“If human beings had genuine courage, they’d wear their costumes every day of the year, not just on Halloween.”Douglas Coupland, author
During this Halloween season, I got to wondering about why we seem to gain pleasure from scaring ourselves. For example, to mark past Halloweens, one of my friends sat down to a marathon of scary movies, and another took part in a Zombie run (literally you are chased around London by “Zombies”). I myself have attended an interactive cinema experience where you have to avoid catching a deadly zombie virus as you negotiate an assault course with armed men shouting at you… sounds fun right?!?? So why do we do it? Why do we seem to love to be scared?
In our bodies
In terms of physiologically, a lot goes on in our body when we’re scared. Our heart rate speeds up, tension appears in our muscles (including the ones attached to hair follicles-hence the goose bumps), we sweat, and get ourselves ready to fight, flee or freeze. We get a rush of adrenaline and a release of endorphins and dopamine (all good feeling chemicals). We become grounded in the present, for that is all the matters for our survival.
Once we’ve quickly assessed the situation, and concluded we’re not under threat (e.g. it’s just a movie, or that zombie chasing me isn’t real), we are often left feeling relieved and reassured and ultimately more confident in our ability to confront things that scare us. Our survival can feel primal and exhilarating (think about getting off at the end of that scary roller coaster ride).
In our psyches
Leading on from what goes in the body, we can feel satisfied that we’ve confronted, endured and survived our fear in a safe way (after all the threat isn’t actually real). By watching a scary movie or taking that bungee jump, we experience a way of controlling our fear.
Feeling scared, in a safe space, allows us to experience and release strong emotions. It’s not often we get to have a good scream. We have contact with the potential dark side of the world (or “The Upside Down” for Stranger Things fans). We encoutner a shadow of sorts. A Babadook like figure who creeps about in the darkness plotting deadly deeds. We safely explore this dark side helping us to become a bit more comfortable with difficulties in our own lives (after all the real world is not just a continual rom-com). This whole experience represents a break from our everyday lives and can leave us feeling more alive, stimulated and grounded.
A great case in point is Halloween. Halloween provides a set day per year where people, including children, can explore and experience fear, safe in the knowledge that the witches and ghouls are only make-believe. Some describe Halloween as a kind of exorcism, as it allows us (especially children) to work through and release pent-up emotions and anxieties about magical transformations in a consistent, contained and protected format.
As Douglas Coupland suggests (quoted above) it might be helpful for us to hang onto our Halloween ways beyond 31st October. After all we all have a dark side (or our shadow as Jung called it) and to wear it on the outside (i.e. to be conscious of it) can help us stay in command of this part of ourselves. So maybe we should keep those pumkins a blaze for a bit longer this year.
Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash