Monsters In The Dark: Understanding Teraphobia
Updated December 17, 2018
Reviewer Cessel Boyd
How many horror movies have you seen that involved a series of monsters coming from the darkness of the basement, attic, closet, or beneath the bed? These creatures creep out and threaten to frighten or eat us. Our culture has often used these fears to drive our imaginations forward, coming up with incredible stories that entertain and frighten kids and adults to this day. Shows like Aaahh!!! Real Monsters (1994-1997) and movies like Little Monsters (1989) often portray these frightful beasts in a comedic light so that we may laugh at what once was our childhood fear. Oppositely, movies like It (1990) inspire true fear of what might be lurking in the shadows, even for adults.
But these are just mere fantasy. They're just movies and stories made for us to enjoy. What happens when children and adults truly believe horrific creatures are meandering about in their homes? This is defined as teraphobia. A fear this intense can cause a host of issues for the person with teraphobia as well as their family and friends. It can become so acute that it can prevent them from basic functioning.
So, how can you recognize symptoms of teraphobia?
Signs Of Teraphobia In Children
Most often, children will let you know when they are afraid of something. It will appear in obvious questions like, "Will you check under the bed?" and "Can you check the closet?" This is where their fear resides. What the darkness hides is something malicious to them, but to you, it is merely a blanket or a coat.
Less obvious signs of teraphobia may appear in the form of insomnia, lack of appetite, and refusal to go outside in the dark. While it's encouraged for kids to remain indoors at night for safety reasons, it can make going to the movies or attending dinner in the evening a bit of a chore. A bright outside can help with this temporarily until the fear subsides.
Usually, the object of fear is relatively non-specific. It takes the form of a generic monster which your child might draw for you if you ask. It might be inspired by environmental factors like an aggressive classmate, a robber from the news, or a combination of something they saw while out in the real world. A spooky tree in a nearby park that resembles a scary face could also inspire such a monster to come to life in their mind.
Other ways this fear develops is through story-telling. During the elementary years and especially during high school years, kids will share their versions of urban legends, often citing local haunts as the locations of the Hook Man or a commonly used bathroom as hiding Bloody Mary. This can cause severe reactions in children who will develop teraphobia and need treatment to assuage their fears.
Effects Of Teraphobia
The effects of teraphobia will become apparent in the way your child or teen functions.
A lack of sleep will have one of the biggest effects on kids. Losing sleep will cause them to become groggy, making daily tasks like basic motor functions and focusing on school work incredibly difficult. Sometimes the child may suffer from nightmares where their nightly monster visits them. This only increases their fear as well as keeps them from getting proper rest. In more extreme cases, children may develop insomnia.
Parents of children with teraphobia might also find themselves losing sleep. If you're not at your best, then you certainly won't be prepared to handle everything that comes with being a parent. Driving, cooking, discipline, and going to work will feel like overwhelming chores that have no end. You might become anxious about whether your child is healthy and other nasty symptoms can pop up like headaches and feelings of panic.
In addition to losing sleep, a loss of appetite is also associated with this phobia. You might notice your child eating less than usual, not enjoying their favorite snacks, or even refusing food altogether because of a belly ache. Physical symptoms like a stomach ache can accompany the fear due to the anxiety it causes.
More severe effects can be headaches, physical pains (like the stomach ache from above), and edginess in everyday situations. Anxiety causes them to become jumpy in common environments, especially if there are loud noises. Places like fast food restaurants with playgrounds that have lots of children can make them a bit uneasy.
Your Reaction Means Everything
Your children look to you for everything - basic care, comfort, and emotional support during times of stress. It's important to remember the following when your child approaches you with a fear of monsters:
- Do not make light of the situation or use their fear against them for discipline purposes. To do so would cause feelings of shame and even guilt in young children who will carry that well into their adult life. Validate their concerns and comfort them while reminding them that monsters are not real.
- Show them that there is nothing to fear. Go into their room and shine a light into the dark corners. If possible, put a night light in an outlet or glowing stars on the ceiling. When there is light to chase away the darkness, it can ease them into a better sleep schedule and help eventually get rid of the fear.
- Ever heard of Monster Spray? Pediatricians have gotten into the habit of handing this to children when they bring up fear of monsters during check-up visits. The bottle contains water and is labeled as "Monster Spray" to help kids combat their fear. Allowing them to use it before bedtime in dark corners or around the room can allow them to rest without fear.
- Take them to a specialist. Sometimes, teraphobia will require intervention by a therapist. If it is rooted in real-life situations - like bullying, for instance - therapy can help the child gain valuable coping mechanisms.
- If it's a friend, validate their fears while reminding them that their imagination is creative. Don't tell them they are too old to have these fears. Encouraging them to seek help will put them on the road to recovery instead of increasing their anxiety and paranoia.
Other Treatment Options For Teraphobia
If home treatment isn't going well and the fear persists without signs of letting up, it might be time to take your child or teen to a therapist. A licensed specialist can help them come to terms with their fear as well as accept it as part of their imagination. They will be encouraged to draw, write, or even act out their fear to show them where the fear is rooted.
If the fear has a religious basis - such as the devil, demons, or other supernatural forces - it might be helpful to see a therapist who practices the same religion. A combination of spiritual efforts can help them feel comforted and more at ease in addition to getting over the fear.
A phobia that persists well past traditional behavioral therapy might require medication. Using anti-anxiety medication can help your child or teen function better daily. Sleep medication may also be prescribed, but typically this is employed after other therapies have been attempted. Getting to the root of the fear is more important here, so that will be what your child's therapist will focus on.
Teraphobia In Adults
As strange as it might seem, adults can still be afraid of those dark creatures. The above symptoms can become a daily nightmare, making it difficult to get through a night without light. These fears are either one held on to from childhood or can develop from watching horror movies and reading horror books. (Don't worry - The Babadook will not get you while you're sleeping. That's pure fiction!) If the fear persists enough, it's important to seek therapy. There might be other fears lurking around under there that you weren't aware of.
It's important to tackle these issues before they become a sleep disorder. Untreated teraphobia can have detrimental effects on your health that could last for years if not given attention. While it might seem embarrassing at first, you'll find that there are other adults out there just like you. The biggest step is reaching out.
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Additional resources about teraphobia:
Phobia Wiki. http://phobia.wikia.com/wiki/Teraphobia