Thoughts on Fear

What makes something truly frightening?

Last night I was really scared. This post isn’t just for Halloween, but considering it happened last night it seemed fitting.

I have shared with you some of the strange beliefs I had when I was younger and struggling with psychosis. Sometimes I was just afraid of the dark and had to have every light in the house on. Other times it was a little more bizarre such as thinking the vacuum cleaner angered my hallucinations or that a man stood next to the piano as I practiced for my lessons. 

(If you are new to my blog, I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in my 20s and have been on medication for nearly twenty years now. Psychotic symptoms have not impacted my life for a very long time.)

One belief I had was that ghosts would become active in my house at 3:48am, so I always had to be asleep by then. (Again, this was a very long time ago.)

Fast forward to last night. I have a habit of waking up once or twice at night to get a drink of water and use the bathroom. Well, last night I woke up at 3:38am thirsty and panicked. I was awake and it was almost that time. It was like the last twenty years of recovery never happened.

After a few seconds, I realized I was half-asleep but safe. However, a few doubts tend to linger after experiences like this so after getting a drink of water and using the bathroom, I went back to bed, covered my head with the blanket leaving a small hole to breathe, and tried to get back to sleep as fast as possible. You know, just in case. 

Obviously, I was fine in the morning but that fear hit me like a ton of bricks. I was really scared. 

I had this fear based on past experiences. Psychosis was frightening and confusing. I spent every day thinking my hallucinations were real.

So what makes something scary? Is it uncertainty? Is it the possibility that it could be real?

I’m sure fear is very personal, but what makes people scared? I always seem to be a little confused at Halloween as to why people want to be scared. How does that somehow become fun?

Last night surprised me because in the last few years, I’ve developed a fascination with the paranormal despite my experiences years ago. 

But Halloween doesn’t feel like a fascination. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of fun dressing up and trick-or-treating with my daughter, but I just don’t understand wanting to be scared. Scary movies fall into this category as well.


What do you think? Do you like scary things? Explain it to me.


  1. chigau (違う) says

    I’m too old.
    The only things I fear are stuff like having a stroke and losing control of my … self.
    Weird entities leaping/crawling/whatever are meh.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    What makes something truly frightening?

    Only two things, to me:
    1. Surprise – I’m as vulnerable to the jump scare as any other human. And they can be fun because the relief when you realise what it is (and that what it is is trivial) can be cathartic. Conversely:
    2. Reality – knowing something is real is horrible. I am not entertained by most movies in the horror genre*, because since being a kid I’ve been mainly interested in how stuff is done, so whenever someone’s arm gets cut off or something I’m looking for the cut between the real arm and the dummy or the join or whatever, and I’m able to appreciate it on a technical level, but it doesn’t affect me on a deep level because it’s obviously only a movie. For that reason, I don’t really watch those films – they’re basically all the same, especially since the advent of CGI. Documentaries that include footage of real atrocities are truly frightening. (I saw the briefest of brief clips of someone’s arm getting cut off in a documentary about violence in Haiti some time when I would have been about 18, and it haunts me still –
    *Exception: John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, which is great.

  3. Katydid says

    Who likes to be scared? I was watching various Halloween-themed things on Youtube when it threw up a suggestion about people who like to be scared by the worst of the worst horror movies. Often that person is narcissist or sociopathic–they enjoy the jolt to the adrenaline. Who doesn’t tend to enjoy that type of movies? People with high empathy.

    I jump at jump scares unless they’re very obviously telegraphed. Seems like that’s universal. I tend to watch silly-scary or supposed-to-be-scary-but-not movie and tv–when the kids were small, I took them to the early-2000s movie The Haunted Mansion and we all had fun because it was silly-scary.

    As for you, my theory is when we’re half asleep, the mind does what the mind does. Once in awhile I’ll wake up and my brain will seize on something weird and irrelevant–“OMG, in the 4th grade, I think I forgot to turn in my school library card at the end of the year!” (

  4. Katydid says

    Yikes, must have hit a key combination that cut off the back end of my comment.

    With the various entertainment strikes, there’s not a lot of new tv, so I’ve been browsing old reruns on various cable channels that specialize in old rerun tv. The early 2000s were a huge time for paranormal tv programs about psychics and people who talk to ghosts and people who can see the future/someone else’s past/someone else’s murder and vampires and werewolves and witches and other paranormal stuff. Maybe you watched a lot of tv then and caught it?

    I also think things that frighten us also fascinate us. Also, things that don’t have a simple explanation fascinate us.

  5. John Morales says

    “One belief I had was that ghosts would become active in my house at 3:48am, so I always had to be asleep by then. (Again, this was a very long time ago.)
    Well, last night I woke up at 3:38am thirsty and panicked. I was awake and it was almost that time. It was like the last twenty years of recovery never happened.
    Obviously, I was fine in the morning but that fear hit me like a ton of bricks. I was really scared.”
    Fear is fear. A true sensation. Quite real.
    First consideration at hand is: is it a justified fear?
    (supernatural doomishness type of thing)
    Second consideration at hand is: is this a sign of illness?
    (whence the fear unless I am ill?)
    Neither condition need be true for the fear to be real.

