Emotions and the Near-Death Experience, Part 3 Soulmates by Jody A. Long, J.D.
 

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ABSTRACT:  This study is a retrospective review of 318 NDErs responses to questions about emotions during and after the NDE,  and about relationships after the NDE.  Emotions are a common denominator between the physical reality and what is experienced on the other side.  The top emotions that are experienced during the NDE are peace, love, and happiness.  However, the top emotion that is experienced upon return to the body is confusion.  This paper looks at the role of emotions during and after the NDE and the role that emotions play in our earthly life. 

KEY WORDS:  emotions, emotional healing, near-death experience

Emotions and the Near-Death Experience, Part 3 Soulmates
by Jody

Reprint requests may be sent to Jody A. Long, J.D. at

INTRODUCTION

Emotions are those feelings that virtually everyone has, but yet few understand.  Understanding can come from a variety of angles, but this paper will focus on memory, motivation, brain/mind processing, and how emotions play a key role in the transformation process based on what near death experiencers (NDErs) are telling us.  People who are near-death experiencers are people who have died or experienced an imminent life-threatening event and subsequently come back to life.  They come back with a collection of memories that occurred during the time of death. (Long, Jody 2003).

Evolutionarily speaking, emotions have served a very important role in survival of the human species.  The very make-up of our brain shows the evolutionary process.  Characteristics of the primitive brain, otherwise known as the reptilian brain or the pons, are that it reacts out of instinct, reacts from the base, core emotions (of which fear and anger are major components), and processes information differently than the cortex (Ornstein, 1991).  Information is processed from habit, and is processed from the language of "non-ordinary reality," where images are dreamlike, interpretation is generally individualistic (Wettech, 2000, p. 75).  These are the emotional evolutionary traits that kept us alive as a species.

Later, the mammalian brain developed.  The function of the cortex is to rationalize and to problem solve.  In a functional person, the cortex can control emotions if the emotions pass the threshold of consciousness into the realm of the conscious.  Many times, though, emotions will operate on a subconscious level and we will only be consciously aware of them by extreme situations that force us out of the habitual operation of the pons; or if we are in a state of consciousness or awareness that can override the cortex.  "During sleep, syncope, coma, psychotic episodes, and hypnotic trances, portions of the cerebral cortex can be made dormant, thus allowing the reptilian brain to become the predominant computer (Wettech, p.75)."

The way that we process visual, auditory and tactile experiences is the sensory input is relayed through the thalamus before it reaches the cortex (Jourdan, 1994, p. 186).

This information is then sent to the cortical area specific for each sensory organ, where it is analyzed and connected with corresponding information from the other hemisphere of the cortex.  Once processed, that information is sent to the sensory areas, where it is integrated and interpreted.  Once there, these perceptions are modulated on the affective and emotional level by projections to the limbic cortex (pp. 186-87).

A primary function of emotions in the cortex helps us organize, store, and access information in the brain.

Recalled memory will be reconstructed using the brain preference for order and stability.  The memory will have a certain order to it and will generally be re-told in a way that subjectively makes sense to the individual.  Analogous to a computer hard drive, we retrieve the memory chunk of information, by accessing a particular emotional “directory” in a certain part of the brain.  Then the memory chunk is connected to one or several information chunks and the brain makes up the most logical story to connect the separate information chunks.  This means that the information is integrated into an existing subjective framework of reality (Long, J.A., 2002).

A literature review fails to show a consensus on how emotions interact between personality features and behavior (Tiberi, E., 1993. p. 151).  Some claim that emotion serves as a primary motivational function in relation to both mental activities and behavior.  Some recognize the influence of emotions on memory, and therefore, consider that emotions are the predominant factor over cognitive systems in general.  Still others will assign primacy to the cortex because it has the ability to override the emotions through rational thinking.  Tiberi concluded in her study that the continuity of emotions, both in the waking, conscious state and the out of body state implied that emotions were the key to showing continuity and oneness between earth and what lies beyond. (p.169) 

Tiberi's research on the emotions while in the normal waking state, and while in the extrasomatic (out of body) state is invaluable (Tiberi 1993).  She categorized emotions by the cause, the function served, the role of the body in controlling the effects of the NDE, survival, and interpersonal relationships.  Noteworthy, was that positive emotions and affects seem to enhance memory and imagery.  Serenity, joy, peace and relaxation was key in remembering the experience.  Feelings of love were associated with the orderliness or ease of processing of the perceived images. (p.160). 

