Oh, Not Again! Is Existential Dread a Subconscious Reaction to Difficult Past Lives?

Past-life memories in children are one of the strongest examples of evidence for post-mortem survival. Decades of rigorous scientific study contributed by Dr. Ian Stevenson, Dr. Jim Tucker, Dr. James Matlock and others provide stunning case studies of children who provide extraordinary details about another lifetime. With emotional sincerity, children as young as three years old allude to times and events far beyond their apparent knowledge, including details of a potentially violent or traumatic death. In the most evidential cases, the statements provided by the child can be verified against the record of a real lifetime, with relatives and friends confirming the most intimate details. Researchers ensure there was no prior connection between the child or the family of the deceased, for any link would invalidate the case.

The confirmation of intimate details about a stranger’s life described by a child, such as the foods they enjoyed, their hobbies, the car they drove, or the name of their favorite dog, thrill afterlife researchers such as myself. But the truth is that memories of past lives are often quite traumatic for the child. Memories of particularly violent deaths often provoke horrific nightmares, severe phobias and obsessions. These can last for years, distressing families who don’t know how to help their suffering child. How does one help a toddler process memories of dying in 9/11, or being knifed to death, or perishing in World War II when your Corsair is shot down by the Japanese? These examples all refer to real cases, though you may have recognized my last reference to the famous James Leininger case, the subject of many documentaries, media appearances and the book, Soul Survivor, written by his parents.

Documentaries highlight the story of a little boy who remembered living the life of one James Huston, a WW2 pilot who flew in the battle of Iwo Jima. James could name every WW2 plane in the airfield, including the one he flew, the Corsair, along with several dozen other statements about an experience as a war pilot that even his parents didn’t know. But the real emotional impact of James’ experience is best illustrated after the media frenzy died down. Funded by a Japanese film crew, James, now 11 years old, took a fishing boat with his family to the area where James Huston’s plane was fatally shot down to enact a memorial for the lost soldier. For years, James had relived the terror of the burning plane as it hurtled toward the sea and his demise. When finally they reached that sacred place, the boat was left to drift quietly as a solemn silence fell over the group. James placed flowers in the water, pledged never to forget James Huston, then sobbed uncontrollably into his mother’s lap for 20 minutes. James Leininger mourned his lost life; his lost friends, and years of his young life haunted by terrible memories. Finally, as the flowers floated further and further from the boat, James made peace with the life and death of James Huston.

The research into children’s past lives tend to focus on the strongest cases which gives the impression that past-life recall in children is an all-or-nothing affair. But I think it’s more likely that the emotional impact of our past lives may function more along a continuum, with some children affected by nightmares or phobias that have no associated conscious memory of a past life. Surely, if Tucker’s and Stevenson’s research is valid, then we all have such experiences lurking somewhere in our subconscious, potentially affecting us in ways that we haven’t immediately identified. Even in children who are otherwise typical and generally happy, there may be moments where they suddenly display an acute sense of existential dread about the prospect of facing yet another lifetime. Such a thing is expected in adults, who have already faced many exhausting challenges in their current life, but for a child younger than seven, propagating a vision of themselves into the future and reacting emotionally to the challenges they may face as adults is quite a feat of critical thinking. Surely a child that young may complain about not having the same privileges as an older sister perhaps, but what I’m referring to is a specific feeling of existential dread; an abstract emotion that feels rather atypical for a young child.

Let me give you an example. I saw a news story in the New York Post about a 5-year old girl in Scotland who expresses horror at the thought of growing up and being forced to do ‘boring things’ as an adult. As the girl sobs, her mother asks, “You’re not happy to grow up?” The child responds tearfully, “No, because that way I’ll have to do all the boring things!” Mom prompts her daughter to provide examples. The daughter responds, “It’s like having to go food shopping and I have to wash the dishes”. The mother replies sarcastically, “You have to do the dishes? Gosh”. The daughter, unfazed and clearly upset, agrees and adds, pleadingly, “That’s like boring, isn’t it? It’s boring!!”

The video circulated as an endearing example of a seemingly entitled child; a spectacle to be chuckled at by knowing parents. But I didn’t take it that way. There’s a certain desperation in this girl’s protestations that struck me as unusual for a child of five. Yes, she’s crying and carrying on like a young child does, but the sentiment feels like one expressed by someone who has already done lifetimes worth of dishes and food shopping and just feels absolutely exhausted by the thought of having to go through it all again.

I can relate. I clearly remember having this moment myself. The instance distinguishes itself in my mind because when it occurred I became aware of a sense of timelessness about my reality. My thoughts were suddenly more complex and abstract than I had experienced before. It was a moment where my sense of reality suddenly shifted and it was so strange, even to me at the time, that it remained with me for the rest of my life. I was six. It was the last day of first grade before summer recess. As I stood at my desk packing my things before dismissal, it suddenly dawned on me that I would need to complete eleven more years of school before I reached adulthood. I don’t know how I knew such a thing, but the thought filled me with absolute dread and exhaustion. I remember a sense of despair. I realized didn’t want to grow up and face it all. Not because I didn’t want to lose the joy of childhood, if I could have even been cognizant of such a thing. No, I had the distinct feeling that I didn’t want to go through it again.

