7 Ways Halloween May Negatively Affect Trauma Victims
What do you like (or not like) about Halloween? For me, I have firm feelings that most likely will never change. On one hand I can understand the interest and amusement inherent in deviating from the natural, monotonous, and boring daily lives most of us feel we live sometimes. I also understand the joy inherent in watching children dress up, get candy, and enjoy the thrills of fantasy. But what I don’t like about Halloween is the perpetual, unending, and senseless embracing of callous and traumatic material.
This article will discuss some things we may need to consider as a society during this dichotomous “holiday.”
In 2015 I wrote an article on this blog regarding the negative ways Halloween can affect those who are living with or recovering from trauma. It was a real concern for me at that time as I had been working in a residential treatment facility for children and teens who had severe behavioral or mental health challenges. I would walk the halls and go in and out of the various units on the campus-like facility grounds. I would see eye balls hanging from the ceilings, hands poke out around the corner, and red food coloring to mimic the terrifying color of blood. Despite the severe issues many of those kids dealt with (e.g., severe mental illness, psychosis, delusional beliefs, night terrors, suicidal thoughts, severe cutting and self injurious behaviors, etc), Halloween was still celebrated. Thankfully the facility did not allow the kids and teens to wear masks or anything that may be considered disrespectful to someone’s race or religion.
But even still, Halloween did not seem to be an appropriate “holiday” for these kids. If we look into the wider society, Halloween may not be so wonderful after all. Just take a look at the millions of people who have experienced tragedies this year. How do they see Halloween? 2017 has been quite the journey for most of us.
What about the individuals who suffer from dissociation (i.e., a feeling of being detached from reality) and depersonalization (i.e., a feeling of being unreal)? Or what about women who have lost a fetus or a baby who may see someone pretending to be pregnant? And we certainly cannot forget the families who have been affected by terrorism, natural disasters, police brutality, and murder? To see costumes representing police, a criminal, a cultural stigma or symbol, and/or personal injury with blood can be traumatic. It’s worth considering.
I have listed a few things below that I’m sure we can all forget or may have never thought of. There are a few symbols of Halloween that I think we all tend to minimize as traumatic for some and these things include (but are not limited to):
- Knives, guns, sticks, ropes, and other weapons: Individuals who are victims of traumatic robberies, rape, sexual assault, etc. can all be negatively impacted by any costume or decoration(s) that uses knives, guns, and other weapons to engage in the holiday.
- Blood or some other form of bodily fluid or injury: It seems to me that the only time blood and other bodily fluids or body ailments are tolerated by most of society is during Halloween. But try that on a typical day and you are likely to get a bunch of stares, comments, and even complaints. So why is Halloween the “pass” needed to accept these things or permit them? It shouldn’t be. Sadly, millions of people buy into the business of Halloween and fail to recognize that any costume or decoration can negatively affect those around us. I suppose it is safe to say that certain aspects of Halloween has absolutely no empathy or pro-social awareness.
- Law enforcement or official attire: People who have spent years in prison, feel they have been wronged by law enforcement, or has claimed insensitivity at the hands of law enforcement may struggle with costumes that represent police, constables, etc. We cannot forget the tragedies of police-civilian brutality from Ferguson, Missouri, and many other states. Their families are still hurting. We also cannot forget the many fallen officers who have died in the act of duty. Their families have to be reminded of such things during this time of the year.
- Tomb stones, grave yards, death, murder: Veterans who are suffering from Post Trauma Stress Disorder may also be negatively impacted by Halloween. Sadly, there are some people who lack knowledge and have no idea how their home or their costume could be affecting someone who has experienced death or murder. A veteran who may have witnessed death and murder may find it very difficult to engage in this holiday. Someone who has lost a child to murder or crime may also struggle with seeing a tombstone. These are all triggers to traumatic pain.
- Demons, witches/hags, etc: For children and teens who experience night terrors or adults who suffer from sleep paralysis or nightmares will not find these Halloween symbols amusing at all. In fact, they can serve as triggers to the horrifying nature of their sleeping mind. I remember counseling a 5 year old client about 7 years ago who hated everything about Halloween. She had good reason. She was placed in an orphanage in Russia at only 3 months old where she lacked the emotional and physical connection of a parental figure. She also was stimulated in the many ways babies should be stimulated. Her developmental milestones were delayed and she was ultimately diagnosed with sensory processing disorder and some features of autism spectrum disorder. Because of the intermix of trauma and various developmental delays, this poor child was terrified of any costume or scenery that represented demons, spirits, witches, or any other unearthly looking thing. I’m sure she’s not the only child who has experienced this.
- Cultures, race, religion: Making fun of Christianity ( or other religions) , cultures (i.e., Hispanics, African Americans, Native Americans, etc) and skin tone is the lowest expression of this holiday. It should never happen. It is completely unacceptable. If someone wants to dress up to reflect their own culture, race, or religion, that is fine. But anything other than this is purely insensitive. It may reflect more about that person than it does the costume itself.
- Age, mental illness, crime: Believe it or not, there are some people who will dress as an old lady or man, someone who is “insane” or unstable, or criminal in some fashion. It never really fails. I have seen a lot of people dress up like a criminal. In fact, Target has a “Public Offender” and a “Smooth Criminal” costume. And lets take a look at Amazon who has a “Mental Patient” costume. Wow. Good going society. Disgusting costume to say the least.
Can you think of other symbols that may be troubling for some people? I am sure you can argue that all holidays serve as a trigger. But GE point is not the holiday itself, but the costumes and insensitivity.
As always, looking forward to your insights and experiences.
All the best
Please note: all references are embedded in this article.
Hill, T. (2017). 7 Ways Halloween May Negatively Affect Trauma Victims. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 24, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/caregivers/2017/10/7-ways-halloween-may-negatively-affect-trauma-victims/