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:
- Inverse. Similar features to a classic NDE only the experiencer describes the whole event as negative and unpleasant.
- Void. The experiencer finds themselves in an “isolated and eternal void”.
- 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.
Author(s): Helena Cassol, Charlotte Martial, Jitka Annen, Géraldine Martens, Vanessa Charland-Verville, Steve Majerus & Steven Laureys
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