Why are we afraid of ghosts?

Have you ever been home alone and felt sure that someone was watching you? And afraid to turn around, lest you catch a ghost behind you?

If so, you’re not alone. Because in fact, for some people, this feeling turns into a nagging obsession that makes living or sleeping alone difficult or even impossible. This fear of ghosts may be much more common than is commonly thought, said Ricardo de Oliveira-Souza, a psychiatrist at D’Or’s Institute for Research and Education (IDOR) in Rio de Janeiro. .

“It can be as common as the phobias we encounter every day, like fear of heights or fear of certain insects,” Oliveira-Souza told Live Science.

Why are we afraid of ghosts?
This fear of ghosts may be much more common than is commonly thought.

According to Oliveira-Souza, many people are probably too embarrassed to mention their fear to medical professionals. Oliveira-Souza became interested in the phenomenon after a depressed patient he treated happened to mention that treatment for depression had also cured him of his lifelong fear of ghosts, making him afraid to sleep alone. me. For Oliveira-Souza, the patient’s description matched that of a phobia , a term in psychology used to describe excessive fear caused by a certain situation – in this case loneliness or thinking about horror movies or other supernatural fears. He started asking around and found that many friends, patients and relatives also said that they were frightened by the concept of ghosts.

In an article published in November 2018 in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, Oliveira-Souza highlighted a few of them. In one case, a 46-year-old hotel worker who had lived with her parents all her life felt lost after her father passed away and her mother decided to move out. This woman panicked when she was alone in the family’s apartment. When her mother went away for the weekend before a planned move, she hid in a nearby nightclub and wandered the streets instead of sleeping alone. Memories of her father’s funeral haunted her as she tried to sleep.

In another case, the 54-year-old lawyer was hesitant to end a bad marriage because he was afraid to live alone. He slept in the same room as his brother when he was young and got married in a hurry after his brother moved out of the house because his fear of the supernatural made him scared to sleep alone. The lawyer said that even when he was alone in his office, he felt like someone was watching him, or something would suddenly appear in front of him. This feeling of being watched is also known as “Anwesenheit”, which in German means “presence”.

Why are we afraid of ghosts?
Being alone, especially at night, causes fear in many people.

Being alone, especially at night , causes fear in all of Oliveira-Souza’s patients. A 19-year-old college student sleeps with her parents for fear the spirit will break her bedroom window. A 63-year-old widow is so terrified that someone or something will show up in her living room at night that she sometimes “wets the bed” instead of getting up and going to the bathroom. An 11-year-old girl said that hands would drag her down the bed if she put her feet on the floor or something scary would appear in front of her in the dark.

That 11-year-old girl overcame her fears after puberty, like many others. On the other hand, most adults are treated with antidepressants or benzodiazepines, which are most commonly used to treat specific phobias.

“Regardless of the phobia in each case, these drugs will reduce the anxiety that lies at the core of the fear,” explains Oliveira-Souza.

Some patients are treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, a therapy that, through talking, untangles their specific fear (in this case, ghosts), from the physical to the emotional side. worry.

It seems that fear of ghosts can be widespread. According to Oliveira-Souza, someone without claustrophobia can still experience discomfort in a malfunctioning elevator after therapy. Similarly, someone without paranoia still struggles to banish memories of horror movies or Stephen King novels when alone in the dark or on a stormy night. .