Monsters In The Dark: Understanding Teraphobia
By: Mason Komay
Updated November 06, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Cessel Boyd
As a small child, were you ever terrified at the thought of a monster lurking in your closet or underneath your bed? Did you ever see a monster on TV that gave you nightmares or caused you to have difficulty falling asleep? If so, you were probably like a lot of other children your age who feared the same thing. However, this fear can sometimes persist well into our adult years and still make us feel afraid of what might be lurking in the dark. This is known as teraphobia.
What Is Teraphobia?
Teraphobia is defined, simply, as the fear of monsters. It can extend to a fear of the dark, spurred by a fear of what may be in the dark. It's pretty common among preschoolers and elementary-aged children and typically fades away as the years go on, although this isn't always the case. Many teens and adults can also fall victim to this kind of phobia, so don't feel as though you're the odd one out. It's a very intense fear and can cause a host of issues for the individual, their family, and friends. It can even become so overwhelming that it prevents them from basic functioning.
Now, it's worth noting that feeling slightly afraid or disturbed at the thought of a frightening creature doesn't mean that you're completely teraphobic. In fact, fear is a completely rational human response to actual danger, and as children helps program and prepare us for the possible dangers in the world so that we don’t just go running into every situation without thought. The deciding factor is whether or not you believe that these perceived monsters are real and pose a threat to you. So, how can you recognize symptoms of teraphobia?
Signs Of Teraphobia In Children
Most often, children will be quick to let a parent or adult know when they are afraid of something. It will appear in questions like, "Will you check under the bed?" or "Can you check the closet?" This is most often where their fear resides. What is hidden in the darkness could be something malicious to them, when in reality it's likely something completely harmless like 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 sunny day 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 that your child might formulate in their head. It might be inspired by environmental factors like an aggressive classmate, a robber from the news, a recently-watched scary movie, or a combination of things that they saw while out in the real world. An oddly-shaped tree in a nearby park that resembles a scary face could also inspire such a monster to come to life in their mind.
Another way this fear develops is through story-telling. Small children are susceptible to frightening stories told by their peers and adults. Books like Goosebumps or Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark are intentionally designed to allow the reader to imagine frightening creatures on their own. This can sometimes cause severe enough reactions in children to spur the development of teraphobia and the need for treatment to assuage their fears.
Teraphobia In Adults
Teraphobia isn't just limited to children; it can affect many adults of all ages. The above symptoms can become a daily nightmare, making it difficult to get through a night without a source of light. These fears are either held onto from childhood or can develop from watching horror movies and reading horror books. If the fear persists enough, you should consider seeking out possible solutions that can help you escape from it. 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 proper attention. While it might seem embarrassing at first, you'll find that there are other adults out there who struggle with similar fears and there’s no need to feel embarrassed or alone!
Effects Of Teraphobia
The effects of teraphobia will become apparent in the way that you, your child, or teen function. A lack of sleep will have one of the biggest effects on kids. Losing sleep will cause them to become extremely tired and fatigued, making daily tasks like basic motor functions and focusing on schoolwork incredibly difficult. Sometimes the child may suffer from nightmares in which their imagined monster will visit and terrify them. This only increases their fear as well as it keeps them from getting enough rest. In more extreme cases, children may even develop insomnia, which is why seeking treatment as soon as possible is crucial.
Parents of children with teraphobia might also find themselves losing sleep. If you're not at your best, it can prove difficult to handle everything that comes with being a parent. Driving, cooking, discipline, playing with your children, and going to work will feel like overwhelming chores. You might become anxious about whether your child is healthy while other irritable symptoms can occur, such as 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 bellyache likely spurred by anxiety. More severe effects can be headaches, physical pains (like the aforementioned stomachache), 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 or 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 it well into their adult life. Validate their concerns and comfort them while gently 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 a light to chase away the darkness, it can ease them into a better sleep schedule and help eventually get rid of their fear.
- Ever heard of “monster spray”? Pediatricians and child psychologists have gotten into the habit of handing this to children when they bring up the 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 help showcase and understand 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 or studies 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, though typically this is employed after other therapies have been attempted. Getting to the root of the fear is the top priority.
If you or your child aren't ready to seek out therapy, that's okay. There are several alternative solutions for you to consider trying out.
Go Behind the Scenes
You don't have to stop watching your favorite horror movies or shows on TV. Instead, head online and look up some behind-the-scenes content of whatever it is you last watched. Understanding the process of what went into the production of the film will help your mind better distinguish reality from fiction. It can also be helpful during a particularly frightening scene to remember that there’s an entire camera and sound crew there, and imagine them around the actors.
Night lights are a go-to favorite for parents of children who are afraid of the dark. These dim and subtle devices can easily be plugged into any outlet and blast away the dark of night while not being so bright as to disturb sleep.
Monsters aren't always terrifying; on the contrary, they can be quite humorous and entertaining. Movies like Monsters, Inc. and Hotel Transylvania portray scary-looking creatures as fun, family-friendly characters that people of all ages can enjoy watching. Watching these and seeing monsters portrayed in a fun light can help alleviate some fear.
You don't have to continue living in fear and anxiety of monsters – no matter which treatment option that you choose to pursue, BetterHelp has your back. Online therapy has been found to be just as effective as in-person therapy for treating anxiety conditions in adults as well as children and teens. In fact, 94% of BetterHelp users prefer it to face-to-face therapy, and 98% of clients have made significant progress in their emotional health journeys.
We offer discreet online counseling so that a licensed counselor is available to you from the comfort and privacy of your own home (or wherever you have an internet connection). If you don’t have a reliable internet connection, our therapists are also available via phone calls and texting – whatever works best for you! No matter how severe your phobia is, we'll match you with someone who cares using a personalized questionnaire to determine what you’re looking for, your particular needs, the type of counseling you’d prefer, and so on. Read some reviews of BetterHelp counselors below from people seeking help with overcoming various fears.
"Kelly is fantastic! She really gets me and I feel like I can tell her anything. She is helping me work through a lot of my greatest anxieties and fears that were holding me back before."
"Debbie is thoughtful, patient, and understanding. She's able to navigate some of my fears, pains, and anxieties and give me useful feedback for how to better myself."
There's no need to feel embarrassed or ashamed of your teraphobia. However, a truly fulfilling life in which fears don't hold you back is possible – all you need are the right tools. Take the first step today.
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