Demons, ghosts and aliens, in that order, have been reported over 100’s of years as visitors in the night scaring not only children but adults too….are we being visited by those from other worlds and dimensions…or….could there be a simpler explanation?
In the ‘Nightmare’ painting by Fuseli a sleeping woman is visited by nightmarish visions of demons and a horseshead…Are these Freudian symbols of neurosis usually buried deep unconscious manifesting themselves or is there an alternative psychophysiological based explanation?
During sleep it is now well documented that the mind and body goes through a number of processes, the most well known is R.E.M (and some stages of NREM) where the brain becomes active and where reports of dreaming tends to have the greatest level of frequency. During this period the human body responds with its own sets of changes, one being the muscles become inactive and it is though that this is a mechanism to stop the dreamer acting out their dreams. This safety mechanism however can sometimes be out of synch hence phenomenon such as sleepwalking and even sleep-murder in rare cases. During a period of where the body still thinks it is asleep and therefore paralysed however the individual becomes conscious they can experience a dream like state whilst awake – an experience that is reportedly very frightening, especially as it is correlated with a crushing sensation on the chest from the inhibited muscle activity (back to the demon sat on the woman in Fuseli’s painting).
“It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before,” recalls Hannah Foster from Brighton. “After a normal day at work, I went to bed around 11pm, as always, and the next thing I remember is waking up, basically paralysed. It was terrifying. And the more I panicked, the more it felt like I couldn’t breathe properly. The second time, I knew what was happening – but as well as the paralysis, I also saw a terrifying black figure. It looked a bit like a demon – with a scrunched, ugly face, like a gargoyle. I tried to scream and move away from it.” Source; Mail online
These hypnopompic hallucinations have been correlated with a timeline, those reporting the phenomenon 200 years ago would report demons or ghosts, whilst these still occur attempted alien abduction reports are now more common and represents fears that are culturally time bound. In Canada the phenomenon is referred to as ‘The hag‘, in Mexico “Dead person on you” (Subirse el muerto) and in China “Ghost pressing down on you‘. Alien abduction attempts have also been explained as examples of traumatic sleep paralysis episodes. It is interesting to note that you can now get ‘alien abduction insurance‘ for peace of mind.
The future of sleep paralysis experiences
The Zombie apocalypse is a common theme in television, film and popular culture maybe we will see a rise in zombie related experiences in the dead of night where unsuspecting sleepers wake awkwardly with hypnopompic hallucinations to the face of an extra from ‘The walking dead’, a White Walker from Game of Thrones or the new revamp of the X-Files.
Mental illness, atypical behaviour, psychopathology and dysfunctional behaviour are just some of the terms used to describe one of the most difficult areas to define both in Psychology as part of the human experience. Issues that surround the study of ‘dysfunctional behaviour’ are probably the most important as they can be the difference to some in terms of quality of life or even a threat to life itself. All the debates that academically are discussed within the context of Clinical Psychology are well trod however still as fiercely debated. Read this chapter for an overview of studies and issues relating to classification, explanation and treatment. Want to test yourself on your knowledge of Dysfunctional behaviour – click me?
Some examples of debates are;
Nature Vs Nurture – To what extent is dysfunctional behaviour caused by our experiences or dominated by a genetic predisposition. Consider depression, as one of the most diagnosed disorders is it due to traumatic life experience or are some people carrying a genetic predisposition which will arise irrespective of circumstance. This question feeds directly in peoples often poor judgements ‘She has everything anyone could want..what has she got to be depressed about…….?‘
Reductionism Vs Holism – Can the explanation of human experience be over simplified and reduced down to basic processes. Consider the study of Little Albert.
Issues such as ethics, validity and reliability of diagnosis, effectiveness of psychological treatments Vs drug therapy, before we even get to an agreement of what dysfunctional behaviour actually is.
What is a Clinical Psychologist?
In the video below Dr. Donald Meichenbaum discusses the 3 key concepts relating to Stress Inoculation Therapy.
1. Conceptualisation. The ‘inner critic’ that contributes towards self doubt and poor performance is analysed and challenged through collaboration and therapeutic alliance. (What’s the problem?)
2. Skill acquisition and rehearsal. Coping strategies are taught that helps the individual with their specific issues. (What do I need to do to deal with it?)
3. Application – The individual applies their new and more effective skills in the real world (I can do this!)
Here is an example of how Meichenbaum focusses his clients on the relationship between thought and behaviour.
‘I want clients to “take my voice with them.” The portions of my voice that I want them to take are “ACTIVE TRANSITIVE VERBS” such as “notice, catch, anticipate, plan” and the like.
NOTE: There is a need for clients not only to change, but to have the client take credit for these changes. The psychotherapist should ask the client the following questions:
“How did you handle this situation differently from how you handled this in the past?’
“Where else did you do this?”
“How long has this been going on?”
“How did you pull this off (accomplish this)?”
“Are you telling me… are you saying to yourself that IN SPITE OF….., you were able to notice …catch yourself…use your coping techniques of….How did that make you feel?”
“What does this mean about you as a person?”
As shown above the classic Yerkes Dodson inverted ‘U’ illustration of the relationship between anxiety and performance used in sport and a range of other areas of applied psychology -the right amount of stress at the right time can aid performance. However, if you were to ask most people about their stress levels – you will get a consistent answer regarding there being too much of it, which is difficult to argue with. Or is it? Below is a lecture that discusses how the choice of perceiving the stress response in a psychologically healthy way has the significant influence of the body effectively following suit and minimising the physiological symptoms of stress including premature death. These are significant claims – watch the video and examine the evidence presented, is it as simple as changing your mind? If so the freewill debate just received some long needed support……….As 90’s band En Vogue sang ‘Free your mind and the rest will follow‘ maybe they were onto something.
Often you hear people refer to issues in their life in terms of ‘first world problems’ which are nothing more than a range of trivial or minor frustrations that impact certain economically developed countries, such as computers crashing or not being able to access Wi-Fi (surely there is a case for a new foundation layer to be added to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), but how about 14th Century problems?
For most of us the ‘Bubonic plague’ was nothing more than a trip to Eyam and a (most likely incorrect) recounting of ‘a ring a ring a roses’….However today’s news of the story of the plague AKA as the Black death (if ever there was a name of a disease to ensure that perceived seriousness should always be high, it’s this one), especially when there were 800 confirmed cases by the WHO in 2013 of which a significant number were fatalities’. Consider how our knowledge about individual’s belief’s regarding our health could have impacted upon the epidemic (1/3 of all those in England died) – if we had Becker’s model to hand at the time would it have been different?, it is very difficult to say, however it is difficult to argue with the fact the more we understand about the dangers to our health the more informed choices we can make. However, such anxiety can in some go too far and become an illness in itself, Health Anxiety Disorder historically referred to as Hypochondrias can be explained using a range of psychological theory from the early work of Charcot and Freud to more Cognitive based theory such as the Health Belief Model. From Psychoanalysis to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy it is a long road for sufferers. A recent article highlighted in the Guardian just how debilitating it can be.