How Halloween Can Negatively Contribute to Trauma
What did you do for Halloween this past week? Did you dress up? Did you avoid dressing up? Whatever you decided to do, did you once think about the negative effects of Halloween on the psyche? If not, you are not alone. Many of us would rarely, if ever, consider the negative effects of Halloween on the psychological and emotional health of individuals who have a history of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, have witnessed the death of a loved one, experience post-traumatic stress symptoms such as hypervigilance or flashbacks, and/or has suffered from night terrors in regards to a traumatic experience. This article will discuss the negative effects of certain aspects of Halloween that might do more harm than good.
It’s important that we understand how daily life including special events and holidays can trigger negative emotions in people we love. It’s often best to have a discussion with that individual, if possible, about their thoughts and feelings on celebrating certain holidays. What seems innocent and fun to us, might be psychologically and emotionally disturbing. As a result, I have listed 5 ways that some components of Halloween might negatively affect someone who has experienced trauma. Some things to consider include but are not limited to:
- Reminders of the past trauma: As stated above, individuals who have experienced severe trauma might find it very difficult to cope with certain aspects of Halloween such as viewing skeletons, blood, fake scars, or similar things. We must be reminded that while the intent of Halloween is to engage in fun and to be lighthearted, individuals with trauma histories, self-injurious behaviors (such as cutting, burning, etc), or thoughts of death and dying may struggle.
- Serving as a trigger to negative emotions: Halloween can be a pre-cursor to negative emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. A former client of mine once left a Halloween party and went home to cut herself. She ended up in the emergency room and her chief complaint was “I heard a Halloween song that reminded me of my childhood and all of the abuse I experienced in my grandmother’s basement.”
- Stirring night-terrors or post-traumatic symptoms: Night terrors is something that children and teens seem to experience more, primarily those who have experienced trauma. Because of the psychological and emotional vulnerabilities of traumatized individuals, it is important to monitor the individual who has a history of nightmares, night terrors, or post-traumatic symptoms such as hypervigilance, increased anxiety, or flashbacks. Flashbacks, increased anxiety, and hypervigilance often strikes out of nowhere and can be very disabling. The best thing to do in situations like this is to avoid situations that are likely to trigger these symptoms. It’s also best to keep young children and vulnerable teens away from stimuli that might trigger negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
- Serving as a precursor to SIB and SI: A former 19-year-old client once said to me: “I felt triggered by all the noise, decorations, and thoughts going through my mind. I didn’t know how to cope so I cut myself.”
- Overstimulation of individuals with severe anxiety: Halloween is full of energy and stimulation. One of the reasons so many people enjoy Halloween is because of the stimulation that comes from the fun of fear, uncertainty, costumes, and lots of candy and parties. Sometimes all of this stimulation can lead to increased levels of anxiety. It’s important to monitor individuals who experience panic attacks.
As always, feel free to include your thoughts below. We often learn best through discussion.
I wish you well
How the brain reacts to fear:
To read more about the misconceptions of trauma, visit my sister site: blogs.psychcentral.com/caregivers.
All the best to you