How watching scary stories on the big screen taught me more than how to scream.
Some people have a harder time of screening external stimuli out. Typically, I’m one of those people who struggles to process stimuli, especially if there is a lot going on at once. Loud events and crowded concerts are good examples of situations that seem run of the mill and normal but they’re difficult if you struggle in this way – especially because those who have an issue with “too much going on” often struggle with anxiety. And with anxiety comes a proclivity towards being uncomfortable with physiological discomfort – a natural side effect of watching horror movies.
While typically I’m one of those people, horror movies are not something I stray away from to protect myself from this physiological “excitement” or, you know, anxiety.
I’m empathetic, more so than anything else. If I’m not careful, I’m quick to get caught up in a social issue or a personal problem. If I’m being careful, I process these issues and life hiccups with grace. But again. If I’m not careful, I’m quick to find myself on a downhill trend towards panic, depersonalization, and a myriad of other unpleasant things that often strike a person in the dark. I dwell there.
Once upon a time, I was afraid of scary movies. As a little girl, I explicitly refused to visit Louisiana because that’s where a bunch of popular horror movies were set at the time. An incredibly common statement, right? Being uncomfortable or afraid during a horror movie is what’s expected, especially during the movie’s run time.
But once upon a time, I was afraid of everything… not just scary movies. To be frank, I’m not sure that kind of thing changes. Even with time. So I may have been afraid of everything and maybe I simply learned to cope with seasoning my days with fear like a seasoned cooking spice. Fear tastes like smoke just like the way air hangs heavier once the bonfire has been put out and ash weighs the oxygen down.
Why would someone actively seek it out?
A question like that doesn’t have a distinctive answer. The answers are more multiple choice than open ended because the choices are endless – but they exist. Does anyone enjoy being scared? Science says they might.
People enjoy pleasure and pursue avoidance pain. Subjecting yourself to screen time where people are being tortured, haunted, tormented, or any other number of synonyms in ‘pain’ family is seemingly equivalent with experiencing it ourselves. Some people don’t like the gore. Some people love it. Identifying a horror buff isn’t as difficult as you’d think, but they don’t masquerade around wearing Michael Myers masks on the daily. Instead, scores of the most popular scary movies are listed in their DVD collections. There are fan-favorites watched so many times horror fans could recite lines like exorcism prayers (which, in the same vein, they might know something about).
Some people love the movie, some people love the story, and some people truly do love the fright.
But then there are people like me, who saw an opportunity in 120 minutes of psychologically induced physiological discomfort. I do not like the adrenaline rush, which is one reason people enjoy a good fright. I see the opportunity to face fear and learn to control my response to it by watching horror movies.
It’s called the excitation transfer process, and it’s this badass thing you can use to get over yourself. During “excitation”, you know – where everything starts to affect you a bit more and you feel really tuned in and excited, you sort of store those feelings and memories. And since I happen to be a bit of a fear addict, exposing myself to stimuli that can help me experience the process and replace memories of panic with new ones…
You get the picture. Feeling fear and coping with it by watching diverse horror movies – some gore, some mystery, some thriller – enabled me to experience the cycle of excitation and transfer it from 120 minutes of horror to the real world.
… but also, I really just love a good story.