Those who experienced fear during the experience were more likely to agree that emotions are helpful in motivating, guiding or energizing behavior.  They were more likely to feel that emotions helped them adapt to the new situations, helped the mind reach goals, and that these emotions cause unhappiness and therefore problematic in integrating the experience in everyday life.  Conversely, those who experienced positive emotions were more likely to feel that these emotions make people happy and were not problematic to integrate into every day life. (p. 161)

The information discussed above gives one a background to look at emotions in the physical body and the effect on memories.  After considering what we know of emotions and then looking at how this might interface with NDEs, the primary question in my mind is twofold:  1) how does extra somatic emotion that occurs when the brain is dead integrate physically when the body is brought back to life; and 2) what can we learn about the role of emotions in the transformational process?

METHODOLOGY

This study is a retrospective review of data received from an Internet survey on the Near Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) website www.nderf.org (Long, 2003).1 Out of a total of 660 experiences submitted to the website, 318 of these experiences met the research definition of NDE as defined as, "A lucid experience associated with perceived consciousness apart from the body occurring at the time of actual or threatened imminent death" (Long).  It was then determined which of the 307 NDErs answered the questions about emotions and relationships.  Four questions were analyzed for emotional and relationship content.  These were: 1) What emotions did you feel during the experience?; 2) What emotions did you experience following your experience?; 3) What was the best and worst part of your experience?; and 4) How has the experience affected your relationships? Daily life? Religious practices etc.? Career choices?

A coding system for the responses to each of the four open-ended questions listed above was devised based on how NDErs responded to the question.  The narrative results for each question were tabulated according to words or concepts.  Although one answer might be scored in more than one category, there was only one experience answer per each category.  This is relevant because some people had many words to describe their emotions, so may have counted in several categories.  However, only one NDE answer was counted in each category.  For instance, one NDEr may have answered, "joy, peace, love, and safe."  There would be one mark for this particular answer in each of the four emotional categories of joy, peace, love, and safe.

Consequently, it is valid to compare percentages of participants who answer in each category with the total population who gave narratives answers to the question.  However, percentages calculated using a cross-comparison between the categories would not be valid.

RESULTS

Out of 318 NDErs, 172 (54%) checked the box that said their experience included "strong emotional tone."  However, when asked to describe the emotions during the experience, just about everyone 305 (96%) described what they felt.  Moreover, NDErs generally were very descriptive about their emotions during the NDE.  There was a total of 937 emotionally descriptive words, or an average of three emotions for each NDEr.  Contrastingly, there were 287 (90%) NDErs who discussed emotions after the NDE.  Of the emotionally descriptive words used after the NDE (534), there was an average us of two per NDEr. 

The top positive emotions during and after the NDE show some marked similarities and some striking differences.  The category of "Peace/Calm/Tranquility" was the number one emotions both, during and after the NDE.  All together, the categories of "Peace/Calm/Tranquility," "Joy/Happiness/Wonderful, " and "Love" were mentioned far more than any other emotions.  Although love was one of the most mentioned emotions, the quality was very different when talked about during and after the experience.  Qualifiers used during the experience were those such as "Love times 1 million" and "Indescribably loved so much."  However, when they talked about love after coming back, they did not have the intensity or qualifiers that were used when discussing emotions that occurred during the experience. 


 

The top negative emotions during and after the NDE show some marked similarities, but it appears that the emotional differences seem to be integration-related.  There is a wide gap between why someone may have felt scared during the NDE as opposed to fear on earth.  Fear on earth could be related to sanity, a negative experience or life review on the other side, or fear could be from being ridiculed or rejected for telling their story.  There is no number one emotion both, during and after the NDE.  All together, the categories of "Fright/fear/scared/horror/terror," "Confused/uncertainty," and "Sadness/sorrow" were mentioned far more than any other negative emotions.   


