Horror, Suspense, Terror; let’s face it, we love scary stories. We even designate special times, (Halloween), and places, (Camp Fires, Hay Rides, Haunted Houses) to enhance these spine tingling tales. And it isn’t just stories; we go out of our way to experience fear. The longest lines at amusement parks can always be found at the scariest roller coasters and horror movies are sure bets at the box office. WHY? Are we a masochistic society or is there a reason we crave experiences that terrify us?
Some might suggest that these scary entertainments stimulate our adrenaline and give us a rush, but I think there is a higher purpose. We are rational creatures and fear tells us to avoid perceived dangers, unfortunately new and unknown things feel strange and can be perceived as dangerous. If we allowed fear to direct our actions, we would never venture out of our safe space or dare to create new things. Scary stories allow us to experience fearful emotions without putting us in harm’s way.
Zombies, demons, and vampires can come at us through stories while we sit in the dark only warmed by a flickering flame. Our hearts may race, we might ever shiver, but we will survive. We’ll watch Psycho and scream, but we’ll continue to munch on our popcorn. Then the next day we just might ask for a raise, apply for a job, or submit art work to be judged. Last night we survived the ax murder so today we can risk rejection.
Remember, stories are sticky. They will hang around in your memory when facts and rationalizations disappear. You’ll remember the fear, but if you are smart and choose the right stories, you’ll also remember surviving.
So, is there a good scary and a bad scary? I think so. Scary stories help train us to endure discomfort and face risk, however they can also break down our defenses and convince us to avoid risks. If the story ends with survival and a sense of hope, the listeners, (and the teller) will internalize these ending values. If on the other hand, the story ends with death and devastation, we might internalize those outcomes. This is different than a tragedy, which often appeals to our intellects. Stories of terror just like the roller coaster stimulate primitive instincts and may act as an emotional training center.
Ultimately trust your gut. Be conscience of your reactions during and after the tale is told. If you walk away from a horror story, a zombie movie, or frightening novel feeling disoriented and raw, that scary experience might have caused more harm than good. If you feel empowered or exhilarated, you might be ready to take a chance tomorrow.