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Death Anxiety and PTSD

Posted on 28 November 2011, 19:26

When my friend Steve Sparks gave me a copy of his new book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story, which is about post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) suffered by both his father and himself, I wondered if there might be a spiritual connection. From having interviewed Dr. Allan Botkin, who specialized in PTSD with military veterans, several years ago, I should have immediately realized that there is, or at least there is in many cases. Botkin discovered Induced After Death Communication (IADC) by accident in 1995 while working with psychologically traumatized combat veterans at a VA hospital.

Vernon Sparks, Steve’s father, was both physically and emotionally abusive when Steve and his siblings were growing up.  He had served aboard the USS West Virginia when Pearl Harbor came under surprise attack on December 7, 1941 and witnessed all the horror of that event.  He saw one of his fellow sailors have his head literally blown off his shoulders and he ended up swimming through oil-filled waters to safety. He then served throughout the war, often in the thick of it, including escorting Marines to their landings on Iwo Jima.  Although he was treated briefly for “combat fatigue” (also called “battle fatigue”) at the end of the war, his abusive behavior was never linked to his war experiences.  As Steve Sparks points out in the book, PTSD was never completely recognized until the Vietnam War or after it.  Even less recognized, as Sparks discovered, is that the trauma of living with an abusive parent suffering from PTSD can result in PTSD for the child, as seems to have been the case with him and his siblings.  “We never knew when our Dad would go off and start kicking us around for things we didn’t really understand at the time,” Sparks writes.  “It happened more often when our mother was nagging him and he had an anxiety attack.  Too bad medical research had not progressed enough to provide him with a calming medication.”

In IADC therapy, people grieving the death of someone or otherwise disturbed by someone’s death, are asked to focus directly on their sadness during eye movements.  The typical IADC involves the patient reporting having seen a deceased person and that deceased person having told him or her that everything is OK and not to grieve. In a number of cases, the deceased person relates information previously unknown to the patient.  I wondered if Vernon Sparks’ PTSD might have been the result of that single case of seeing a fellow sailor’s head blown off a few feet from him or from the cumulative effect of the war.

When Steve Sparks related his own problems and tied them to his father’s abuse and his mother’s indifference, I also wondered whether his problems both on the job and in relationships could be called PTSD.  But when he wrote that there seemed to be a “sense of urgency about life ending at any moment and the need to experience everything life has to offer right now and without hesitation” as being at the root of his problem, I saw the spiritual connection.

As anthropologist Ernest Becker (below) saw it in his 1974 Pulitzer prize-winning book, The Denial of Death, man’s fear of death is at the very root of all our problems. Becker said that man’s deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation, and explained that to free oneself of death anxiety, nearly everyone chooses the path of repression.  That is, we bury the anxiety deep in the subconscious while we busy ourselves with our lives and seek a mundane security that we expect to continue indefinitely. The repressed anxiety then gives rise to other problems, but the link with death anxiety is seldom recognized.


Becker called repression of death the enemy of mankind.  The theme of his book is that the unrepressed life can bring into birth a new man.  Robert Jay Lifton, a distinguished professor of psychiatry and psychology, said much the same thing in his 1979 book, The Broken Connection.  He stated that we must “know death” in order to live with free imagination.

After taking issue with Freud’s libido concept as being at the root of mental disorders, Lifton says that “an approach to traumatic syndrome (the name then given to PTSD) should focus on death and related questions of meaning, rather than requiring us to invoke the idea of ‘neurosis.’ This death-centered approach suggests a moral dimension in all conflict and neurosis.”

As Lifton sees it, many of the symptoms in the traumatic syndrome have to do with impaired mourning, or “the inability to mourn.”  It is the inability to reconstruct shattered personal forms in ways that reassert vitality and integrity.  “The survivor retains an indelible image, a tendency to cling to the death imprint – not because of release of narcissistic libido as Freud claimed, but because of continuing struggles to master and assimilate the threat (as Freud also observed), and around larger questions of personal meaning.”

In effect, if I am properly interpreting Lifton, death anxiety is at the core of PTSD.  As I am not academically qualified in the area of psychiatry, I am not in a position to agree or disagree, but with 75 years of life experience behind me I believe that Becker and Lifton are much closer to the truth than Freud and most of today’s mental health practitioners. 