    So what makes something scary? Is it uncertainty? Is it the possibility that it could be real?

    Quite evidently, the fear exists whether or not it could be real.

    What do you think? Do you like scary things? Explain it to me.

    I most certainly do not like truly, justifiably scary things. Things that I fear are dangerous or polluting or suchlike, with good reason.
    I can’t speak for others, but for me, entertainment is one thing, fear is another.
    Entertaining fear is an oxymoron.

  6. brightmoon says

    I was abused as a child and I still can’t watch scary movies . I can watch older pre 1960s monster movies like Creature From the Black Lagoon because the special effects aren’t scary anymore but even with an old movie like Halloween the most I’ve been able to watch is the opening credits . Being terrorized by a monster was just too familiar . As far as the holiday, I love dressing in silly costumes and making them .

  7. vucodlak says

    I love Halloween, horror, and all things related, but it’s never been about being scared for me. I like horror fiction because fear tends to strip away the masks we all wear. It’s easy to play the good person when you’re safe and things are going your way, but not so much when the world’s falling apart and the monsters are loose.

    I just don’t have much patience for the pretense and playacting that makes up so much of our day-to-day interactions. Probably because I was an extremely gullible and trusting child, which made me a magnet for every creep and bully around. Eventually, I learned that I can’t trust anyone or ever make myself vulnerable.

    People show you who they are when they’re afraid, and the best horror fiction captures that. Hero, villain, somewhere in between- scare someone bad enough, and you’ll find out where they fall. The very best horrors story are, above all else, honest looks at humanity. They lay bare what makes us us.

    Basically, I find horror stories uplifting. Even, and sometimes especially, the bleak ones. I can’t stand the kind of stories that are commonly presented as “feel good” stories. It’s not been my experience that life is any kind of a feel good story, but when people overcome some trial, or even try their best but still fail? That rings true to me. Life is a horror story, and that’s reason #1 why I like stories/things that many people would deem scary. Not because it scares me, but because I identify with it.

    Which brings me to reason #2 for my love of frightening things: I have never fit in, and never really grokked a great deal of the human experience. I don’t understand very well what drives human beings. I’m not possessed of any particular ambition, I strongly dislike competition, and I seem to lack the capacity to understand some emotional components of the human psyche. As such, I find I often identify with some so-called monsters of horror more than I ever have with human beings.

    This isn’t about wishing anyone harm. Rather, because I am different, ‘normal’ people often react with horror when they get to know the real me. Identifying with the monster is a fairly common phenomenon in the horror fandom which, ironically, makes my affinity for the outcast something I have common with (a certain segment of) humanity.

    As for what makes something truly frightening, for me it’s not knowing what I’m supposed to do in any given situation. As I said above, there’s a lot I don’t really grasp about being a human being. Of the things that I could potentially grasp, there are many things no one bothered to teach me, because “everyone knows X.” Well, I don’t know X, and I don’t know where or how to learn X, because it’s assumed to be something everyone knows.

    This leads to failure, which leads rejection, and rejection terrifies me. It’s a combination of my brain’s faulty wiring and a childhood where failure could be brutally punished. That makes me loath to experiment with the things that I don’t understand.

    I suppose that also accounts for some of my fascination for cosmic horror in particular. There is no “right way” to deal with something completely novel, so there would be nothing out of the ordinary about my not knowing what to do. Everyone would be in the same boat when confronted by some terror from beyond.

    For an example of somethings that I enjoy that legitimately frightens me, I offer the 1973 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which is the most frightening movie I’ve ever seen. There are a few that come close, like John Carpenter’s The Thing, but Invasion edges it out for me. The relentless paranoia, the slowly building tension, the realization that no matter how brave, strong, or smart the heroes are, they cannot win.

    For me, that’s where it edges out The Thing in terms of scariness. In The Thing, there’s a small chance that the cold will give whoever investigate what happened to the protagonists of that movie to destroy the invader before it can spread outside of Antarctica. In Invasion of the Body Snatchers, we watch the fall of a major city, and we have no reason to believe that anyone anywhere else on Earth is fairing any better.

    It’s frightening to lose myself in the atmosphere of a movie like that, yes, but what makes the fear enjoyable is knowing that the movie isn’t real. I am invested in the fates of the characters of a good horror movie, and I’m scared for them, but what allows me to enjoy the movie is that I’m also aware that no one is actually being hurt.

    While I don’t understand people all that well, I’m pretty sure that’s why everyone who enjoys being scared enjoys it. They know, deep down, that it’s all pretend, and they can walk away whenever they want. I hated horror movies as a child because I couldn’t make the separation between real fear and imagined, but once I could, I loved them.

    I’ll add that there are still plenty of kinds of horror I can’t stand. I find nothing enjoyable whatsoever in so-called “torture porn,” but I love a good cosmic horror story or creature feature. As a survivor of rape and torture, I find the former triggering and deeply unpleasant, but the latter, to me, is a lot of fun.

    Sorry for the super long ramble, but I hope it answers at least some of your questions.

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