The Negative Side-Effects of Meditation

by Alberto Perez-De-Albeniz and Jeremy Holmes

International Journal of Psychotherapy, Mar2000, Vol. 5 Issue 1, p49, 10p

Abstract: This article reviews 75 scientific selected articles in the field of meditation, including Transcendental Meditation among others. It summarizes definitions of meditation, psychological and physiological changes, and negative side-effects encountered by 62.9% of meditators studied. While the authors did not restrict their study to TM, the side-effects reported were similar to those found in the “German Study” of Transcendental Meditators: relaxation-induced anxiety and panic; paradoxical increases in tension; less motivation in life; boredom; pain; impaired reality testing; confusion and disorientation; feeling ‘spaced out’; depression; increased negativity; being more judgmental; feeling addicted to meditation; uncomfortable kinaesthetic sensations; mild dissociation; feelings of guilt; psychosis-like symptoms; grandiosity; elation; destructive behavior; suicidal feelings; defenselessness; fear; anger; apprehension; and despair.

Not all effects of the practice of meditation are beneficial. Shapiro (1992) found that 62.9% of the subjects reported adverse effects during and after meditation and 7.4% experienced profoundly adverse effects. The length of practice (from 16 to 105 months) did not make any difference to the quality and frequency of adverse effects. These adverse effects were relaxation-induced anxiety and panic; paradoxical increases in tension; less motivation in life; boredom; pain; impaired reality testing; confusion and disorientation; feeling ‘spaced out’; depression; increased negativity; being more judgmental; and, ironically, feeling addicted to meditation.

Other adverse effects described (Craven, 1989) are uncomfortable kinaesthetic sensations, mild dissociation, feelings of guilt and, via anxiety-provoking phenomena, psychosis-like symptoms, grandiosity, elation, destructive behaviour and suicidal feelings. Kutz et al. (1985a,b) described feelings of defencelessness, which in turn produce unpleasant affective experiences, such as fear, anger, apprehension and despair. Sobbing and hidden memories and themes from the past, such as incest, rejection, and abandonment appeared in intense, vivid forms and challenged the subject’s previously constructed image of their past and themselves. On the other hand, it is not uncommon to encounter a meditator who claims that has found ‘the answers’ when in fact he has been actively engaged in a subtle manoeuvre of avoiding his basic questions.

Therefore, Shapiro (1992) recommended caution when the answer encountered to every dilemma was ‘adverse effects are only part of the path. It takes years of practice’. This statement is reminiscent of the classical psychoanalytic dictum: ‘insight causes cure; if you are not cured, by definition you need more insight’–and its misuse.

The side-effect profile summarised also resembles many of the neurotic/anxiety constellation of symptoms. None of the studies reviewed tried to disentangle the effects of meditation per se from the influence of the presenting problem or/and premorbid personality of the subjects. It is unclear whether certain personality types are more likely to try meditation or whether the effect of meditation increases the awareness of those feelings, symptoms and personality traits (Morse, 1984).

This article was originally published on minet.org

Read the whole article here minet.org

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