The key to living the unrepressed life, according to Becker and Lifton, is having a sense of immortality, a firm belief that our earthly life is part of a much larger and eternal life. Lifton points out that there are some who can derive satisfaction out of a biological sense of immortality, that there will be a “living on” through one’s progeny.  There is also the creative mode, whereby one “lives on” through his or her works of art, literature, or science.  However, when the “thinking person” begins to ask himself or herself to which generation full fruition or to what end the legacy, he/she can’t help question the degree of immortality in such myopic views.

Since it might have involved committing professional suicide, neither Becker nor Lifton could directly suggest that we must accept the survival of consciousness at death in order to free ourselves from the fetters that bind us to our culture’s negative view of death and give rise to death anxiety. But is there any other answer to the problem?  Unfortunately, mainstream medicine and science simply won’t recognize it. There is too much self-serving ego involved.

Michael Tymn’s latest book The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After we Die is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and all good online book stores.

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The Afterlife Revealed - Michael Tymn

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Do Famous “Dead” People Communicate?

Posted on 14 November 2011, 14:28

I believe in spirits and spirit communication through mediums.  What I struggle with, however, is communication purportedly coming from famous people or more current celebrities of one kind or another.  I am highly skeptical when the spirit communicator claims to be Jesus, St. Michael, Socrates, Plato, St. Augustine, or some other historical figure held in high regard by many. 

Then again, I wonder if I am being too hasty in dismissing such communicators.  Why wouldn’t they communicate?  If the unknowns of the spirit world can communicate, why shouldn’t those well-known in their earth lives come through now and then as well?  If we are to believe that Jesus was concerned with the welfare of humankind when alive, why wouldn’t he still be concerned and continue with his teachings?  Of course, the religious skeptic would say that if Jesus wanted to communicate he would certainly be able to do a much better job and be more convincing than he has been in those cases in which he has supposedly communicated in recent years.  But the student of mediumship comes to understand that inter-dimensional communication has many obstacles and that the obstacles for superior spirits are greater than those facing lower spirits. 

If the seemingly credible spirits can be believed, the superior spirits have a much more difficult time communicating than those at lower levels because they are existing at such a high rate of vibration relative to the earth vibration.  These superior spirits, we are told, have to use spirits at lower levels of vibration to relay their messages to humans and these messages are sometimes distorted in the process, especially when they are filtered through the medium’s mind.     

During the early 1850s, Victor Hugo, the renowned French author, was supposedly receiving messages from Socrates, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Martin Luther, Galileo, and others.  One communicating spirit identified “itself” to Hugo as “Death,” another as “Angel of Light,” and still another as the “Shadow of the Sepulcher.” It was the “Shadow” who first communicated by means of table raps after Léopoldine, Hugo’s deceased daughter, came through, informing Hugo and the others sitting in a circle with the medium that “death is the balloon that takes the soul to heaven,” “infinity is an emptiness packed full,” and “use your body to search out your soul.”  Initially, Hugo was very skeptical, wondering if the table acted through their thoughts. 

Although he soon came to believe that spirits of the dead were communicating, he then wondered if these were devious spirits posing as wise men, as religious leaders claimed, especially when what they had to say conflicted with established dogma and doctrine.  But Hugo apparently had also heard that the “essence” of advanced souls can come down through lower spirits and that “group souls” can take on a fictitious identity for want of a specific identity. Whatever the explanation, Hugo was intrigued, impressed, and inspired by much of what the superior spirits had to say.

During the 1870s, William Stainton Moses, an Anglican priest, was said to be controlled by a band of 49 spirits under the direction of a spirit called Imperator. Some of Imperator’s subordinates had names like Rector, Mentor, and Doctor. Apparently, Imperator was too far advanced and had to relay messages through some of the 49, who were closer in vibration to the earth vibration.  When Imperator was asked about his name and the other strange names in his band of 49 spirits, he replied:  “These names are but convenient symbols for influences brought to bear upon you.  In some cases the influence is not centralized; it is impersonal, as you would say. 

In many cases the messages given you are not the product of any one mind, but are the collective influence of a number.  Many who have been concerned with you are but the vehicles to you of a yet higher influence which is obliged to reach you in that way.  We deliberate, we consult, and in many instances you receive the impression of our united thought.”

Allan Kardec, the pioneering French researcher, purportedly received messages from John the Evangelist, St. Augustine, St. Vincent De Paul, St. Louis, “The Spirit of Truth,” Socrates, Plato, Fénélon, Franklin, and Swedenborg.  They answered questions on every conceivable subject, including God, pantheism, universal space, biblical accounts of creation, reincarnation, relationships beyond the grave, possession, the fate of children beyond the grave, spirit influence, war, capital punishment, slavery, dreams, free will, suicide, and fear of death, to name just some.

