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Have you seen the unseen other?
By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Counselor.
Have you ever felt the presence of someone you couldn’t see?
I’ve recently came across an interesting podcast from the British psychological society about just this topic. Dr. Jon Sutton, editor of The Psychologist magazine, talks to Dr. Ben Alderson-Day, an Associate Professor at Durham University who has written a book about this kind of experience.
Experiencing the feeling that there was someone close by that you could not see is a relatively common phenomenon. This kind of experience has been described a lot by people who are in conditions of sensory deprivation. Skiing through a blinding snowstorm requires using senses other than vision to navigate. People who dive in darkened caves may experience things beyond the range of human sight.
We’re pretty confident that just because I don’t see a person hiding in the darkness in the alley doesn’t mean they’re not there. But how do we explain the times when I sense someone there who later jumps out at me?
Lack of perception doesn’t equal lack of existence.
When the idea of germs was first presented, people laughed at the possibility of tiny creatures we couldn’t see. Now that we have microscopes, a whole new universe of possibilities is visible. We also know that X-rays can pass through the body totally unnoticed. Just because I can’t see them doesn’t mean X-rays don’t exist.
In the early days of psychology and psychological research, a lot of attention was paid to the boundary between what we can perceive via the senses and what we might experience in the subconscious or unconscious realm.
Not everyone who looks at a painting or landscape sees the same details. Perceiving something others don’t experience doesn’t necessarily mean you have a mental disorder. Is it possible that some people perceive phenomena not readily available to our senses?
Altered perception, including hallucinations, doesn’t equal psychosis.
In the early part of my career, I worked in a locked psychiatric facility. In learning to diagnose, we had to pay a lot of attention to the differences between relatively normal perception and something that might indicate psychosis. Not everyone who sees something hears something, smell something, and so on has a diagnosable mental illness.
For most of these iffy experiences, we can come up with plausible explanations.
It’s common for people to believe that they hear someone calling their name, but when they look, no one is there. We dismissed this with the explanation that when the brain hears sounds, it can’t identify it makes them into a familiar word, and nothing is more familiar than your own name.
Should all religious experiences be dismissed as examples of psychosis?
There’s an exception in the diagnostic manual for hearing and seeing things in the context of a religious experience that we generally ignore. If you’re a Catholic and believe you have seen the Virgin Mary or some other Saint, That shouldn’t count towards a diagnosis of psychosis. But if Mary tells you to go to Walmart, fill up your shopping cart, and it’s all free, we believe that is moved from a religious experience into a delusion.
Should you ever trust your gut?
There’s a lot of good evidence that you should trust your gut. When you meet a new person, if you get an uneasy feeling, you probably should walk away. Plenty of advice tells you that you should trust your “felt sense” or intuition. There’s a lot of literature devoted to the idea that you can develop your intuition. Highly creative people, both in the arts and the sciences, often credit their advances to intuition. Since we can’t readily see intuition, it’s easy to be skeptical. But if you’ve ever had an experience where you’ve trusted your intuition, and you turned out to be right, you have to wonder if that was more than just a chance coincidence.
It’s important to get to know yourself, and one model of personality that’s often used is the Myers-Briggs personality inventory. Intuition is one of the personality characteristics that’s been widely studied. I don’t think anybody would believe that people who are high in intuition are inherently mentally ill.
Is there a difference between intuition and psychic abilities?
As much as modern psychology has endorsed the idea of intuition, its role in creating personality, and its value in making decisions, it’s equally likely that modern science will laugh at the existence of psychic abilities. Of course, not everybody defines intuition or psychic abilities in the same way. People who were high in intuition as very young children and have gone on to develop that as a part of their personality are very likely to think of themselves as having some sort of psychic abilities.
Why my sudden interest in intuition and psychic abilities?
Currently, I’m working on writing a series of books featuring Nancy Nusbaum, a character from one of my published novels. Nancy majored in journalism in college, but the only field placement she could find was writing articles for the Paranormal News. As part of her job, Nancy must investigate unusual, potentially paranormal events. Her series of adventures, vaguely reminiscent of the X-Files, will allow me to explore this area of what is normal, what is paranormal, and the distinction between intuition and psychic abilities.
Stay tuned for some blog posts about personality factors and getting to know yourself. If you’d like to read more about my fiction writing career and hear about the release of Nancy Nusbaum novels, check out my writing blog davidjoelmillerwriter.com
Does David Joel Miller see clients for counseling and coaching?
Yes, I do. I can see private pay clients if they live in California, where I am licensed. If you’re interested in information about that, please email me or use the contact me form.
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