The Innateness of Horror?

By: Kiki Couger

I was a terrifying child. In fact, I feel really bad for my parents because they had to put up with me. I was scrawny and had a rat’s nest of hair that resulted in a lot of people calling me ‘Scarecrow.’ I would stay up late, leading to large, dark circles under my eyes that would seem even darker because of my basically translucent skin. During the day, I would stay to myself mostly, talking to my imaginary friend, Izzy, and playing in the woods behind my house. I would pretend to find some terrible things: heads with sunken eyes from soldiers who had died in wars years past, ghost children, and a multitude of dead animals with rotting corpses. These were not the only reasons why I could have starred in my own horror film.

Similar to Frankie in The Bees, I experienced what are called Night Terrors. This is actually a surprisingly common phenomenon among children, but it is not something that should happen every night. Even when a parent is accustomed to their child waking up, screaming hysterically, it is still quite a shock. It is even worse when your child is in a trance and is unresponsive to external stimuli. I do not remember having these episodes but my parents tell me, like Chaon, that it is one of the worst sounds a parent can imagine. The first time that it happened, they apparently ran into my room thinking that there was an intruder violently stabbing me. Fortunately, for me, that wasn’t happening. My parents describe my first night terror, which happened when I was 6 years old, as me frantically rolling around in my bed, tied up in my sheets, screaming with my eyes wide open. That reaction, in itself, could be the basis for the next exorcism film.

I have wondered why I am so drawn to horror. Maybe there is a certain personality type that is just attracted to things that are repulsive, that cause one’s heart to beat incessantly. I stopped having night terrors around 10 years old. Interestingly enough, this was around the time I started watching horror films. I remember at my friend’s 10th birthday party we all sat around watching The Ring while other kids our age put in The Lion King and ate ice cream. Perhaps when something so horrific in my life (the night terrors) went away, I felt the desire to replace it with something else horrific. This is plausible to me. Even after the night terrors went away and I had to actually search for things that legitimately scared me, my horror-like tendencies remained. Anyone who sits next to me in class can attest to the fact that I draw eyes all over my notes. I didn’t even realize that this was weird or possibly horrifying until someone pointed it out to me. I taught my pet bird, Pika, to sing the Kill Bill whistle song, Twisted Nerve. Apparently, it’s unnerving to some people to walk into my apartment and hear this ominous song being whistled by a cockatiel. I guess horror is something that I just subconsciously (and actually, consciously) immerse myself in.

(Note: if you want some sense of what night terrors look like, I found two videos. I think this one is good because it shows a child having a night terror and I only had mine when I was younger. It also demonstrates how inconsolable a child is when they are having a night terror. This one is just terrifying. The guy had to chain himself to his bed in order to contain his night terror. Spooky! It’s crazy how little control we have over ourselves when we’re sleeping!)

10 thoughts on “The Innateness of Horror?

  1. I’ve never made the connection between night terrors and horror. I guess I considered the ones experienced in The Bees to just be something caused by the ghost and not actually night terrors. Your explanation makes a lot of sense though. Also, that’s pretty awesome that you can teach your bird songs, especially like the one from Kill Bill. My cats don’t really do anything cool like that, and I’m super jealous.

  2. I’m oddly tempted to click on the video links but I realize that would be a bad decision on my part. I used to have nightmares that freaked my family out (they have NOTHING on yours though) but they would always go away soon. I have witnessed you drawing the eyes but they never struck me as horrifying. I actively attempt to avoid all things related to horror as I am a giant chicken, so I would’ve joined the ranks of the children watching The Lion King. As a psych major, I am curious to see if this was just isolated to you or if this is commonplace in your family.

  3. I am extremely interested in the relation of night terrors and horror. I never experienced the night terrors as a child, but I have loved horror since I was a small child. I watched so many scary movies that I now am not afraid of scary movies. I search for things that scare me. Also, I love the fact that you taught your bird the Kill Bill song. It was on the first season of American Horror Story and I walked around campus whistling it for a full week. The reactions were wicked!

