I have been working with haunted people for quite a while. They are haunted by ghosts of their past experiences, ghosts that insist on coming back in indirect ways. They may show up in dreams (or nightmares); in ways that people feel stuck in old patterns; in fears that cannot be described; in waves of repetition that people feel entangled in. Being haunted by ghosts is something that we may all know at some level - ghosts of our past that keep intruding in our current life through our dreams, thoughts or sometimes in the way we just attend to our emotional life. I see people who have different ways to try to keep them quiet; different ways to not engage. They fear the moment when ghosts may come back, only to find them every day as memories that cannot be remembered.
Past ghosts haunt people they have the countless somatic symptoms that medical doctors cannot find the cause for. Our body becomes the house of our inner ghosts, which speak in a silent voice. How to exorcise those ghosts, let them rest in peace, without agonizing further? How to engage, to invite them in, to face them in order to let them pass by?
We are taught to just ignore them, to not think about emotional pain not only because it means weakness but also because we fear it could be potentially dangerous. We fear their ghost-like quality, the haunting sounds through which the past infuses the present. My patients worry that they would be engulfed; or loose themselves in their struggles, or not recover from the isolation, fear, and depression. They walk around pretending not feeling anything, faking smiles when life feels complicated. Ghosts feed on their attempt to not pay attention, becoming stronger and more powerful. They start haunting, leading to powerlessness, confusion and fear.
I see haunted people constantly in my clinical practice. They are haunted by things they don't usually understand, or things that are too overwhelming to be known. Past trauma, loss, violence, neglect.. psychotherapy is an invitation for ghosts. We create a scene in which they inevitably show up. Gently, we engage with them in a curious way. We approach them with humility. As we learn more about them, we can finally have enough courage to ask: what are you here for?
As a psychotherapist, I invite ghosts in and stay present while they show up. And then, as their endless complain is heard, they gradually don't need to haunt anymore. When we find words to address the pain that my patients silently believed they were not feeling, ghosts can let go in order to become memories. They can finally be forgotten. They find a home and come to terms with the past, resting in peace.