 

There were 76 (26.4%) of NDErs used the same word to describe emotions during and after the experience.  Contrarily, 124 (43.2%) NDErs whose description of during and after emotions were totally opposite of each other.

Same Words During and After

Positive Emotions

Negative Emotions

peace/calm

22.45%

confusion

7.14%

love

17.35%

fear/scared

6.12%

joy/happiness

13.27%

sadness

5.10%

curiosity

6.12%

anger

3.06%

exhilaration/rapture

3.06%

discouragement

1.02%

awareness/understanding

2.04%

frustration

1.02%

comfort/content

2.04%

hysteria

1.02%

oneness/connection

2.04%

loneliness

1.02%

grateful

1.02%

longing

1.02%

 

0.693878

rejection

1.02%

 

 

 

0.204082

There were 292 (91.2%) NDErs who answered the question, "what was the best and worst part of your experience?" When looking at the best part of the experience, the largest group consisted of positive emotions (30.14%) such as peace, calm, love, happiness, joy wonderful, comfort, warmth, safety, compassion.  The next category was the beings (24.32%) that they met and the attached feelings upon seeing the being of light, God, Jesus, spirit helpers, reunion with relatives or others.  The third category were those emotions attached to dealing with death, most commonly lack of the fear of death and knowledge that there is an afterlife (15.41%).  A lot of comfort came from making sense out of what happened.  NDErs used words such as purpose in life, knowledge, understanding, wisdom, acceptance, faith (13.7%). 

A prime category had to do with greater awareness and interaction with others, of which I have labeled "spiritual growth."  The descriptive words are positive changes in my life, awakening consciousness, relating the experience to others, support and prayers of others, helping others, oneness, connection (10.62%).  Some mentioned that experience factors were the best part of the experience (8.56%).  These factors included that the experience happened at all, flying, floating, the void, beautiful place, and utopia.  Another set of factors I labeled as "lack of earthly constraints."  Factors falling in the category had to do with freewill, freedom, no fear, and no pain (6.51%).  Those that were grateful for a second chance or who were now curious enough to discover more comprised 5.82% of the answers.  There were 7.53% who thoroughly enjoyed their experience and said that there were no bad parts to their experience.

On the other hand, there were many who did indicate that there were worse parts of their NDE.  The number one most difficult part of the NDE were factors having to do with integrating the experience with the earth reality (25.68%).  These factors being considered crazy, not being able to share experience, feelings of rejection because "people don't believe me," feeling disconnected, alone, confused, depressed, homesickness (as the other side was considered home), and lack of purpose.  Not surprisingly, there was a high percentage of NDErs (23.97%) who indicated that they were angry, upset, felt rejected, or depressed at having to come back to earth because they really wanted to stay on the other side. There were 19.18% of NDErs that said they had physical or emotional problems during or after the experience.  The answers consisted of physical/emotional pain, dealing with physical recovery, the initial realization of dying or being dead, and the loss of existing family ties.  Many NDErs talked about the worse part of the experience as being factors related to the experiences (9.93%).  These factors were leaving a being(s), the void, the tunnel, being in hell, discovering Satan exists, floating, or the life review.  Fear of death or the unknown accounted for 4.45% of the answers.  There were 1.71% of NDErs who indicated that there were no good parts about their NDE. 

Out of 296 NDErs, 190 (64%) checked the box that indicated that they experienced a change in their personal relationships. NDErs were asked to describe, "How has the experience affected your relationships? Daily life? Religious practices etc.? Career choices?"  Even though this question addresses more than specifically talking about relationships, you can see that there is a hierarchy of relationships and emotions that happens.  NDErs talk about their spiritual journey or connection to the supreme being, they talk of their connection with others by helping or changing careers to help others.  They talk of their personal connections with friends and family.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are those who still talk about these connections but rather in the context of being estranged, disconnected, fragmented, confused and depressed.

