Does paranormal investigating sometimes dehumanise the crimes of our past?

8th February 2022. Reading Time: 10 minutes General. 715 page views. 0 comments.

There are a lot of stories that are associated with paranormal locations. Some of it is historical, and some are probably even made up or born from myth. It makes me wonder if we as paranormal investigators get so caught up in the story that we are desensitised to gruesome happenings. 

One of the things I know I personally love about paranormal investigating is the historical research that comes with it.  I feel like in many ways we are giving a voice to the voiceless and telling the story of people who never got a chance to have their stories told.  Whether or not you believe in ghosts or if something is paranormal there is one thing that remains - history! In a lot of ways history is being preserved and even discovered.  It is something I try to do a lot of, particularly when it comes to the people attached to a location that was not so well known.  There is always a famous figure attached to a location whether they were the owner or committed some sort of horrible crime, they are usually the ones that are spoken about the most.  Maybe it is a place like an asylum where people were treated horribly.  There might be a 'horrible doctor' that haunts the halls for example.  What is not spoken about is the real people who had meaningful lives that aren't immortalised.  They are a number.  They are one of the X amount of people who died and some who are never spoken about by name. This kind of sits a little funny with me.  You can have a location for example that had some wonderful history and stories of the people who occupied it, yet it is often just remembered as the place a murderous villain killed someone.  They are the one that is constantly spoken about and people try to find out every detail of this person's life.  In some cases, they are sometimes put onto a pedestal and we kind of forget that they were a criminal, a murderer and probably not a very nice person.  Sure maybe they were misunderstood but it doesn't change the fact they did bad things.  It makes me wonder if we as paranormal investigators get so caught up in the story that we are desensitised to gruesome happenings.  Are we unknowingly dehumanising the crimes of our past?

One of the things society in general likes to do is kind of sweep our history under the rug because it makes us feel uncomfortable.  Things have obviously come a long way but there is still a lot of a way to go when it comes to social injustice.  I think the younger generations are really good at calling this out.  I even look at something like the #metoo movement as a bit of an example that I can personally relate to.  As an almost 40-year-old woman, there are a lot of things from my past that when I look back I think 'that was really not OK'.  At the time however, while I felt uncomfortable about certain things, I brushed off these unwelcome behaviours as that is just how it is to be a woman in the World.  Now however it is called out for what it is.  Unacceptable.

I know here in Australia, there is a huge tendency when it comes to mental health institutions to try and 'forget' about our past.  At the time, so many conditions were not understood and people were institutionalized and treated horribly for conditions which today can be well managed simply because they are understood, treatable and even accepted as being 'normal'. 

You have probably seen the above list before on social media.  It is a list of reasons that were acceptable to put someone in a mental asylum in the 1800's.  It makes us feel uncomfortable to think that it could have happened to us because we all resonate with at least one item on the list.  We then think about the things that were done to people.  As an example, check out my article 

A lot of these places are soon redeveloped into housing and their history is almost erased or swept under a rug because people don't want to talk about the fact that things happened that shouldn't have.  Paranormal investigators often go to these kinds of locations wanting to tell the stories of those who once lived there and give them the voice that was taken away.  Unfortunately, we don't always do so with the compassion that we should.  Emulating some of our favourite ghost hunting shows, some go into these places yelling and screaming thinking that a place with so much trauma must have negative entities or even demons inside.  It shifts away from the stories of the people and you can understand why there are some people that may feel it is disrespectful.  This of course does not represent how everyone approaches an investigation in this kind of setting.  Most people do so with respect and with the intention to expose and talk about our past which is something that IS important.  These are real things that happened whether they make us feel uncomfortable or not.  As much as some people may not agree, dark tourism gets people through the doors and allows these places to act as standing museums so that our future generations can learn about our past and hopefully not make the same mistakes in our future.  If the buildings are knocked down, so is a lot of history, and that is really sad.

