences due to the way their brain works.  Researchers however have found a way to also induce this feeling in otherwise healthy individuals.  The robot was able to create a neurologic imbalance between what the mind perceives and what the body feels.

When a healthy, blindfolded subject would reach forward, the robot would copy his or her exact motion and tap the participant from behind. If the robot-human interaction was perfectly synchronized, the participants simply reported feeling like they were reaching forward and touching their own backs—a disturbing, but not hallucinatory, sensation.
 
But when the scientists delayed the robotic reaction even slightly, by a half-second, the participants become disoriented. Many said that they felt like someone else was touching their backs, and estimated that the mostly-empty room was full of people. Some added that they felt as though they were drifting backward, toward The Presence; two participants were so disturbed that they asked to stop the experiment.

Scientific American

While the robot was able to recreate this feeling, I can compare it to the same feelings that can be induced by using virtual reality.  This too can induce a feeling that someone is behind you or even make you feel like you are falling.  You aren't really falling, but it has played with your perception, much like the robot did in the above experiment.

Fight or Flight

When your brain feels like you are in some sort of danger where it feels that you are at risk of harm or attack, it goes into what is called hyper arousal or acute stress response. It is otherwise known as fight or flight mode. The brain begins to release different hormones that prepare your body to either run for your life, or to stay and confront and fight the threat. It was first described in the 1920s by American physiologist Walter Cannon. What is interesting with this is that it is triggered when the brain feels you are at threat. It may be a very real physical threat or it could be imaginary. We all have different fears and different tolerance levels which is why this mode is extremely personal. What may set one person off, may not bother another person at all. It all comes down to our wonderful little brains. Some people will stand and confront the fear ready to fight and your body has the adrenaline ready with extra energy and strength to help you do so. Others will instinctively run away, and again they have the extra energy and lots of oxygen to help them do that. It all happens within a split second and everyone reacts differently. The fight or flight response is mentioned quite a lot when it comes to paranormal investigating. As this is a personal psychological response, it can also be triggered by phobias. If for example, someone is afraid of heights, going to the top of a tall building and looking down could trigger this response. In the same way, if someone has a fear of the dark, being in a dark room could suddenly trigger a response. It is important to know our bodies and how we react to things. It is also important to note that how we react to things also influences others. If you are at an investigation for example and say a gush of wind has caused a window to make a loud bang. Someone hears the bang and their response kicks in and they start freaking out, others could possibly follow suit. All of a sudden the gush of wind that has caused the window to banged can easily be misinterpreted as a massive paranormal experience that caused the whole team to run outside. Someone may be caught completely off guard and not know what is happening to them. To some, they may even feel like perhaps something paranormal is causing them to feel that way or that someone is with them because again it is something unknown to them. 

Image Source http://neugenleaders.com/the-third-alternative-fight-flight-or/

What is quite interesting, is that studies indicate that a lot of reported paranormal experiences seem to happen in conditions that would likely trigger the fight or flight response.

A recent study by Kirsten Barnes and Nicholas Gibson (2013) explored the differences between individuals who have never had a paranormal experience and those who have. They confirmed that experiences of supernatural phenomena are most likely to occur in threatening or ambiguous environments, and they also found that those who had paranormal experiences scored higher on scales measuring empathy and a tendency to become deeply absorbed in one’s own subjective experience. Most likely, the experience of the sensed presence is the result of many of these factors interacting at once.

Psychology Today

Sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis occurs when a person is in REM sleep - Rapid Eye Movement. It is in this state that the brain has vivid dreams. It also sends a message to your muscles to relax which puts you in a state of temporary paralysis so that you don’t go and start physically acting out what you are dreaming. If you dream of punching someone, you don’t want to be punching your partner in your sleep - or if they snore like mine does maybe you do! Sometimes a person wakes up and becomes conscious before the brain sends the signal to the muscles to wake up. It means a person is lying there and is conscious but is unable to move and unable to speak. A person will usually feel like there is someone standing at the foot of the bed or even standing over them.  It is common to hallucinate in this state as well as you are still technically in REM.  On top of either feeling or seeing that someone is there, a person can feel a heaviness on their chest or a choking sensation which makes them feel like it is the figure at the foot of the bed doing this to them. It doesn’t take long for the body to catch up, but it can feel like an eternity when you are in this state. It is absolutely terrifying. It can occur if someone is sleep-deprived, stressed, on certain medications or if they suffer from other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea. While it is something induced by our brain, some people associate this with what they consider negative spirits and feel it is a form of psychic attack.


John Henry Fuseli - The Nightmare - Public Domain

Grief

Another common situation when a feeling of presence could occur is when a person is experiencing significant levels of grief. Often people will isolate themselves and cut themselves off from the world while they deal with their grief. In this period of isolation and stress, they may have what is like a visitation from their loved ones. It of course is up for debate as to if they really are having a visitation or not, but it seems that this interaction is often an important part of the recovery process because it allows the person to move on. It may allow them to say the things they wish they could have said and got some sort of closure, especially if the person passed suddenly. I know that I am often contacted by people who are grieving that are desperate to talk to or see a loved one that has passed. Often they will ask me what equipment they can buy or what they can do to talk to them again. It is almost something that they become obsessed with and are unable to move on without doing so. Maybe this is the brain's way of helping us through a situation.

Image source: Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

Whether or not a person really has had a visitation, or they are experiencing some sort of psychological phenomena like a sensed presence, it is important to acknowledge that the experience itself will be completely real to the person. In any case, if it is something that helps them through a situation or gives them comfort, does it really matter if they really did have a visitation or not? I think in some circumstances, especially when grief involved some things should be left alone and a person should be allowed to cherish an experience that has helped them or given them comfort. In our search for the truth, we can often forget the impact such events can have emotionally and on a person's wellbeing. Maybe spirits know when we need them and are there for us on some kind of spiritual level or maybe our brain just makes us think they are there to give us comfort. At the end of the day, in this sort of situation, does the how really matter?

This is just a small collection of ways in which we can feel like we are not alone or in the presence of something paranormal.  All are caused by our brains.  I know I hate the word hallucination.  It makes us feel like we are crazy, but that is kind of what the brain is doing.  It is making us see or feel something that is not there.  It doesn't mean we are crazy and the experience is very real to the person experiencing it which is an important point.  It is something that a person has experienced.  Whether it is paranormal or not is something personal and not something I think people can ever agree on, especially when only one person experiences it.  I am not saying that we don't get visited by loved ones or anything else for that matter.  We really don't know what is out there.  On some sort of deeper level, maybe there is a reason as to why a person does feel like someone is there, especially when feeling grief.  While yes their brain could be making them feel that way, is there some sort of higher reason or purpose that it does that?  It is really up to what you believe.  What we do know however is that there are circumstances that make us feel like there is someone or something around.  It is up to us to work out what is happening.

Have you had an experience where you feel like you weren't alone?


References

https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-29/april/silent-companions

https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/out-the-ooze/201507/why-some-people-see-ghosts-and-other-presences

https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/smashing-the-brainblocks/202103/fight-or-flight-which-is-better-choice

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn26516-ever-felt-a-ghostly-presence-now-we-know-why/

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/this-robot-messes-with-your-brain-until-you-feel-a-ghostly-presence/

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