When a near-death experience goes bad.

Most people who have a near-death experience report positive, life-affirming memories, but a small percentage recall negative or distressing content.

To date, there has not been much research into this phenomenon. One study looked at 50 self-reported accounts of distressing NDEs and identified 3 categories:

  1. Inverse. Similar features to a classic NDE only the experiencer describes the whole event as negative and unpleasant.
  2. Void. The experiencer finds themselves in an “isolated and eternal void”.
  3. Hellish. The rarest type includes descriptions of visiting hell-like environments and meeting demonic beings, or of having a disturbing life review.

A more recent study has looked at a comparison between “classic” NDEs and the more negative emotions among a cohort of 123 people who recalled having an NDE.

Of this group, 14% reported distressing NDEs.

After analysing the data, the researchers found:

  • Of the 123 people participating, 17 reported distressing NDEs (8 inverse, 8 hellish and 1 void).
  • Distressing and classical NDEs do not differ in terms of gender or age.
  • Distressing NDEs include more suicide survivors (4 of the distressing NDE group vs 1 of the classical NDE group.
  • Out of the 17 distressing narratives, 6 recalled positive feelings at the beginning of the NDE.
  • Distressing NDE reports did not differ in memory clarity, sensory details, self-referential information or confidence in memory.

The researchers concluded:

Overall, we believe that future research should essen-tially focus on the exploration and understanding of the consequences of these distressing experiences. Past studies focusing on classical NDEs have found that these experiences are self-defining and have a powerful force of personal change generally reported as very positive. Moreover, through their model of sense-making processes and assimilation problems, Bianco, Sambin, and Palmieri (2017) have shown that making sense of a NDE can be a problematic issue, notably because one’s previous models about the world may be incongruent with the unusual nature of the NDE-related information. It could therefore be reasonable to think that distressing NDEs might have some powerful negative consequences on NDErs’ psychological health. Through a better understanding of such distressing experiences and their consequences, we may become better equipped to target NDErs at high risk of developing long-lasting emotional trauma.

Link to original paper abstract: A systematic analysis of distressing near-death experience accounts.
: Helena Cassol, Charlotte Martial, Jitka Annen, Géraldine Martens, Vanessa Charland-Verville, Steve Majerus & Steven Laureys
: 2019.

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