Past lives, whether they were challenging in the normal sense (dishes, food shopping, long years of school) or traumatic (violent deaths), may indeed affect us into adulthood. For example, I know someone who is terribly fearful of unsecured heights. He is fine on a balcony several stories high, but is terrified of being on a wobbly step ladder four feet off the ground. Years later, after looking at different patterns in his life where loss of control over his environment was an issue, I linked his fears to a terrible recurring nightmare he had as a very young child. In the nightmare, he is an adult standing next to a logging truck. The logging truck is piled high with huge cut timber in the shape of a pyramid, but the lumber is unsecured and precarious. Suddenly the lumber pile fails catastrophically. My friend remembers the feeling of utter helplessness as the immense crushing weight crashes toward him and swallows him in darkness. Could my friend’s dream of being killed in a terrible logging accident be causally linked to his later fears of loss of control? No, but it’s an interesting speculation and one that is often borne out by adults who undergo past-life hypnosis and find a root cause in a traumatic experience during a supposed past life.

Dr. Michael Newton, the famed Life-Between-Life hypnotherapist began his exploration into past-life therapy because of a patient with unexplained physical pain. At the time, Dr. Newton was a traditionally trained therapist with no interest or belief in past-life memories. With this particular patient, he struggled to find the source of the acute pain in the patient’s right side. There seemed to be no trauma in his [current] life to explain it. Finally, in frustration, Dr. Newton asked the patient under hypnosis to ‘go to the source of the pain’. The patient spontaneously recalled the life of a World War 2 soldier in France who was bayonetted in the right side. Once he confronted the source of the pain, it dissipated almost immediately. Dr. Newton was not initially convinced such memories were real, but clearly he saw there was a clinical benefit and continued the practice with some patients. Eventually, he came to believe that past lives were legitimate experiences and confronting unresolved traumas from past lives can be a clinically significant part of the healing process.

Past lives most certainly seem to have an effect on both on children and adults, but what about our future? Time is an illusion, or so they say. Seth (as channeled by Jane Roberts) has said in Seth Speaks that we are equally affected by our future as our past. Certainly, if the spiritualists of today are correct, then we have already written parts of our life story before taking on this lifetime. How much of our probable future experiences may be affecting us now? And when potential future experiences become more probable due to some alignment in our present reality, does it reach back and have an impact on our feelings and choices now? Heavy stuff, I know. When I ponder this question, I often think of my best friend, Ann, who passed away a few years ago. She was an intensely spiritual person and we discussed that feeling of existential dread that I had experienced as a child. I used to joke with Ann that I must have been pulled into this lifetime kicking and screaming because I was such a somber child. Ann never displayed the same existential dread that I did. It sounds like a cliché, but Ann savored life; the beauty of nature, the taste of good pizza, the thrill of travel. I often wonder if she knew deep down that her life would only last a short 39 years. She certainly lived as if that were the case. This was a girl who would quit a job if she had the opportunity to travel to Europe. She had no practical preparations for her future at all. We all clucked in disapproval at the carefree and idealistic way she lived; me included. But in the end, she lived many more years than I did in the same time. Knowing now that she had such a short time to live, I can’t help but marvel now at her priorities. Ann lived in the moment. She loved deeply, forgave easily, laughed despite facing pain and illness, and never ever held a grudge. She simply didn’t have time for it, and deep down she knew it. More importantly, she listened to her intuition.

The evidence of reincarnation is remarkably strong. The alternatives suggested by critics (such as the super-psi theory) have been logically debunked many times, leaving few who can explain away a child who at three and four years old can explain exactly what it feels like to burn alive in a plane as it crashes toward the sea. And while we marvel at famous cases like James Leininger’s, we must decide how to accept the implications of reincarnation in our own lives, whether we remember our past lives or not. If our psychological history stretches backwards (and forwards) though time, our experiences may affect our current lives in ways we don’t always recognize. Whether through moments of dread considering a lifetime of washing dishes, or unexplained fears, or just that feeling of exhaustion when thinking of the challenges we will need to face, what we should remember is this: If reincarnation is a reality, then we’ve faced a lot of challenges before and have overcome them. We’ve died a million different ways, and yet survived. We’ve gone through wars, and childbirth, and lived humble lives of no great renown. There’s a comfort in that.

My father always told me that he liked standing near the ocean because it made him feel small. The ancient vastness of the sea and the unyielding action of the waves reminded him that whatever he was going through would eventually end. After all, compared to the age of the sea, our troubles last a mere instant. In just a moment, they, and we, are gone. Thinking over the vastness of lifetimes stretching out behind me reminds me that whatever I’m facing, I can call on the strength of that wellspring of experience. I can channel the warrior or the mother or the priest. I am and have been many things. I will be many more. And like the sea, the tides of our lives will continue to move in and move out until all the rough edges are finally smoothed and we move on to different adventures.


