I have always been fond of the reoccurring themes in horror movies. Those moments that flash across the screen making everyone, regardless of their fears, shutter in shock. As a psychologist, cognitively deciphering fears has become a large part of my forensic research and it often melts into the paranormal realm as well. The psychology behind the horror in a film, the “why” behind its effect on us and how fears evolve into phobias is intimately fascinating. The symptoms of fear might be subjective, much like that of a paranormal haunting. For example, someone with a fear of parasites might struggle with vaccines, microchips, needles, or injections. A fear of being invaded, something going into the body without permission, a sort of “possession.” Perhaps the seed of the fear is related to a belief in alien abduction, childhood rape and molestation, a single traumatic experience wherein leeches by the hundreds were stuck to her legs… or a demon.
Different people have different symptoms, different belief systems, different cultural acceptance, and different taboos. Countless other factors mold one’s fear and how they learn to cope with it. Some people need help coping, and for that, they turn to someone like myself for guidance in discovering the true seed of their fear; the reason for their symptoms, the cause. However, psychology and the subconscious are much undiscovered. Like quantum physics, it sometimes explores theories that are hard to swallow, and psychology might disagree with the reasons or diagnosis. When exploring the depths of the human mind, the delicate areas of fear and behavior, one must tread lightly.
It comes from lots of experience, self-exploration, intuition and knowledge of the human mind. Non-suggestive ways of holding hands through the cognitive pathways of your mind. What makes you repulse and pull up your toes? Why do you close your eyes, and what causes the reaction? Fear is fascinating. Sometimes it can be movie soundtrack tricks, the “fear frequency” that creates a bandwagon reaction to pure horror. Directors like Quentin Tarentino and Darren Aronofsky study the images that create mass “skin-crawling” and how desensitization and phobias work. One repeated theme I want to mention, one that has always crept into my mind long after the image is over, is the gaping mouth and black-eyed children. The black holes, darker than shadows, something like an abyss.
Black-eyed children and the unhinged mouth are manipulations of the human form. Our mind knows that these characteristics are unnatural, and yet these voids are taking over in the “intimate” parts of the body. The mouth, our sensual vessel for kissing and speaking, eating, and letting something into our sacred body. The eyes, the window to the soul, and a universal symbol of the self. Both orifices are unique to their ability to let something in, that sort of possession of physical body into the soul. We close our eyes, scream from our mouths, and shutter in fear at the sight of such personal features being invaded by something… by nothing.
As a psychologist, I started thinking about cross-cultural and biological fears. The human is only said to be born with two fears: falling and loud noises. However, scientists also add the important biological impulses to dangerous creatures that create fear for survival, like the snake. Survival traits that have evolved with our growing species include being skeptical, fearful, reactionary to certain stimuli. Then, as we grow and experience life, we also have dreadful life experiences that plant seeds of fear to certain stimulus. A fear enigma unique just to you. Unique as we all are, that black hole… the void, scares universally. Why?
Trypophobia is a proposed phobia (intense, irrational fear) of irregular patterns or clusters of small holes or bumps, related to the thought that fear stems from the “unknown” and the biological untrusting of things in clusters, like a hive. Though the term is not a DSM-5 diagnosis, thanks to the Internet and modern technology, psychologists are recognizing the universal unconscious reflex reaction across cultures to dark holes. Do you remember feeling the fear move over your body when you witnessed the 1999 Mummy antagonist, or did you recoil a bit at the black-eyed child growling out in the night in The Grudge? The possibility that something could “be living in there,” or that an unknown monster will emerge from these dark cavities and combined with the blatant manipulation of the human body, most feel some sort of fear. Even the suggestion of possession, the evolution into the void, such as the eyes in Exorcist, Children of the Corn, or the unhinging of the physical form as seen in The Ring. Eyes and mouths are intimate, black pits and holes are terrifying, and worldwide we are all a bit fearful at the same images.
One client of mine said his fear of holes, after further self-exploration, stemmed from one main concern. “You know that you’re vulnerable, and there you are looking at these vacant cavities where someone should be. You know there is no pleading to a likeness.”
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