The Psychological Ghosts That Live in the Depths of Your Mind

Most of us harbor unresolved issues in our minds. They're entities that we don't want to accept, emotional wounds that we shun as if they were psychological ghosts. Are you hiding any of them?
The Psychological Ghosts That Live in the Depths of Your Mind
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 13 March, 2023

Like monsters, ghosts exist. They’re presences that, far from simply hiding under beds or haunting solitary spaces, sneak into your mind. They’re those mental presences you try to hide like fear, anguish, and discomfort. They can be traumas, unresolved issues, and difficult emotions.

Anything you don’t like or that causes you great emotional pain, you keep in the depths of your psychological universe. However, these entities, instead of remaining confined forever, emerge in the most diverse ways. Indeed, they often appear in the form of anxiety, phobias, and paralyzing fears. They also manifest in the form of anger or maladjusted behaviors.

You’re terrified of facing these specters that are taking up space in your brain. But, if you don’t, you’ll be taken over by unhappiness and associated mental disorders. They’ll transform you into someone you don’t like. In fact, they’ll even make you frighten others away.

If you’re harboring any internal ghosts, we explain why they might’ve appeared and what you can do about them.

Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that’s what.”

-Salman Rushdie-

Man with anxiety due to psychological ghosts
Fears, feelings of guilt, attachment problems… We all carry at least one mental ghost that we don’t know how to deal with.

The psychological ghosts you live with

In 1975, Selma Fraiberg, a child psychoanalyst, introduced a term that she later formulated in a renowned research paper. She defined the traumas inherited from generation to generation and that, sometimes, shape the way in which children are raised, as ghosts in the nursery. For instance, the mother or father who was physically abused might reproduce that act with their own children.

Therefore, if your parents were raised coldly and lacked attachment, they may have repeated the same pattern with you. This meant they neglected your emotional needs and, while they were physically present, were, in effect ‘absent’ caregivers. These kinds of past traumas can contribute to a cycle of ongoing abuse and suffering that can extend over several generations.

There was another suggestion derived from this approach formulated by Dr. Fraiberg. It was the idea that psychological ghosts are those issues that we haven’t healed or dealt with and that contribute to feelings of discomfort in us and our environments.

As a matter of fact, this is a frequent reality in society today. Indeed, most of us have at least one ghost in the depths of our minds. Let’s find out how these entities can slip into anyone’s psychological universe

Unresolved traumas are the roots of many of mental ghosts, those that limit your ability to achieve a full life.

1. Frozen pain, the losses that haven’t healed

Frozen grief or persistent complex grief disorder defines the cases in which an individual is unable to cope with the death of a loved one. Research conducted by Columbia University claims that five percent of the population may experience this reality at some point.

It’s important to note that, although each individual experiences and deals with grief in a different way, sometimes, it can lead to problematic situations. Denying what happened, falling prey to depression, not making any long-term plans, and ceasing to have a social life are obvious symptoms that specialized help is required. This is one of the more frequent psychological ghosts.

2. Childhood traumas

Abuse, maltreatment, loss, lack of affection, witnessing adverse events… Childhood trauma conditions the individual’s psychosocial development in infinite ways. In fact, stressful childhood experiences become persistent specters in the mind that are capable of modulating personality and behavior.

Unaddressed and unresolved wounds not only affect your physical and psychological health. They cause problems in your relationships, limit your potential, and interfere with a multitude of your daily activities. In effect, trauma is a threatening specter that distorts everything.

3. Attachment problems

Emotional bonding with strong and reliable attachment figures shapes the best social, emotional, and cognitive engine for development. So much so that, if that bond or imprint isn’t built properly, gaps, anxiety, and unsatisfied needs arise.

One of the most persistent psychological ghosts appears due to attachment problems. That’s because not feeling safe in your social and emotional relationships completely alters your ability to be happy.

4. The weight of guilt

Seneca said that guilt is capable of turning someone into their worst enemy. There’s no doubt that the persistent shadow of this emotion can be self-destructive and eat away at a good part of your mental foundations. As such, your feelings of remorse for what you did in the past, for what you did or didn’t do, say or didn’t say, take away your well-being, trap you in yesterday, and fill you with insecurities.

As if that weren’t enough, the mental spectrum of guilt also affects the quality of your relationships. After all, it’s hard to give your best when guilt clouds everything. So much so that you might distrust others and project your issues onto them.

5. The shadow of fear

It’s impossible to completely eliminate fear from your brain. That’s because it’s thanks to fear that we’ve survived as a species, as it allows us to defend ourselves from threats. Among your most persistent psychological ghosts are the irrational fears that put chains on your development and feed your phobias and anxieties.

Many of the anxieties that corner you in daily life come from your subterranean brain. Instead of confronting them, you allow them to grow. In fact, they reach such tremendous proportions that they eventually become monsters that make you tremble in the most ordinary of situations.

When you become aware of your ghosts, you strive to deactivate them, and cleanse your life of their presence through the appropriate tools that allow you to regain control.

Mind with labyrinth inside with psychological ghosts
In the labyrinth of your mind, there are dark spaces. You must shine a light on them to heal yourself and gain well-being.

How to banish psychological ghosts

Some people are aware that certain psychological ghosts have always been present in their families. For instance, if you grew up in a dysfunctional environment, you’ll be aware of this fact and can prevent these dynamics from accompanying you in your adult life. After all, the mistakes of your parents don’t have to pass on to you. You can heal yourself.

However, if your psychological ghosts gain power it’s because you’re afraid of confronting them. If the monsters within you become strong, it’s because you’re terrified of unmasking them and staring them in the face. This is exactly what the therapeutic process involves. You leave room for the things that are scaring you and hindering your ability to be happy.

Psychological therapy is a mechanism to exorcise what’s hiding under your wounds and terrifying you. Putting yourself in the hands of professionals means trusting science to banish what’s frightening you and illuminating the dark spaces inside yourself.

Therefore, if you’re suffering from trauma, difficult emotions, or attachment problems, don’t hesitate to ask for specialized help. Only then will those psychological ghosts be banished forever.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Breslau N, Wilcox HC, Storr CL, Lucia VC, Anthony JC. Trauma exposure and posttraumatic stress disorder: a study of youths in urban America. J Urban Health. 2004 Dec;81(4):530-44. doi: 10.1093/jurban/jth138. PMID: 15466836; PMCID: PMC3455932.
  • Fraiberg S, Adelson E, Shapiro V. Ghosts in the nursery. A psychoanalytic approach to the problems of impaired infant-mother relationships. J Am Acad Child Psychiatry. 1975 Summer;14(3):387-421. doi: 10.1016/s0002-7138(09)61442-4. PMID: 1141566.
  • Shear, M. K., & Mulhare, E. (2009). Complicated Grief. Psychiatric Annals38(10), 662–670.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.