I’d like to turn the question now to you. Think on your childhood. Have you ever experienced that sense of existential dread? Have you ever had unusual dreams or memories that affected you long into your adulthood? Do you have any peculiar anxieties now that you cannot find any cause for? If you are a parent, have you noticed any of these things in your children? Let me know in the comments!

10 thoughts on “Oh, Not Again! Is Existential Dread a Subconscious Reaction to Difficult Past Lives?

  1. Jenn, another fine, wonderful, thought provoking article you’ve written. Yes, I also have wondered ‘where’ my fears and anxieties have come from and thought it must be a ‘bleed thru’ from another lifetime. You have such a incredible way with words and complex subject matters it’s really a joy to read and think about what you wrote about. As always Jenn, much love to you.

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  2. my great granddaughter who is now 9, has been plagued with kicking and hollering nightmares that are impossible to wake her from. she seems to have no remembrance of this when she wakes up. as she gets older they are seeming to subside. she is bright, happy and very smart but I wonder where those nightmares come from.

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  3. I’m unpersuaded about the apparent simplicity of this situation, Jenn. In my nearly 40 years ‘in the spooks’ I’ve seen stuff come and go, stuff that fires folk’s imagination but later fizzles out when no progress with the subject gets made.

    I don’t doubt that SOMETIMES the true story has emerged but I’m far from persuaded that ALL such accounts are similarly authentic. Nonetheless there’s something that feeds into all such dialogues about children reluctant/unhappy to be back in this world and that’s the notion of pre-incarnation planning, so-called life plans.

    If that notion is kosher but trauma on arriving here is deep and troubling then perhaps the new life chosen along with the counseling and processes said to lead to the choice being made are what we should be focusing on too?

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  4. ‘If reincarnation is a reality, then we’ve faced a lot of challenges before and have overcome them. We’ve died a million different ways, and yet survived. We’ve gone through wars, and childbirth, and lived humble lives of no great renown. There’s a comfort in that.’

    I disagree in the strongest possible terms. If what you say is true, than what has been our reward for all that suffering, misery, and toil? To do it all again millions of times more, and that we will do it again millions of times again.

    We will experience the deaths of our loved ones millions of times over.
    We will experience being trapped in an aging body millions of times over.
    We will experience being oppressed, unjustly punished, being cheated, lied to, stolen from, and abandoned millions of times over.

    I am continuously amazed that people cannot realize that this way of existence is hell itself. We are forced to live over and over again in a world where our joys and happiness are outweighed by blandness, tedium, fear, uncertainty, and pain. It a system of torture sophisticated beyond measure, for it gives those who experience it just enough positive experiences to stop them from giving in to total despair (look up the urban myth of Joseph Stalin and the chicken), and promotes that suffering is good and worthwhile and that we should accept these edicts from those who are ‘higher than us.’

    F*** that.

    This is a system promoted by abusers to make their victims accept suffering and even look forward to it. We are the battered spouses who give up and accept that it’s for our own good when we have lost sight of the fact that we’re being abused by beings who have gone to unimaginable lengths to make us believe that it’s a good system. It’s not; it’s a satanic system that no loving, merciful, and just supreme being would create, and we should be fighting and resisting it at every turn.

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    1. It sounds like you’ve read about archons and the reincarnation trap. That whole idea scares the crap out of me. So are we to go towards the light or avoid it? Do we get pulled through the tunnel or try to do a 90 degree turn to side step it? If we see loved ones, or Jesus, do we accept that they are who they say they are or do we assume they are malevolent aliens that feed on our emotions. When do we get to actually let our guards down?

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  5. Around the age of 4 or 5, I realized I had a fear of dogs that had no basis in the foundation my normal, safe, protected childhood had given to me. Humans aren’t really supposed to “think about their thoughts” until adolescence, but at that age I was thinking (as I was fearing) about why dogs were so troubling when they happened to be nearby. At the age of 50, I discovered a journal written by an author who described an extreme fear of dogs in his youth, and while reading what he’d described so well, something “clicked.” I still cannot explain it. Was it just a perfect match for my own fear, or, was it a former version of myself who’d written the journal? I’ll never know…even hypnosis or past life regression will not bring a full affirmation to me. I love the question; I love the mystery!

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  6. One consistency concerning the notion of past lives, their recall and/or effects on our present one, is the misunderstanding of reincarnation over a number earth lifetimes.

    So many appear to view it as a process done to us, maybe punishment, maybe reward. But that’s not how I understand reincarnation and my understanding is based on teachings from spirit guides widely acknowledged as authoritative.

    Whatever the full picture concerning reincarnation I think it’s fair to say we have no more than a scrap of understanding of how it operates and that applies also to the impact of previous life experiences on our present ones.

    blessings

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  7. I wonder how these children end up fairing, gosh, I can’t even begin to imagine being a child who recalls my past life. The Bhagavad Gita states that those who recall past lives have them so that they can enjoy this lifetime. If it’s true, then I guess my answer is answered. They are fairing very well. However, I’d love some evidence. 🙂

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