  4. When I was growing up, I had an imaginary family that I would never stop talking about. A mother and a father and 5 siblings and I named every single one of them. They lived in california and I would tell my real family all the time that I was going to stay with my family and they would always get really weird about it because they didn’t understand. Looking back on it now, I don’t really understand why I had an imaginary family either. Also, on the topic of night terrors, I think that is terrifying that you can do so many things while you are sleeping and then wake up in the morning and not remember anything. This is extremely dangerous in my opinion especially because specialists say that it even gets to the point where some people drive cars when they are sleeping.

  5. I’ve never experienced night terrors, but they sound terrifying. You making the relation between night terrors and horror is interesting and does seem to make sense. It’s such a coincidence that your night terrors stopped after you started watching horror movies. I have seen The Ring as well and it’s up there in my list of top scariest movies. I’ve always wondered what it is that people see when they are having night terrors, like if they are seeing some of their deepest fears in their sleep or it is just their brains tricking them into thinking they are. Also, the having an imaginary friend thing. That creeps me out so much now after seeing so many movies where the parents think that the kid is just talking about/to their imaginary friend, but it turns out to be a ghost or demon.

  6. While I have never had night terrors of any sort, I do have scary dreams almost every single night. This has been occurring for about two years (I think) and I always remember the dreams. While they are pretty disturbing and can revolve around anything from murder to ghosts, the strange thing is that when I wake up from a dream I am not scared at all. While most people who have scary dreams wake up sweating or with their heart pounding really fast, I just wake up like normal. It is almost like I have become used to having these dreams and therefore don’t have any biological reaction. Anyway, I have always been curious as to why I have these kinds of dreams and what makes me susceptible to them. There was not any event that triggered these dreams starting two years ago. One time I tried googling “why do I have so many scary dreams” and the first thing that popped up on Google was a blog that talked about how you will have a lot of scary dreams if you are not baptized since you are at risk for being a target for demons. I am in fact not baptized, although I really do not think (I hope!) that it has anything to do with my dreams.

  7. I think you would have loved my home when you were a kid. I live on 18 acres of woods that we could run around in, and since there are coyotes and my dad was a hunter, you could find animal bones all over the place. My little sister is actually collecting bones now, both as a hobby and to use in art projects. But it is interesting that you started watching scary movies when your night terrors ended. At first I thought that you watched the movie first and that stopped your night terrors, which would have been something amazing, but it seems that that’s not the case. Still, your need to have horror in your life is quite interesting, especially if it was a way to replace the night terrors. How often do you watch scary movies etc? Have you tried to experiment by not associating yourself with horror for a while and see how it affects you? That might be interesting to test, although if it were to bring night terrors back, that would be pretty awful.

  8. I used to experience night terrors as well. I would wake up with my parents standing over me, my throat raw from screaming. Unlike you, however, I remember almost every single time this happened. My dreams never involved anything supernatural, they were mostly gory or psychologically traumatic (involved the death of my family members, of myself, etc.). After several counseling sessions with my aunt who is a therapist, I stopped having night terrors. While I have the occasional nightmare here and there, after talking to my aunt, I have never woken up screaming.

  9. This story reminded me about a time I went to the open house of one of the girls I used to dance with in high school. My entire old high school dance team went to the open house and we were all sitting in a circle talking about random things. One of the girl’s brought up something called sleep paralysis, in which you think that you’re awake and able to speak and move and see, but in reality you aren’t awake, you can’t move, sometimes you can’t breathe and it feels as if someone is on top of you holding you down. A total of three girls on the team talked about having this experience, sometimes multiple times throughout the week, which seemed terrifying to me. Some of them told me that they would be in the midst of a bad dream, and would be attempting to wake themselves up but because of sleep paralysis, they could not wake up as fast as they would like to while having that scary dream. I’ve never experienced night terrors, and I don’t know of anyone personally who has, but this story definitely made me think about the conversation that my old team and I had about sleep paralysis.

  10. This was a great post and can relate to the fact that I started staying up too late and have gotten those dark circles under my eyes too! I guess since I always slept like a rock when I was a baby, or would just sneak out of crib and wonder around adventurously, I never had any relation to horror, but adventure. I also think that now that you have begun to think about horror stories more and have interacted with them more, you are easily able to draw this conclusion because of the availability heuristics. BOOM! Psychology.

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