Affect relations

n=

N=293

 

 

 

None, little effect, too early to tell

30

10.24%

 

 

 

Increase Religious relationships (God/Jesus)

36

12.29%

Increase Community, religious harmony

3

1.02%

 

 

 

Helping others, nurturing, healing, or teaching professions

41

13.99%

Practice love to all

13

4.44%

More awareness towards others

8

2.73%

Freedom, don't set boundaries

1

0.34%

Realize interconnection

5

1.71%

 

 

 

Relationships are precious, cherished

8

2.73%

Changed relationships better, got rid on -

11

3.75%

 

 

 

Cannot maintain relationships/feel disconnected

16

5.46%

Relationships are disappointing (not the NDE love)

4

1.37%

Changed relationships worse

1

0.34%

People thought I was crazy, can't communicate

9

3.07%

 

 

 

Significant other increase

7

2.39%

Family increase

12

4.10%

Children increase

11

3.75%

Stressful/strained relationships during readjustment

9

3.07%

Don’t need significant  other for completeness

2

0.68%

Divorce

16

5.46%

Significant other decrease

4

1.37%

Family Decrease

1

0.34%

 

 

 

Friends Increase

6

2.05%

Friends Decrease, don't care

2

0.68%

DISCUSSION

"Yes, I understood from the experience at that young age that you take with you when you die the feelings which you have now and I also felt at the time that we, alone, are the judge of ourselves, that life is what you make of it and I understood the importance of ones emotional state whilst you're alive." - Sharon

In a recent Dutch NDE study headed by van Lommel, he noted that during the 8 year prospective study that the life-change inventory had statistically significant values in the areas of social attitude, religious attitude, attitude towards death and a category of “others” (van Lommel, p. 2042).  The social attitude listed the factors of showing own feelings, acceptance of others, more loving, empathic, understanding others, and involvement in family.  Religious attitudes that were significant included understanding the purpose of life, sense inner meaning of life, and an interest in spirituality.  The attitude to death showed a marked decline in the fear of death and a belief in life after death.  The other category consisted of an interest in the meaning of life, understanding oneself, and an appreciation of ordinary things.  This study corroborates the findings of the Dutch study and expands on these concepts.

When NDErs were questioned about religion and spirituality, an overwhelming majority of NDErs used the words "spiritual" and "love" interchangeably (Long, Jody 2002a).  The more love they felt, the more spiritual the experience.  From this particular study, it appears that the top positive emotions are peace, joy, happiness, and love.  No emotions mentioned after returning even came close to the intensity of peace, joy, happiness, and love that NDErs mentioned during their experience.  Interestingly, the emotions concerning comfort, contentment, freedom, safety, and sense of oneness, did not show up as the top positive emotions after the return to their body.  Also interesting is that upon return to the body, some top emotions that did not show up during the NDE were "a sense of purpose," "glad for a second chance," gratitude, and understanding.  The number one mentioned emotion during the experience is the peace and calm that 40% of experiencers felt.  However, this emotion drops to number two at 12.89% after an NDEr returns to the body.  The number one emotion expressed upon returning from a NDE is confusion and uncertainty as expressed by 12.89% of NDErs. 

One of the main categories of healing that NDErs mentioned was emotional healing (Long, Jody 2002b).  Participants in a recent healing survey were asked, “Have you ever experienced any emotional healing that you attribute to your experience?”   A total of 112 NDErs (90.3%) and 70 (93.3%)  non-NDErs responded.  Of the responders, 80 (71.4%) NDErs and 50 (66.7%) non-NDErs gave explanations or examples. Many participants define healing in the context of emotional healing.  The most frequently mentioned category for emotional healing contains the concept of continuity of life and the loss of fear of death.  A high percentage of both NDErs and non-NDErs also define emotional healing as peace and more relaxed about life.  Another large category is that participants use descriptive words such as empathy, feelings, emotions, intuition, expanded awareness, and love.  The expanded awareness of being able to feel other peoples’ feelings helps the person to be able to say the right thing for healing to occur. It appears that the same emotions occur during and after the NDE and also play a key role in emotional healing.

