Why ghosts haunt: The most common reasons

Why are some places haunted? Why do ghosts linger among the living? By understanding what ghosts are we can untangle the underlying causes of hauntings. With knowledge, we are less terrified by the paranormal phenomenon. There is often a reason for ghosts to stay other than scaring us.

The most common causes of intelligent hauntings are sudden or violent deaths, injustice, fear of final judgment, or unwillingness to let go of loved ones or possessions. As a general rule, the cause of a haunting depends on what type of ghost is responsible for the paranormal activity.

There are many types of ghosts (and entities), all with different characteristics. By identifying which type of ghost is causing the paranormal activity, we know more about the cause of it.

Why ghosts haunt

It is impossible to give the exact reason why ghosts or spirits haunt. This is because different types of entities often have various reasons. The main types are residual hauntings, interactive or intelligent hauntings, poltergeist activity, shadow people, orbs, demonic hauntings, and portal hauntings.

There are many different types of paranormal activity, all of which have their characteristics. In the sections below, we will look at them and why they might happen. As with living people, there are many causes, especially in intelligent hauntings.

By understanding why ghosts and spirits haunt us, we gain more understanding and even compassion. Most ghosts or spirits are not evil. By recognizing their situation, many hauntings will calm down.

Many times, ghosts need help to move on and find the light. They might be trapped, unable to move on for emotional reasons. They want your attention so that they can resolve what needs to be fixed. Some don’t understand they passed.

Often emotional reasons keep ghosts lingering in the world between ours and the afterlife. Some want to leave, others don’t know how to reach the light and move on.

If a person dies a sudden or traumatic death, they might not realize they have passed. They linger on, unable to leave. In other cases, they might not want to move on as they might feel connected to a person or a place they loved in life.

There are inhuman entities as well. These hauntings do not spring from a living person or animal; they are, for example, of residual, demonic, or shadow people. These hauntings have another character and are not driven by human emotions or needs.

Let’s take a look at common types of hauntings and common causes.

Residual hauntings

Residual hauntings are not intelligent but “echos” of the energies of a person or animal. You can call this an emotional feedback loop. The animal or person has left a trail of energy that is imprinted in the space. This type of haunting is widespread. Residual hauntings are often caused by strong emotions like sadness, fright, anger, love, etc. This kind of haunting is common in prisons, on battlefields, in hospitals, and in crime scenes.

Many residual hauntings are caused by strong emotions. That is why they are common in battlefields, hospitals, crime scenes, and alike.

Residual hauntings might loop, and the same activity is repeatedly happening. You might, for example, see a ghost move through a refurbished wall where it used to be a door. You might also see an abbreviation without feet if the floor height has been changed. You might also see feet near the roof if the roof has been heightened. You get my point.

It is also common to hear sounds like tapping, voices, and walking. It can be crying, weeping, laughing, screaming, or alike. In most cases, the sounds are connected to a strong emotion.

There is no need to be frightened by these hauntings as they will not hurt you. They are just echoes from a time passed. The ghost will not contact you or interfere with your everyday life.

A residual haunting happens when there’s enough energy in the atmosphere for it to happen. Barometric pressure, humidity, solar storms, and temperatures might cause the residual haunting loop to start. This is why hauntings often occur when it is a thunderstorm, raining, or when the atmosphere gets charged with electricity or energy for different reasons.

In later years a theory is that residual hauntings are due to energy settling into the structure of a house. It is called the stone tape theory. The energy of the building material is absorbed and replayed as a residual haunting. Often, though, residual hauntings are present in older buildings. This might be due to more people passing through than in a new building.

Water is also considered a factor for residual hauntings. The theory is that water promotes paranormal activity. Many haunted places have water nearby; rivers, seas, underground water sources, water pipes, etc.

As you notice, residual hauntings are very interesting, and there are still many things to learn. One important thing is that they are not dangerous in any way. Look at them as recordings that loop when they get energy from the surroundings. In many cases, residual hauntings seem to fade over time.

