Horror Movies Can Teach Us About Empathy.
What is empathy?
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Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of other people. When you are empathetic, you genuinely care about others and their emotions to the extent that you feel them yourself. You identify with what they’re going through and reflect on a time when you felt the same way. When watching horror movies, we can experience empathy toward the characters involved, and although the world of the film may sound like an unlikely teacher, it can be a great one.
Horror movies and empathy
One of the things that we feel empathy towards when watching a horror movie is the idea of being an innocent victim. There are so many things in our lives that we don’t have control over, and you may feel powerless. Everyone has experienced feeling a lack of power, and like you’re a victim of your circumstances. Horror movies show this to us, albeit in an extreme way. It’s a relatable feeling to be unable to control your circumstances and be fearful. Here are some instances where characters in films don’t have control.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
In A Nightmare on Elm Street, the characters are victims of Freddy Krueger. The killer visits them in their dreams, where they die, and then they pass away in real life. As a viewer watching the film, you can relate to feeling vulnerable when you’re sleeping. You’re empathetic towards the victims in the dreams because you understand what it’s like to be asleep and not have control over what’s happened to you and your dreams. When you watch the person die, you feel empathy towards their suffering. Nobody wants to be a victim and especially when they’re in a vulnerable state like sleep. In A Nightmare on Elm Street, you can feel empathetic towards the victims and understand that they are helpless. And you may remember a time when you felt powerless in your life.
In Scream, the killer is an expert in scary movies. He is using his knowledge of the genres to murder and get away with it. No matter how much you understand about horror films, there are only so many ways you can protect yourself. As a viewer, you can empathize with the fact that there are things that you’re very good at, but you can still get frustrated at these things. Watching this film, it can be a frustrating experience. If you are viewing it you probably know a lot about horror films, and you want to jump inside of the screen and tell the characters what not to do. You empathize with their anxiety and want to alleviate their pain. But you don’t have control over saving them. Everybody feels vulnerable sometimes. No matter how much you know about a topic or situation that interests you.
Viewer discretion and critical thinking
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While horror movies can teach us about empathy, there can be downsides of watching these films if you aren’t in the headspace to do so. An example of this would be a person who is significantly underage watching an R-rated horror film; part of our development from childhood to adulthood is developing grey-area thinking, and young children tend toward thinking in black and white. They categorize things as predominantly bad or good and don’t understand nuance in the full capacity that an adult does. They may also experience more fear when watching scary movies, though it depends on the child and the stimuli in the specific film. That said, some adults find that they’re also affected by horror films; if you find that you’re having trouble sleeping for nights after watching scary movies, you might want to limit yourself. It’s essential to use critical thinking skills when watching horror films. If you notice that you’re obsessed with them to a point where it distances you from reality, it could be something to talk about with a therapist. If these films trigger trauma you’ve been through on a level that impacts your ability to function, or if it increases your sense of paranoia substantially.
Therapy and counseling
Movies do a great job when it comes to pulling our heartstrings, but the theater isn’t the only place to develop a greater sense of compassion or empathy. Another place to work on your emotional insight is in therapy. Whether you work with someone online or in your local area, you can find a therapist or counselor that makes you feel safe and heard. Some people worry about the psychology behind why they enjoy horror films and fear that it may increase violence, but multiple studies show that this is not the case. If you’re worried about your or your child’s relationship with either horror films or empathy, seek the help of a mental health professional today.
Marie Miguel Biography
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.