Why are extraterrestrial abductions wrong?

Where did all the aliens go?

In the 1990s, reports of people allegedly being abducted by extraterrestrials increased. Some still claim that today: Encounters of the other kind shape their lives.

Karl Grossmann will never forget the summer of 1986. “I had just bought a new car and wanted to take it for a spin,” says the American, who is now 69 and lives in California. "So I drove all the way to Yosemite National Park and stayed in the back seat."

What happened next, Karl Grossmann was silent about for 30 years - out of shame to be labeled as crazy. He was afraid to look like a fool in front of others and upset friends and family members. But at some point the auto mechanic couldn't stand the silence any longer.

Now he is sitting with his therapist Laurie McDonald in Sacramento, California, to review what he has experienced. The light is dimmed, wool blankets are on the shelf to convey a sense of security. Grossmann takes a deep breath, then begins to tell in a low voice.

"In the middle of the night," he says, "a kind of fireball appeared over the trees in the national park." A warm, white beam of light caught him and pulled him “up”. "I've never felt anything so peaceful," says Grossmann. But just a few minutes later he was frightened. “I was lying on a table, couldn't move. Three spindly gray beings with almond eyes stood around me and examined me. One of them said only one word: breeding. "

45 percent of Americans believe in UFOs

Is Karl Grossmann's experience proof of aliens who are up to mischief on earth? Or just an example of his blooming imagination? In the US, the population is divided on this issue. According to a recent poll by the polling institute Ipsos, 57 percent believe in intelligent life on other planets. 45 percent affirmed the statement "UFOs exist and have already visited the earth". Grossmann is no longer quite as alone as he felt in 1986.

Nevertheless, people these days rarely dare to reveal their alleged experiences with intergalactic encounters. Quite different in the 1990s: In the United States in particular, the media reported regularly on people who were kidnapped by aliens and tortured in various ways - or who claimed to be. The mystery series "The X Files" brought the subject to millions of living rooms. The talk show host Oprah Winfrey invited people into the studio who described their encounters of the third kind.

It all started with Betty and Barney Hill. The couple were driving from Montreal to New Hampshire in 1961 when an unidentified flying object appeared in the sky. It wasn't until they got home that they realized they couldn't remember two hours of their journey. Under hypnosis they were able to close the memory gaps: They were transported to the UFO and medically examined there, they told their psychiatrist, who always believed in the sincerity of his patients. Newspaper reports, books and a TV film followed. The phenomenon of alien abductions was born.

Symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder

And with it the debate about whether the reports were true or not. Critics such as the psychologist Leonard Newman of the University of Illinois, Chicago, spoke of "false memories, fantasies and daydreams". Other scientists considered the descriptions to be authentic. Especially since confidence in the American government had visibly declined since the 1970s. The Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War had left their mark. If the government lies so much on these points, so is the assumption of many US citizens, it may also do so with regard to aliens.

In the 1990s, John Mack, a renowned Harvard professor, dealt with the phenomenon, which apparently continued to spread. Mack organized conferences at which scientists from different disciplines exchanged ideas. In his research, he concluded that many people who reported alien abductions suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. They showed symptoms similar to those of soldiers who had experienced traumatic events during the war: They were overwhelmed by memories and flashbacks, could no longer sleep, were irritable and fearful. Mack was also unable to say whether extraterrestrials had really caused these symptoms. However, he was convinced throughout his life that those affected believed in it themselves.

And today? Radio silence. In the USA, extraterrestrials are particularly visible where they bring money.

In the small town of Roswell, New Mexico, where a UFO is said to have crashed in 1947, almost every shop advertises little green men. Eyes are glued to the street lamps to make them look like alien heads. And the McDonald’s branch was designed to resemble a spaceship. The topic is rarely discussed seriously in public. Even the “X-Files”, once the service for “believers”, had run out of steam at some point. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, there was “just no longer the right mood”, said the “X-Files” producer Chris Carter at a meeting with fans in 2008.

Uncover feelings through hypnosis

However, that doesn't mean that everyone who believes in alien abductions has also disappeared from the face of the earth. "It still affects a lot of people," says Laurie McDonald, the psychotherapist who specializes in the subject and whose patients include Karl Grossmann. In her practice in Sacramento there are numerous certificates that identify her as a hypnotist - a technique through which sufferers are supposed to regain their memories.

McDonald is a confident woman who is passionate about what she does. "People are fed up with the mainstream media making fun of them," she says. That is why most of them only talked about their experiences in self-help groups or social networks.

McDonald reports 1,300 cases piling up on her desk. "Of course there are people who are on drugs and who just make up their minds," admits the therapist. But she thinks most of the descriptions are authentic. «These people have experienced something traumatic. Under hypnosis, they tell me in great detail what happened to them. " Her patients included both men and women, from caretakers to top politicians, and they came from very different countries.

Scientists have also looked into the question of which groups of people are most likely to be affected. The results were different. Some found that those affected had an above-average lively imagination. Others concluded that they were ordinary people with intact minds. How many people were actually abducted by aliens - or believe so - there are no statistics on that.

Make money with horror stories

Laurie McDonald assumes a high number of unreported cases. However, it is not entirely objective. She was also kidnapped by aliens as a young woman, the therapist says: "They were standing in my bedroom, I wasn't afraid - until they penetrated my navel with a huge needle." Critics consider such descriptions to be horror stories with which therapists like Laurie McDonald do one thing above all else: money.

In contrast, McDonald has a home advantage among its patients. She appears at UFO congresses, leads a self-help group, and will soon have her own TV show. She is one of them. Why should humans be the only intelligent living beings in the universe? Is their point of view. And the kidnappings? "They are carried out by different alien races," says McDonald. “They all have their own motives. And of course they violate our human rights. "

It helped Karl Grossmann to talk to his therapist about the fateful summer night in Yosemite National Park. “Today I don't care if people think I'm crazy,” says the 69-year-old. He had become calmer, more relaxed. "The fear is much less now," he says. “I now know that there is more out there than most people think. Much more."