Key takeaways

  • Strong emotions imprint the space
  • Often occurring in crimes scenes, battlefields, hospitals, and alike
  • Weather and atmospheric energy might cause the loop to start
  • Often the same activity repeats itself
  • Non-intelligent and will not try to contact you
  • Often present in older buildings
  • Often fade with time

The video below is an example of residual haunting. The video was shared by Spooky Shivers on Youtube.

This video shows great examples of residual hauntings.

Interactive or Intelligent hauntings

Interactive or intelligent hauntings are ghosts that can interact and communicate with you. After a person dies, the only thing remaining is the energy of the soul and consciousness. If a person dies suddenly or tragically through an accident or suicide, they might not be able to move on to the next world. They feel still have unfinished business and linger in between our world and the afterworld.

This is the most common type of haunting that paranormal investigators attend to. With this said, residual haunting is the most common type overall.

An intelligent ghost or spirit can communicate with you and answer questions alike. Sometimes you can get thoughtful responses with the help of knocking. One knock for “yes,” and two for “no.” The ghost might be very kind but can also be angry and hostile. It is like with us living – some are kind, and some are not that fun to have around. If the ghost died a sad or tragic death, the feelings might be stuck with the spirit. The ghost then projects these feelings onto us living.

An intelligent haunting is seldom dangerous. The energy is limited, so the ghost can’t do much harm other than scaring us. Most accidents happen when people get scared of ghosts and hurt themselves by running away, tripping, or falling. Of course, you can get terrified, and the psychological scar might be more profound than any physical one. There are very harmful, intelligent hauntings, but this is not an ordinary situation. Most of the time, the ghost or spirit is sad and frustrated.

The intelligent ghost might be afraid of moving on. They might fear the afterworld due to suicide or other “sinful” acts in life. Other causes might be that they don’t want to part with a place, person, relative, or family member they love. They might fear that loss and don’t want to move on. It is always good to keep this in mind. Showing compassion and understanding can make intelligent hauntings less frequent. In some cases, a psychic or a spiritual leader (from their religion or belief system) might be able to help them move on.

Always treat an intelligent ghost with dignity and respect. They were once living people, like you and me. Something happened when they died that made them afraid or unwilling to let go.

Key takeaways

  • Can interact and communicate
  • The conscious mind of the decieced
  • Moving objects, disembodied voices, apparitions, and answering questions
  • Most often not dangerous
  • Might need help to break the connection to our world

The video below is an example of intelligent haunting. As you might understand, intelligent haunting might look very different. In this video, the ghost is communicating through an EMF device. The recording of the intelligent ghost is found at the end of the video, at about 03:30 minutes into the video.

Poltergeist hauntings

Poltergeist hauntings are often the most known as they are the scariest ones. Objects fly through the air; books fall off shelves, violent knocking on the walls, doors slam shut, and the list goes on. We have all seen it in scary movies and read about it in books. In reality, poltergeists are very rare.

As poltergeist are rare, there are not loads of research done on them. Poltergeist activity is often targeted toward a person. When the person is removed from the space, the happenings stop. This has always been a bit puzzling for paranormal researchers and parapsychologists.

We know that the phenomenon often arises around distressed or emotional female teens. One theory is that strong emotions lead to telekinetic powers, which move objects and cause violent happenings. The phenomenon went as suddenly as it came. Poltergeists might appear from nowhere and disappear within days or weeks. There are occasions where it lasted for years.

Some mean that poltergeist activity is fake and staged (Paranormal Investigators of MilwaukeeOpens in a new tab.). Objects were moved with the help of nylon strings. There are many cases where the activity had natural causes as well. Parapsychologist has not yet been able to determine what a poltergeist is. There are many question marks when it comes to poltergeist phenomenons.

What got me interested in the paranormal was a poltergeist event that happened to me when I was in my late teens. So I’m a bit puzzled by the research. I was not in an emotional state of crisis but have always been psychic. I had a glass thrown at me at a local cafe. I was not alone; there were many people around me witnessing the event. I have a hard time thinking it was a telekinetic event, but I leave my door open for answers. Maybe I will know what happened to me in the future as paranormal research methods evolve.

