Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens by Susan A. Clancy

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens

Susan A Clancy

Why I Consider This Book Odd: I heard a review of this book on some NPR morning program, possibly Bryant Park though I can no longer recall, and the burning need to read this book got ignited. Honestly! A Harvard Ph.D. psychology candidate angered people with her findings in memory recovery in sexual abuse and for her next project branched out to study people abducted by aliens. Gah! I love, love, love it when science gets involved in the odd. But yeah, the whole premise – researching people who have tales of abduction and then explaining how these beliefs came to be – was odd. The book proved more fascinating than odd, but it’s odd enough, believe me.

Type of work: Non-fiction, psychological study

Availability: Published in 2005 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College, it is still in print. You can order a copy here:

Comments: This book was a hoot! I am a sucker for anything wherein I get to read people’s profiles (especially psychological profiles of less than normal people) and this book did not disappoint. But ultimately, this is not a book to groove on the oddness, because Clancy’s explanations of how people really do come to believe they were kidnapped by aliens seem sound to a layperson like me and make for fascinating and not always odd reading. But never fear! The book is peppered with enough oddness to make it worth a read from those who can only stomach the oddest of the odd.

Clancy, whose studies into the repressed memories of sexual abuse survivors, led her into a situation where she was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t. If she revealed her findings that sexual abuse survivors were susceptible to idea implantation, she potentially diminished the real, horrific impact of abuse in the survivor community. In order to show the sound methodology of her study, she would end up harming people, as well as causing harm in communities where all too many people are not believed. It was a political and social minefield, one that eventually caused her to be condemned by those in her very field.

The trouble she experienced in sexual abuse recovered memories caused her to move on to a different study – how is it exactly people think they were snatched up by space aliens. Her research ultimately will not show a reader of psychology books anything new, as abductees are subject to the same influences that anyone who develops odd ideas experiences: Media, night terrors, a willingness to read Whitley Strieber, group delusion and reinforcement, a personal sense of isolation and a need to belong somewhere and an insistence that the commonality of the experiences proves all play a part in making people think they were abducted by aliens. Actually, Clancy utterly disproves that last argument – abductions must be true because all our experiences are the same – by showing that they are in fact, not the same, varying with vastly different details (in Chapter 4).

This is a book that could have descended into farce and while Clancy has no aversion to humor and writes in an at times sardonic manner, she respectfully shows the rich diversity of those with abduction stories. They cut across age, economic class and sex, never falling into stereotypes of drunk rednecks wondering what happened during that lost period after the case of beer disappeared and coming up with ET and a probe, or kooky new-agers who long for abduction like a lost lover. Even though elements of those stereotypes make up some who spoke of their experiences for this book, the abductees defy stereotype and Clancy respects the dignity of all her subjects, even the ones whose tales are violent and unsettling, even those who evidently stank up her car with their body odor.

Elements of this book were hilarious, often unintentionally so. I still giggle like a schoolgirl at the description one man gave of his abductor, a naked, gorgeous alien with cherry red public hair. Cherry. Red. Pubic. Hair. Goodness. Some of the stories have insane logic in them that makes sense sort of until you actually think about them. Like the woman who saw three lovely women in flowing dresses and decided that after seeing them she needed to maintain a macrobiotic diet. These women were omens. What flowing dresses on pretty women have to do with a macrobiotic diet is irrelevant. Just go with it. This is one of the milder examples of insane logic in the book, logic that makes sense in a way until you choke it down with rational thought. Some are less cute, like the man who believes his children half alien, the product between him and a non-human female, children he cannot see but knows are there. How his wife feels about step-kids in the ether is not known. It’s a short leap from silly logic to bad ideas that are quite malignant for relationships and sound functioning.

Overall, this is an interesting read, but for anyone who has gone through a dark patch in his or her life – failed relationships, death of loved ones, loss of job, loss of health – some of the experiences these abductees endure are similar to the ones that cause many of us to drink, take Xanax, or find the Lord. Belief in UFO abduction numbs the pain or it creates a sense of belonging to something inexplicable but mystical and bigger than you. It was very easy, once Clancy laid it all out, how every one of her subjects made it from point A to point B.

This was a quick, easy read and I recommend it. And do I believe in alien abduction? Like my belief in the paranormal – sort of, but not really. I’m still looking for rational reasons for the weirdnesses that have gone down in my own life. I love the odd, and live it at times, but my higher brain makes it hard for me to buy into ghosts and alien abduction. As always, your mileage may, and probably will, vary. Regardless, this was a fun book that wallowed in the odd and I quite enjoyed it.