How Horror Movies Helped Me Heal During Divorce
Growing up I never had an interest in Horror Films, many kids and teens around me were always looking forward to the next one coming out to theaters. While I could appreciate the thrill and feelings that came up while watching one, it was so anti-climatic and felt so empty every time the credits showed. I hated that there was never a resolution or hint to how the story actually would have concluded or progressed. Ultimately, I found them pointless and a waste of time.
Story telling and experiences shared, of the more supernatural type of things; often the theme of a horror film, were another thing. Conversations with others were something I felt I could relate to. Conversations had connection typically, and if not, the communication thereof with another individual was connection and held benefit enough for me. Never felt like a waste of time.
In the Fall of 2021, as an adult, and for the first time in my life. I began watching horror movies. alone. And it was fascinatingly therapeutic.
My life at that time was experiencing significant disruption to the feelings and emotions I was accustomed to. Over a period of time, and having my eyes opened when visiting my sister in Maryland- I realized that my marriage needed to end. I was exhausted, and had given of myself every effort possible to connect and live a fulfilling life together. Ultimately there was nothing more that I could give. To try and continue as what then-felt normal, had become no longer an option.
Requesting divorce was one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever had. To love someone with all of your heart but to finally put your own heart and well being in-front of that.. Was an emotionally arduous task.
I think the first horror film I started was more for a distraction, or background noise as I did easy homework assignments in my last semester of College. Something that I didn’t have to feel invested in, but for some reason- considering it, and starting within the few first minutes- it began offering some type of comfort. Initially I thought- 'well, maybe this is because my waking life literally could not feel any worse.'
My oldest sister once said- ‘Divorce feels like you’re dying, that your soul is crushing- but you’re awake and alive for it all.’
Since those brutal months of initiating the divorce, moving out, starting on my own, and processing all of it; I wondered, why then? why horror movies? Why did the horror movies bring me stability and help me not feel like I was going to lose my mind?
Well today is the day I decided to do some research.
It wasn’t very long before I found what I was looking for, though maybe just an aspect of it. There was a study done during the Pandemic. The title of the article: ‘Pandemic Practice: Horror fans and morbidly curious individuals are more psychologically resilient during the COVID-19 pandemic’ may seem like enough of an explanation in a nutshell, but there are points I did find very interesting:
The Practice of Coping strategies.
How this plays into normal life every day in the world around me.
The concept of experiencing fear and anxiety in a safe environment, and finally:
Curiosity as to how this didn’t have the opposite effect on me. To cause me to feel empty and unsatisfied as horror films had always done in the past.
The results of the study:
‘..consistent with the hypothesis that exposure to frightening fictions allow audiences to practice effective coping strategies that can be beneficial in real-world situations.’ (...) 'one explanation for why people engage in frightening fictional experiences is that these experiences can act as simulations of actual experiences from which individuals can gather information and model possible worlds.’(...) 'In addition to learning how to navigate dangerous situations through simulations, people may also learn to navigate their own emotions.'
I found that fascinating. I do recall certain films where I felt I could relate to the fear and concern characters in the films would be experiencing. It allowed me to accept those very emotional and physical experiences without focusing on the specifics in my own life that were causing them.
Additionally, the article suggested that voluntarily watching horror films,
‘..may lead to less reliance on avoidance mechanisms in response to fear…’
I felt I could pinpoint-this happening for me. I don’t know if it’s because I thought people in the horror films were making idiotic choices, or if because they did-- that it allowed me to feel and gain control of my own emotions to begin to respond properly to my own waking fears and pain.
How dangerous fictional context plays into the world around us.
Just as a fun fact, I wanted to share this section of the article, explaining how this can be observed, and healthy in situations around us.
“...engaging with imagined worlds through fiction is functionally analogous to various kinds of play. For example, rough-and-tumble play has been hypothesized to have evolved in part because it safely simulates dangerous situations.(…) Through engaging in rough-and-tumble play, animals can develop and practice the use of cognitive and motor skills required for facing actual dangerous confrontations in adulthood.”
Was I sort of ‘rough-and tumbling’ in my head and with my emotions before I could execute functioning in my waking life?
(But also- how smart are animals?! I love that so much.)
‘frequent users of horror media often employ emotion regulation strategies, which may lead to improved emotional coping skills.’
Did my binge weekends of horror movies at that time, allow me to continue functioning despite the pain I was feeling? Perhaps it had provided a way for me to prepare to function and do the things I had to do- to begin building up my life again. Perhaps it provided my fear, pain, and anxiety the context wherein to express itself fully, even on a subconscious level. I felt so validated when I continued to read:
‘One reason that horror use may correlate with less psychological distress is that horror fiction allows its audience to practice grappling with negative emotions in a safe setting.’ (...) ‘audiences have an opportunity to practice emotion regulation skills. Experiencing negative emotions in a safe setting,(...) might help individuals hone strategies for dealing with fear and more calmly deal with fear-eliciting situations in real life’
Lastly, the curiosity as to how it seemed to be helping me vs. feeling how I had always felt- empty and unsatisfied, may in part be explained that experiencing and practicing the emotional regulation-helped me to create some psychological resilience.
This study would come to confirm:
‘(...)Through fiction, people can learn how to escape dangerous predators, navigate novel social situations, and practice their mind-reading and emotion regulation skills.’ (...) ‘In this study, we show that people who engaged more frequently with frightening fictional phenomena, such as horror fans and the morbidly curious, displayed more robust psychological resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. (...)’
Interesting stuff huh? I don't really watch horror films now, but I do notice some inclination to find them when I'm feeling particularly stressed, or when the depression gremlin starts showing it's face. But. Therapy is going to continue helping with that. :)
Coltan Scrivner, John A. Johnson, Jens Kjeldgaard-Christiansen, Mathias Clasen,
Pandemic practice: Horror fans and morbidly curious individuals are more psychologically resilient during the COVID-19 pandemic,
Personality and Individual Differences,
Abstract: One explanation for why people engage in frightening fictional experiences is that these experiences can act as simulations of actual experiences from which individuals can gather information and model possible worlds. Conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, this study (n = 310) tested whether past and current engagement with thematically relevant media fictions, including horror and pandemic films, was associated with greater preparedness for and psychological resilience toward the pandemic. Since morbid curiosity has previously been associated with horror media use during the COVID-19 pandemic, we also tested whether trait morbid curiosity was associated with pandemic preparedness and psychological resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. We found that fans of horror films exhibited greater resilience during the pandemic and that fans of “prepper” genres (alien-invasion, apocalyptic, and zombie films) exhibited both greater resilience and preparedness. We also found that trait morbid curiosity was associated with positive resilience and interest in pandemic films during the pandemic. Taken together, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that exposure to frightening fictions allow audiences to practice effective coping strategies that can be beneficial in real-world situations.
Keywords: Horror; Morbid curiosity; Resilience; COVID-19; Simulation; Fiction; Emotion regulation
Author links open overlay panelColtan Scrivner a b, a, b, c, d, e, Highlights•Fans of horror films exhibit less psychological distress during COVID-19.•Fans of “prepper” films reported being more prepared for the pandemic.•Morbidly curious people exhibit greater positive resilience during COVID-19.•Morbidly curious peopl, & AbstractOne explanation for why people engage in frightening fictional experiences is that these experiences can act as simulations of actual experiences from which individuals can gather information and model possible worlds. Conducted during the COVID-1. (2020, September 15). Pandemic practice: Horror fans and morbidly curious individuals are more psychologically resilient during the COVID-19 pandemic. Personality and Individual Differences. Retrieved March 25, 2023, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886920305882?via%3Dihub