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You Have More Power Than You Think.

I know there are a lot of creepy ghost stories kids read where the ghost ends up hurting or killing somebody. Believe it or not, that is not, in any way, realistic to real paranormal experiences. Ghosts don’t hurt people, and while there are “hauntings” that cause physical harm, it is usually not as terrifying as the storybooks make them. Remember, books are just like those silly ghost-hunter shows on TV and YouTube—they often embellish the truth in order to keep readers (or viewers) interested. That off-screen thump or the falling object that barely missed the cameraman (again, off screen) is more often click-bait than it is a close encounter.

Now I do know of a paranormal phenomenon that can cause people to die, but in every case it’s the victim’s own reaction to the phenomenon that causes their death. This is the “roadside apparition” haunting in which a ghostly figure appears either in the road or in the car. I do know of at least one incident where a driver swerved to avoid something in the road that none of the other witnesses could see. He looked behind him without slowing down, drove off the road, and was killed when his car hit a tree. Of course, none of the witnesses said “it was a ghost” and the guy who saw something could not tell anybody what it was, so it’s just my own suspicions (and a few other factors I won’t go into) that lead me to assume that there may have been something supernatural involved. I offer this anecdote only as a cautionary tale as to what can really happen when people overreact to an otherwise harmless experience.

Another common theme in scary ghost stories is that nobody seems to believe the main character when they announce that there is a ghost/monster on the loose. This creates a feeling of helplessness that I know a lot of kids can relate to—not just with hauntings but other situations in which a kid is going through something terrible and nobody else seems to notice. Remember, this feeling of helplessness is often more of a feeling than a reality. You may have more options open to you than you think, and unless you are dealing with a powerful poltergeist throwing Mom’s china dishes at your head, you are probably not in any real danger.

Fear itself, of course, can make you do some really dangerous things. Like running out into the street to avoid that little dog who just wants to sniff your leg. Or running blindly through a dark house to get away from an unexplained noise. A great leader once said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” and while that may have been a very different context than dealing with the creepy shadow at the bottom of the basement stairs, there is still some truth to it. Here are a few things I’ve learned to do in order to take control of my fear (before it takes control of me).

First: Breathe. This sounds silly, but it’s real. Your brain needs oxygen, and your body uses a lot more of it when it is frightened. Adrenaline can make you breathe quick, shallow breaths that just doesn’t give your body and brain what they both need to deal with the situation. Practice breathing like an athlete: in through your nose, out through your mouth. Slow your breathing down. Feel how much clearer your thoughts can feel when you have a lot of oxygen going to the brain? The more you practice this, the more natural it will become. Also, singing is great practice for controlling your breathing, but if you are in a scary situation, be careful that you don’t end up getting out of breath because you are trying to hold the long notes 😉 .

Second: Observe. Before you bolt for the exit or throw a punch at whatever just moved in the darkness, stop to get as much evidence as you can. The more sure you are of what you are experiencing, the less it will come back to bother you later. Nobody likes running away from something they can’t then explain to their friends; it will just give you a reputation as a scaredy cat or somebody with too big of an imagination. Observation can also help you solve the situation much better than just running or attacking. For instance, I eventually discovered a place in my bedroom where the ghost did not ever bother me. By moving my bed into that alcove, I was able to avoid a lot of the unpleasant experiences that had previously been a regular problem for me.

Third: Think. Use your brain. Think about what you know and what you don’t know. Maybe do some research if you can. I got lucky when we found that photograph at the museum, but there are other ways to find out if your house (or other location) already has a reputation…and maybe even a solution. I know of a high school theater that is haunted by a teenager who died in the 1950s. Over the years, many students have experienced unexplained phenomenon in that theater, but then somebody figured out that the ghost was most aggressive when heavy-metal music was playing. When students stopped playing that music, the haunting subsided to a manageable level.

Finally, remember: You have more power than you think. Even if you are dealing with a dangerous poltergeist (or worse, but we are not to that subject yet), you are not doomed. Fight back. A lot of these “ghosts” will retreat when confronted with a flashlight beam or somebody willing to show some aggression back at them.

And even if you feel like you are all alone, you are not. There is a higher authority in the spiritual world than those who haunt this world. I encourage you to seek it out and ask for its help. That’s what I did.

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