I have a vivid imagination and get terrified by violent imagery — yet the creepy and the thrilling calls to me.
When I was in my early teens, my best friend told me about a book she was reading that she couldn’t stop thinking about. She filled me in on the story and naturally, as best friends, soon we were both close to obsessed. We traded it back and forth, and I would browse through the pages whenever she left the book for me to catch up. This went on for months.
But, while both of us were spellbound, only one of us was completely terrified — me. The book was Stephen King’s It, and I could only take on a few pages at once. My friend had to read ahead and give me summaries of her favorite scenes, because I never quite managed to read the whole thing. I knew the story largely through her.
At the time, you might think I was just a scared little kid. But even now, as an adult, creepy or frightening stories still affect me deeply. Except, now I know it’s because I am a highly sensitive person (HSP).
But here’s the thing: I was spellbound. I keep on reading (and watching) creepy stories anyway.
Why HSPs Usually Avoid Horror and Suspense
I’ve always had a vivid imagination, and I’ve always been more disturbed by sad or scary stories and events than most of my peers. As a kid, this left me feeling alienated or “wrong,” especially compared to my friends.
Only recently did I discover that I’m a highly sensitive person and what that means. Being an HSP makes me more sensitive to sensory stimuli. It’s why I process things deeply, and — most importantly — why I feel things deeply, too.
Suddenly it makes sense that my friend could enjoy the thrill of Stephen King while It left me with nightmares for years. (It’s also at least partially to blame for my fear of clowns.)
So you’d think I might avoid strong stimuli, and most of the time, I do. I prefer online shopping to the mall; small gatherings to big parties; unscented to scented anything. Yet the creepy and the thrilling hold an irresistible fascination for me.
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I’m Drawn to Disturbing Stories Even Though I’m Highly Sensitive
To be clear: Not gore! I don’t do the stuff with graphic images that make you scream. Like most HSPs, I have a hard time with violent imagery, even if it’s fictional. What fascinates me is the stuff that gives you the chills, gives you goosebumps, makes your hair stand up at the back of your neck. The disquieting.
It calls to me, and it’s a call I can’t refuse.
Why do I do this to myself as an HSP? In my defense, I do stick to the more sophisticated stuff. As a result of being highly intuitive and perceptive, HSPs have strong “bullshit-detectors;” I get very annoyed when a story doesn’t add up. Instead of horror movies (which I think are not just overwhelming, but usually pretty dumb), I watch thrillers or mysteries when I want a couple of nights of bad sleep.
The Shining? An excellent movie by my favorite director, the brilliant Stanley Kubrick. I don’t even dare to google it out of fear what images might come up, yet how could I say no (it ruined hotel hallways for me forever!)?
Paranormal events, ghost stories, twisted characters: I know I shouldn’t read about them, not listen to the stories, look away. I know it’s bad for me, will give me nightmares, anxiety, make me jump at shadows (HSPs are jumpy!). But I’m forever hooked.
So, how am I dealing with my “guilty pleasure” as someone who’s affected by everything so deeply? Luckily, over the years and through learning more about high sensitivity, I was able to develop strategies to help me process disquieting information when I seek it out (this is an important distinction!) without damage to my mental wellbeing. Here are my tips for fellow HSPs with a fascination for the creepy:
How to Enjoy Scary Movies When You’re Highly Sensitive
1. Keep it light (literally)
This is obvious, but essential: Don’t consume creepy content in the dark. Turn on all the lights you will need later — this will save you unnerving trips to the next light switch.
And don’t be embarrassed to invest in a soothing nightlight (something with a warm glow) for your bedroom to keep your vivid HSP imagination from running wild.
2. Comic relief
But you can also use that to your advantage. Dissolve the tension by either making fun of what’s going on on-screen or by watching or reading something goofy and up-beat afterwards. This is very powerful — it’s like a light switch for your mood.
3. Don’t go it alone
No matter how old you are, make sure you don’t have to walk home alone from your the viewing party or movie theater. If possible, have someone else around the night that you watch or read something scary. Someone to cuddle up to is best.
If no human is available, letting your pet sleep with you can be very calming, too.
4. Be skeptical
This is where the HSP brain’s tendency to seek answers or overthink comes in handy! Don’t just accept what’s presented to you as fact. Even if you’re dealing with fictional content, activate your critical thinking. Once you analyze a story, the “inexplicable” will seem less mysterious, and therefore less scary.
5. Be compassionate, even toward monsters
Why not use another HSP superpower, empathy, and switch perspective? This may seem a bit silly, but it works: Try to put yourself in the shoes of what scares you. It must be lonely to be a ghost. Maybe that’s why they’re trying to contact people? Or, what if they want to go to heaven, but they don’t know how, and are looking for help? As your compassion grows, your fear will shrink.
6. Get knowledgeable
Just like compassion, knowledge will help you feel in control of your nerves. If you are into true crime, check your local police department — many departments offer safety education or even self-defense classes. (This will also up your critical thinking, since you’ll know when a scenario in a movie is completely unrealistic.) If you’re fascinated by the paranormal, find scientific publications from sophisticated sources on the topic — the kind that explain the brain glitches that make us experience ghosts, or the cognitive biases behind superstitions.
As human beings, we are afraid of the unknown. Educating yourself will empower you.
7. Quit when you need to
As an HSP, you’re genetically designed to react more strongly to stimuli. Therefore, you should never feel obligated to “go through with” a story or a movie. When it makes you too uncomfortable, stop — even if you are at the movies with a group of friends. No one should expect you to be sick to your stomach just to stay with the group. (If you have a hard time saying no, read this.)
Remember, your sensitivity is an asset, not a flaw, and you have to respect your gift.
Don’t let sinister feelings linger. Bring peace to your mind according to your belief system. Say a prayer when you feel uneasy. Put up a crucifix if it makes you feel safe. Burn some sage. Or even take a shower (unless you just watched Psycho!). The point is to ground yourself — whatever helps you to chase that dark mood away. You’ll feel lighter instantly.
The more self-aware you are of your needs and limits, the better you will be able to actually enjoy your spooky streak. And remember, as Morticia Addams said:
“Normal is an illusion. What’s normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.”