The Psychology Of A Near-Death Experience
If you have ever met anyone who has had a near-death experience – or if you have ever experienced this phenomenon yourself – you know that it changes you forever. Psychologically speaking, it is nearly impossible to “go back” to looking at life and death the same way as you did before, and often you feel driven to find out why and how this can happen and if it has happened to others as well.
Despite an ever growing body of research studies that focus on phenomena of this type, as well as an expanding library of books (both research and memoir-based) on the topic, it is clear scientists and human beings still have much to learn about near-death experiences. How they happen, when they happen, why they happen – all of these questions are still very much open for insight and exploration.
However, there are certain psychological impacts of a near-death experience that have now been identified. In this post, learn what psychological studies have to say about near-death experiences (often called simply “NDEs”). Also learn about five of the ways having (or even hearing about) a near-death experience can impact a person psychologically.
Dr. Jung and NDEs
In 1944, famous psychologist Dr. Carl Jung experienced a near-death experience. Not only did Dr. Jung report experiencing many of the same events that experiencers today report, but he then returned from the experience to incorporate his newfound awareness of the afterlife into his groundbreaking work in the field of psychology. One of the concepts that came out of this period is his assertion that the “unconscious psyche” of an individual believes in “life after death,” even if the conscious individual may not.
What Psychological Studies Say About NDEs
According to Psychology Today, NDEs absolutely do happen. In fact, research shows that there is much similarity in how they happen and the sequence of events that occurs as well.
Here is the common sequence of events that many experiencers report:
- A feeling of hovering or “floating” slightly above the physical body, and at the same time being able to see the body below (which researchers find similar to reports of “out of body” experiences).
- The visual sensation of a light, which is often very bright and pervasive.
- Some sort of review of life-to-date, which is often visual.
- A visual or physical sensation of moving through a tunnel.
- Feelings of peace, joy, pleasure, unity with all.
- Seeing beings, sometimes known and sometimes unknown.
- An awareness of having moved beyond life (“being dead”).
Today, researchers are able to link these experiences to specific neurological functions and even specific parts of the brain that control these different functions, most notably the left temporal lobe, which seems to control an individual’s sense of body-awareness.
As well, interruption in the REM cycle sleep stage, which occurs in some individuals but not in everyone, is thought to account for some of the feelings of “floating” above the body, since REM interruption causes what researchers call “sleep paralysis.”
Researchers that have explored a possible link between low oxygen levels and NDEs have not found a link there, but there does seem to be a possible link between low blood sugar levels and NDEs.
5 Ways NDEs Impact a Person Psychologically
The International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) has assembled extensive information and qualitative research (stories)
1. People report that having an NDE changes their life forever.
IANDS reports that people near-universally report that having a near-death experience changes them in some fundamental way from that point forward. Many report feeling less fear, more love, more connection and no more fear of death. Often experiencers have a greatly enhanced ability to experience love, joy, wonder and acceptance for self and others.
2. Interpretation plays a huge role in how an NDE changes a person.
Psychology Today reports that personal interpretation plays a huge part in exactly how having a near-death experience will change a person. Personal feelings of faith (or lack thereof) often seem to shape the actual NDE experiences, including seeing religious figures or angels or simply interpreting what they see in light of what they do or don’t believe.
3. The review of life-to-date puts old wounds and questions into perspective.
For people whose NDE experience includes what researchers call a “life review,” or what many moviemakers call “life flashing before your eyes,” these people report a positive effect and often some significant healing from past hurts or old questions being resolved. In this way, NDE experiencers report that the NDE itself functioned sort of like a psychological technique called “psychodrama” where the person gets to revisit or even replay the past in service to resolving old issues.
4. The NDE experience itself can sometimes be faith-changing.
For some experiencers who previously did not have any faith in an “afterlife” type experience, whether religious or secular, they report the NDE experience changes their beliefs about what happens after death. Often, experiencers who previously believed nothing happens after death now report that they feel like life continues after death.
5. The NDE often prompts greater interest in spiritual matters.
Because of the life-changing, profound impact of the NDE on those who experience it, many people report resolution of psychological conflict between “conscious” beliefs about life after death and what they have experienced during the NDE (a la Dr. Jung – see above). This not only allows these experiencers to experience more peace but prompts a more open interest in and attitude towards learning about both psychological and spiritual matters as it may relate to their own NDE experiences.
Near-death experiences are clearly fascinating and the field is still wide-open for additional research to be done. Psychologically speaking, the two universal findings to date are that NDEs are documentable, viable phenomenon worth studying further and that NDEs have a profound psychological impact on those who experience them.
Jessica Kane is a professional blogger who writes for Legacy Headstones, a leading ohio-based headstone manufacturer and vendor.
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