A few years before Hugo and Kardec began their investigations of mediumship, John Edmonds, Chief Justice of the New York State Supreme Court, and George T. Dexter, a New York physician, received numerous profound messages from Swedenborg, the brilliant 18th Century scientist, and Lord Francis Bacon, the 17th Century British philosopher. 

As Kardec came to understand, superior spirits, while preserving their individuality, have no need to be identified with their teachings delivered while on earth, but because humans seem to need an identity in order to fix their ideas, superior spirits who identify with the teachings of the famous personage and belong to the same “family” or “collective whole” may take that famous name to appease us, as it is the teaching, not the signature, that is important.

“In proportion as spirits are purified and elevated in the hierarchy, the distinctive characters of their personalities are, in some sort, obliterated in the uniformity of perfection, and yet they do not the less preserve their individuality: this is the case with the superior and pure spirits,” Kardec related what he had come to understand.  “In this condition, the name they had on earth, in one of their thousand ephemeral corporeal existences, is quite an insignificant thing.  Let us remark again that spirits are attracted to each other by the similarity of their qualities, and that they thus form sympathetic groups or families…but as names are necessary to us to fix our ideas, they can take that of any known personage whose nature is best identified with their own…It thus follows that if a person’s guardian angel gives his name as St. Peter, for instance, there is no actual proof that it is the apostle of that name; it may be he, or it may be an entirely unknown spirit belonging to the family of spirits of which St. Peter makes a part; it also follows that under whatever name the guardian angel is invoked, he comes to the call that is made, because he is attracted by the thought, and the name is indifferent to him.”

Kardec asked if taking the name of a famous person would not be fraud. “It would be fraud on the part of a bad spirit who might want to deceive,” came the answer, “but when it is for good, God permits it to be so among spirits of the same order, because there is among them a solidarity and similarity of thought.”

Kardec had earlier been warned that inferior spirits frequently borrow respectable names in order to give credence to their words.  Moreover, some spirits report themselves as fictional characters.  “There is always a crowd of spirits ready to speak for anything,” Kardec wrote, mentioning that one day a person took a fancy to invoke Tartufe, a fictitious character from a French play.  Tartufe came immediately and talked of Orgon, of Elmire, of Damis, and of Valire, other fictitious characters in the play.  “As to himself, he counterfeited the hypocrite with as much art as if Tartufe had been a real personage.  Afterward, he said he was the spirit of an actor who had played that character.”

The superior spirits, Kardec was informed, “have a language always worthy, noble, elevated, with not the least tincture of triviality.  They say everything with simplicity and modesty, never boast, never make a parade of their knowledge or their position among others.  That of the inferior or ordinary spirit has always some reflex human passion; every expression that savors of vulgarity, self-sufficiency, arrogance, boasting, acrimony, is a characteristic indication of inferiority, or of treachery if the spirit presents himself under a respected and venerated name.”
Kardec asked why inferior spirits were permitted to interfere in the first place.  Couldn’t God or the superior spirits prevent it?  “God permits it to be so to make trial of your perseverance and your judgment, and to teach you to distinguish truth from error; if you do not, it is that you are not sufficiently elevated, and still need the lessons of experience,” came the reply.

Robert Hare, a distinguished professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the pioneers of psychical research, began his investigations assuming that he would debunk mediums, but after several months of investigation he became a believer and began recording messages from spirits.  He asked them what the various mediumship phenomena were all about and was told that they were “a deliberate effort on the part of the inhabitants of the higher spheres to break through the partition which has interfered with the attainment, by mortals, of a correct idea of their destiny after death.”  To carry out this intention, he was told, a delegation of advanced spirits has been appointed.  He was further informed that lower spirits were allowed to take part in the undertaking because they were better able to make mechanical movements and loud rappings than those on the higher realms.

Imperator told Stainton Moses that they (the superior spirits) overestimated their ability to communicate.  “It is true that Benjamin Franklin did discover means of communication by raps, and that he was greatly aided by Swedenborg in awakening interest among spirits in the subject,” Imperator communicated.  “At the time of the discovery it was believed that all denizens of both worlds would be brought into ready communion. But, both on account of the obstinate ignorance of man, and of the extent to which the privilege was abused by spirits who assumed well-known names and personated them and so deceived men, that privilege has been greatly narrowed.”

Those who wonder why the mediumship of old was so much more dynamic and offered so much more wisdom than that of today may want to ponder on Imperator’s words. 

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.

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