Key takeaways

  • Very rare
  • A ghost that is very noisy and has the ability to move and throw larger objects
  • In many cases, a teen girl is the epicenter of the happenings
  • Often targeted toward one specific person
  • Believed to have a telekinetic cause
  • Many believe the phenomenon is faked or staged

In the video below, you see a video of classic poltergeist activity. The activity starts 0:30 minutes into the video.

In the video, you see classic poltergeist activity. The objects on the table start to move.

Shadow people

Shadow people are black shadows seen in the corner of the eye. They often involve feelings of fear and anxiety. They flicker by, and it is often hard to see them in detail. Shadow people lack the properties of “regular” ghosts. While ghosts often are seen as white and misty, shadow people are pitch black. Psychics often refer to them as non-human. This is why they are separate from intelligent hauntings or residual hauntings.

Many shadow people seem to be “male.” At times they wear a Feodora-like hat or cloak. They are approximately 6,5 feet in height. They rarely communicate but like to watch humans, according to Rosemary Ellen Guiley (The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, 2000).

Some people have reported them having red glowing eyes. There is consensus on what they look like, as it is hard to make out characteristics when they tend to appear in the periphery of your vision.

There are five main categories of shadow people; Bedroom watchers, shadows on walls, moving shadows, background visitors, and haunting presences. Bedroom watchers seem to lurk in the shadows at night, watching people as they sleep.

Commonly, they do not act aggressively but are terrifying as is. They can melt into walls and ceilings. Some appear like sudden shadows on the wall. They have a human form and move from room to room.

The background visitors are not seen with the naked eye but are caught in photographs. The haunting presences move about and have intelligence. They are often seen in haunted locations. In some cases, they are known for following people. (The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, 2000).

There are many theories that shadow people are. Some say it is alien entities or jinns. Many believe that shadow people are hostile and negative. That’s maybe why many feel instant fear or anxiety encountering them. Others think it is our brain playing tricks on us.

Some think that sleep paralysis might cause the phenomenon. As poltergeists are non-human, we don’t know why they appear.

As you see, there are lots of different ideas about what shadow people are and why they haunt us. As paranormal research progresses, we might know more about this phenomenon.

Key takeaways

  • Non-human and often “male”
  • A dark massive shadow that is seen even if it’s dark
  • Often seen in the corner of the eye
  • Sometimes they appear in photos
  • Unsettling feelings
  • No facial features or clothing

Demonic hauntings

A demon or angelic entity causes demonic hauntings. They are not of human origin and have never lived here on Earth. Some say they have extraterrestrial and are from the Universe. There are lots of different demons with different characteristics.

Unlike ghosts, demons are powerful and can physically and mentally attack people. In the eyes of the Church, they are sent from hell to harvest the humans. They want to take control of us and take away our will. Depending on the religion or belief system, the demons slightly differ, but they are all evil in essence.

The goal of a demon is to lure people over to the dark side. They do this by a three-step process: infestation, oppression, and finally, possession (The encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology, Rosemary Ellen Guiley)

Demons are shapeshifters and can easily change how they look and present themselves. Sometimes they are recognized through smells and gowls. A demon can only possess a person if they are invited. Common ways for this to happen are playing with spiritual tools like an ouija board, holding seances, or alike.

Key takeaways

  • Evil in nature and causes harm to people
  • Turn human living into chaos and misery
  • Entities defined in demonology
  • Manifest in many different shapes and forms
  • They are expelled by exorcism or religious rituals
  • Must be invited to get a grip on people

In the video below paranormal investigators investigate a demon’s presence.


  • The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, Rosemary Ellen Guiley, 2000.
  • The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology, Rosemary Ellen Guiley, 2009
  • Types of Hauntings, Haunted Orange County

Claudette Beaulieu

A certified paranormal investigator, accredited demonologist, and psychic stuck in the Victorian era.

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