Some other concepts that kept recurring in the comments were emotions and patterns.  The emotions that occurred at the initial stage of the NDE were either a feeling of being lost, shocked, fear or being disturbed at dying, but then they go to the light and are not afraid.  Contrarily, they express great peace, joy, and happiness at this phase of the NDE.  Then many NDErs get angry, depressed, or feel rejected when they have to come back.  These feelings, when coming back, cross over with the individual and play an integral part in integration of the experience. 

One observation is that one sees the typical "grief" emotions, both coming and going.  When a person dies, they may experience loss or grief upon leaving the body and their earthly relationships.  Then upon return to the body, the loss or grief centers around leaving other beings or being separated from the great peace, love, and happiness of the other side.  The normal person appears to go through the stages of denial, anger, depression, acceptance, and love in various degrees.

A big catalyst for negative emotions after coming back to life was the discrepancy between the experience and what the person came back to.  The confusion of not knowing what happened, not being able to explain it, or even if they could explain it - not being believed, were all important reasons for being confused, depressed, or upset.  Fear appears to play a base part in how people interpret an experience or how it affects the integration process on earth.

Just as emotions are key to accessing information in the brain, emotions define who we are and our roles on earth.  For many people, the love they felt on the other side was able to permeate into every part of their earth life.  Their relations on earth intensified, they connected better with their children and significant other, and related better spiritually to a supreme being or the universe.  For others, coming back meant some painful changes before they could be happy.  One of the highest categories for family relationships was "Divorce" at 5.46%.  The integration time on earth can be difficult and stressful, not only on the person but on the entire family. 

An interesting finding was what words of emotion NDErs used to describe their experience.  A little over ¼ of the NDErs used the same word to describe feelings during and after the experience.  However, 43.2% of the NDErs used opposite words to describe feelings during and after the experience.  People have a tendency to find emotional balance and make sense out of their world (Long, Jody 2000).  Perhaps the discrepancy in emotions during and after the NDE account for the motivation to change.  Moreover, using the same words as peace, love, and joy, may move one's mindset into the spiritual realm as discussed above.  Consequently, where one is exposed to extreme love and subjected to a wide discrepancy with earth reality, these factors could be one of the primary reasons for such a high rate of spiritual transformation.

Emotions are a constant on both sides of the veil.  Moreover, it turns out that memories may not be stored in the physical brain (Long, Jody 2000).  Therefore, it is not that large of a leap to rationalize that emotions may not be physically stored in the brain either since we take both, our memories and emotions, with us.  Perhaps one of the purposes on earth is to learn how to transform ourselves by using the emotional constant of love.  The pons part of the brain may function as an emotional receiver when interfacing with the strong subconscious emotions produced from the NDE, and the cortex may be more of an emotional modulator that helps us find balance in our emotions by consciously being able to reason or modify how we feel.  Part of this integration may be rationally using love to overcome the instinctual fear and anger physically housed in the pons.

 

REFERENCES

Jourdan, J. (1994). Near-death and transcendental experiences: Neurophysiological correlates of mystical traditions. Journal of Near-Death Studies, 12(3), 177-200.

Long, Jody (2002a) Near-Death Experience, Religion, and Spirituality,
http://www.nderf.org/religion_spirituality.htm

Long, Jody (2002) Soulmates and Consciousness, http://www.nderf.org/consciousness.htm

Long, Jody and Long, Jeffrey (2003) http:\\www.nderf.org

Ornstein, R. (1991) The Evolution of Consciousness, The Origins of the Way We Think, Simon & Schuster, New York NY.

Tiberi, E. (1993). Extrasomatic emotions. Journal of Near-Death Studies, 11(3), 149-170.

van Lommel, P. et al. (2001) Near Death Experience In Survivors of Cardiac Arrest: A Prospective Study in the Netherlands, The Lancet, 358, 2039-2042.

Wettach, G.E. (2000).  The near death experience as a product of isolated subcortical brain function.  Journal of Near-Death Studies, 19(2), 71-90.

 

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