Of course, we don't know any absolutes as to what a ghost is.  The fact is though, a large majority of the World's population associate a ghost to be the soul or energy of a person who was once living.  Whether they believe in ghosts or not is a different story, but they still hugely associate it with being a formerly living person.  Investigators sometimes seem to forget that or get caught up in the 'stories'.  Often the story involves some pretty horrible and horrific things, but because we can't see what we are communicating with, it desensitises us to a certain degree.  They are potentially yelling and screaming at 'someone' who was a much-loved family member that did nothing wrong and was a victim to the system.  Then of course you have people that like to use the information they believe they have received on an investigation to make assumptions about a person.  An example I can give is there is a well-known location that does not allow paranormal investigations anymore.  A group of psychic mediums that ran the tour would often convey information they felt they were receiving about a person they believed they were communicating with.  They made some very strong claims about crimes they said they believed the spirit they are communicating with committed (which they historically were not charged for, nor was there any record that they were accused of it).  What they didn't realise one night was that family members of the person they were making these assumptions about were present and were none too pleased about their family member being accused of a crime that they could not defend themselves to and that there was also no record of.  After complaints were made, the doors were never opened again for paranormal investigators.  This is the perfect example of getting caught up in a 'story' and not understanding the impact it has on the people still with us.  I feel like to a degree reality television contributes to that as you rarely see what we would call 'positive interaction'.  It is more portraying a spirit to be a negative entity or even a 'demon'.  It makes people think that spirit interaction is always a negative thing.  The other week at an investigation there were 2 girls on the tour that had never been to an investigation before.  They were a bit scared and unsure.  Once we kicked off they turned to me and said this isn't what I expected at all.  It was what they believed to be a very warm and inviting interaction, perhaps not the kind of thing you see on TV.  

The more death and horrible things that are uncovered as a part of the stories, the more detached we can become from our own reality.  Some don't bat an eyelid hearing the horrific tales.  They are real and they are things that happened.  For some people, the more horrific the better because they feel it will somehow make a location more active because there is so much trauma.  Whether this is true or not it is kind of a little messed up in some ways and I am guilty of it too.  I remember getting excited to sit in a bathtub at J Ward where it is rumoured 6 people were murdered.  I wanted to be locked in the morgue tray at Aradale asylum.  It almost is a rite of passage for a lot of investigators -  how long can you last inside the chiller?  While we are kind of caught up in the moment, we are also neglecting to think about the fact that the people who had died or were even murdered in the bathtub were people that had lives and had families and people that cared about them.  Now they are just a number in a scary story.  I remember on one occasion, an acquaintance from my childhood saw a photo of me inside the morgue chiller and they took offence and sent me a rather colourful message.  I certainly didn't mean to offend her, but I could also understand where she was coming from given she had a family member who suffered from mental illness so the topic of a mental asylum was always a touchy one.  There are always going to be people that are against what we do.  There will also be people that say places should be left alone.  While I understand their point, we also cannot sweep history under the rug.  If something is approached with good intent and most importantly respect, we can surely find some sort of common ground.

I am not here shaming anyone as like I said I have done all of this too, it just makes me sit back and pause because it almost doesn't feel like it is real.  If I saw a story on the news of something horrific I get quite upset and I have shed a tear many times at some of the tragic things that have happened to people I don't even know that may even be in another country.  You probably have too because we all have compassion and empathy.  If the same scenario is spoken about on a ghost tour or investigation as something that happened 100 years ago, we don't have the same reaction.  The issue of time is a sensitive one.  What is an appropriate time that has passed to try and make contact? 10 years, 20 years?  What about certain locations that should not be touched at all because of what went wrong?  I don't have an answer and it is something that will differ from person to person.  There is no governing body or no official rules so at the very least, we should have these discussions openly and honestly.  Of course, some may get defensive and see it as an attack on how they do things and this is not that at all.  As with topics in our 'real life' we all believe different things and I suppose we all have a different moral compass, and it is one that changes over time as well.  I know I can say there are things I have done 10 years ago I wouldn't even consider doing now.  I think we have all also at some point maybe made a mistake in judgement and done or said something that we regret.  It is how we learn and a huge part of being a human being.  This is why it is important to have these discussions, openly and honestly and listen to what others have to say.  It may make us feel uncomfortable, but it is a conversation we should have in a respectful way! 

Do you think as investigators we become desensitised?

Cover Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

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