Anomalous Experiences

Many people have profound extraordinary experiences they don’t talk about for fear of ridicule or being pathologized.

Others are aware they possess unusual abilities but keep it secret to avoid judgement.

Anomalous experiences are those that we have defined as falling outside our current definition of consensus reality across individuals, cultures and time periods. This definition is a moving target.

There are many human experiences that can be seen as anomalous. Examples include spiritual epiphanies or profound lucid dreams that seem more familiar to most. Other experiences may include contact with spirits, out-of-body experience (OBE), near-death experience (NDE) or contact with non-human entities (NHEs).

The reports of anomalous experiences now show they could be happening to millions of people. Some reported estimates show approximately 30-50% of the world population report at least one anomalous experience in their lifetime (Cardena et al., 2014; Ross and Joshi, 1992).  Approximately 50% of those reporting anomalous experiences state they have trouble integrating it into their lives (Rabeyron, 2022).

Everyone who has anomalous experiences deserves to be validated, supported and not pathologized. These experiences are real and a legitimate part of our human experience. Academic leadership at universities are working closely with scientists conducting research and writing scholarly work on this phenomenon (Kripal, 2010; Pasulka, 2019).

John Mack, M.D., Harvard psychiatrist, professor of psychiatry, and Pulitzer prize-winning author evaluated thousands of experiencers of anomalous experiences, validated the authenticity of their experiences as not psychopathology and devoted his life to helping this population develop coping strategies. He coined the term ontological shock to describe what experiencers go through as they try to integrate what happens to them when it radically challenges their worldview. (Mack, 1999).

Examples of Anomalous Experiences

The following excerpts are descriptions of anomalous experiences from The American Psychological Association (APA) research publication, Varieties of Anomalous Experience: Examining the Scientific Evidence.

Alien Abduction Experiences (AAE)

Alien abduction experiences (AAEs) can include temporary paralysis and out-of-body sensations. They are often described as vivid, emotionally intense, realistic and extremely distressing. The experients may report missing time, seeing strange balls of light, memories of being taken by nonhuman entities to a location such as an alien spacecraft, being subjected to complex physical and psychological procedures. This can be isolated events but more commonly are recalled as repeated episodes over several years.

Research surveys of abduction reports show other common features to include the experience of examinations, communication with abductors, guided examination of the UFO, transport to another place on earth or an unearthly environment, receipt of religious or spiritual messages, egress from the UFO and return to earth and post-abduction experience effects. Research is quoted showing many thousands of Americans believe aliens have abducted them, making it one of the most common and frequently reported anomalous experience.

These descriptions illustrate the AAE is a dynamic, elaborate, and involved experience, rich in contextual detail, with considerable perceptual, psychological, cognitive, and physical concomitants.

Past-Life Experiences

Past life experiences have been well-documented as part of thousands of lives as conscious memories, spontaneous childhood memories and/or retrieved through hypnotic regression. Current forms of treatment may include work with past life experiences as part of a healing process. Past life memories may sometimes require integration.

Anomalous Self and Identity Experiences

Experiences that challenge the sense of self include fusional experiences, a sense of merging with another being, whether another person or a divinity, or the universe as a while. This might be the feeling of a mystical experience or an experience of no boundaries around the self.

Another type of shift in self-awareness can happen with an out-of-body experience (OBE) when people sense their self or center of awareness as if it were located outside the physical body.

There can be profound identity shifts with those who experience trance states, spirit possession and mediumship or channeling. Identity refers to an integrated sense of self across time. Anomalous experiences can significantly challenge the sense of reality and identity.

Lucid Dreaming

Being explicitly aware of dreaming and have volition within the dreaming state.

Mystical Experiences

Mystical experiences of all types are widespread and can be defined as any mystical, sometimes spiritual, experience that diverges in fundamental ways from ordinary conscious awareness and leaves a strong impression of having encountered a reality radically different from the sensory-based world of everyday experience. These experiences may arise spontaneously, out of spiritual practice or experiences, shamanic (or similar) practices or from the use of psychedelics.  

Mystical experiences may include bodily manifestations, spiritual healing, seeing auras, telekinesis, journeying to the spirit world and witnessing events at a distance. There may be visions and auditions as integral elements of the experiences.

Psi-Related Experiences

For over a century, researchers have investigated psi-related experiences (PREs) or spontaneous psi, including reports of telepathy (direct mind-to-mind communication), clairvoyance (knowledge of distant events), pre-cognition (knowledge of the future), psychokinesis (moving physical objects with the mind) and various other psi abilities. Anomalous experiences can also be sensed through the use of intuitive, empathic and other extrasensory perception.

Anomalous Healing Experiences

Anomalous healing experiences are defined as recoveries from serious illnesses that defy explanation through conventional biomedical frameworks.

Synesthesia

Anomalous arousal of sensations or perceptions in a secondary sense modality. When tones are also sensed as colors, words are sensed as colors or any crossing of sensory, perceptual or personification evoked by stimulus. Synesthesia is commonly reported as an experience of some gifted individuals.

Near-Death Experiences

Near-death experiences (NDEs) are understood to be unusual, often vivid, realistic and sometimes profoundly life-changing experiences occurring to people who have been psychologically close to death, as in cardiac arrest or other life-threatening conditions, or psychologically close to death in accidents or illnesses. NDEs were once thought to be rare, but several prospective studies have found them reported by 10-20% of those who have come close to death, now thought to be a low estimate. Reports have come from all over the world and throughout history.

Evaluations and Therapy

With any medical or mental health need, assessment and evaluation for associated conditions in a holistic view of the experiencer’s life is an important part of treatment. Therapy for experiencers can address common issues, such as confusion, fears of going “crazy” or being viewed unstable by others, long-term secrecy and leading a double life, relationship difficulties, unhealthy coping strategies, trauma and resulting mental health struggles such as depression and anxiety due to the challenges of understanding and integrating anomalous experiences.

It is important to find supportive professionals who can lead experiencers on a healing path. There can be tremendous growth and vibrant life change as a result of healthy integration and engagement with anomalous experiences.

Contact us for more information.

REFERENCES

Cardena, E., Lynn, S.J., and Krippner, S. (2014). Varieties of Anomalous Experience: Examining the Scientific Evidence. Washington: American Psychological Association.

Kripal, J.J. (2010). Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mack, J. (1999). Passport to the Cosmos. US and UK: White Crow Books.

Pasulka, D.W. (2019). American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rabeyron, T. (2022). When the Truth Is Out There: Counseling People Who Report Anomalous Experiences. Front. Psychol. 12:693707. Dol: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.693707.

Ross, C.A., and Joshi, S. (1992). Paranormal experiences in the general population. Nerv. Ment. Dis. 180, 357-361.