How to Know When Someone is Possessed by a Demon

The topic of demonic possession has long captivated both the religious and the secular world. However, there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what the Church actually teaches on this matter. This article aims to clarify some of the Catholic Church’s teachings on demonic possession, how to distinguish it from other conditions, and why proper discernment is crucial.

Understanding the Nature of Evil

Before delving into the signs of demonic possession, it’s important to understand the nature of evil from a Catholic perspective. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing” (CCC 391). This speaks to the reality of fallen angels, who have chosen to reject God’s goodness.

Scripture also affirms the existence of evil spirits. For instance, the Gospel of Mark recounts Jesus casting out demons: “And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God'” (Mark 3:11, ESV). This underlines the reality that demons are not merely symbolic, but entities that exist and can interact with the physical world.

Distinguishing Demonic Possession from Other Conditions

One of the most important aspects in understanding demonic possession is to be able to distinguish it from psychological or medical conditions. The Church is very cautious in diagnosing possession and always seeks the counsel of medical professionals to rule out other explanations.

The Catechism says, “Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church” (CCC 1673). However, it also makes clear that “Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness” (CCC 1673).

Signs of Demonic Possession

The Church has outlined several signs that may indicate demonic possession. These are:

  1. Display of Supernatural Strength: A common sign, though not definitive on its own.
  2. Aversion to Holy Objects: A strong, irrational fear or hatred towards holy objects like crucifixes, or holy water.
  3. Knowledge of Hidden Things: Information that one could not naturally know.
  4. Speaking in Unknown Languages: Languages the person has never learned.
  5. Violent Reaction to Prayers: Particularly during exorcism prayers.

Scriptural accounts also give us some insights. In the Gospel of Mark, we see a possessed man living among tombs, unable to be restrained even with chains and shackles, crying out and cutting himself with stones (Mark 5:1-5, ESV).

The Role of Discernment

Discernment is crucial when identifying signs of possession. Priests trained in this area often work with medical professionals to discern the true nature of the observed phenomena. The Church also has a long tradition of spiritual discernment as highlighted by St. Ignatius of Loyola and other saints. Scripture warns us to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1, ESV).

What to Do if You Suspect Possession

The first step is to seek spiritual guidance from a priest. It is important to also consult medical professionals to rule out other conditions. The Church takes an extremely cautious approach to exorcism, and it is always considered a last resort. As per the Catechism, “The solemn exorcism, called ‘a major exorcism,’ can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop” (CCC 1673).


Demonic possession is a topic fraught with misunderstanding and sensationalism. The Catholic Church teaches that while evil is real and demons do exist, cases of possession are rare and must be approached with extreme caution. The Church is always careful to rule out medical and psychological conditions first, and exorcism is considered a last resort. Discernment, guided by the Church’s wisdom and teachings, remains a cornerstone in differentiating between demonic possession and other conditions. Always consult with spiritual authorities and medical professionals when faced with suspected cases of possession.

Remember, the Church’s ultimate aim is the salvation of souls and liberation from evil through Jesus Christ, who has “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15, ESV).

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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