Children often fear monsters after exposure to scary stories, movies, or a haunted house. For some, this fear may persist, becoming a more significant issue.

For centuries, humans have been captivated by tales of monsters. Mythical creatures like the one-eyed, man-eating Cyclops and the Kraken, a massive sea monster that sinks ships, have fueled our imaginations through generations. This fascination persists in modern times with the popularity of horror movies and novels.

While many find thrill in these stories, for some, fear can escalate into a phobia. Teraphobia, the fear of monsters and mythical creatures, is particularly common among children. While most eventually outgrow this fear, it can persist into adulthood.

Let’s delve into the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for teraphobia.

Teraphobia, or “monster phobia,” is the fear of monsters or mythical creatures. Like other types of phobias, teraphobia can cause intense anxiety and fear, leading to avoidance of media, situations, or objects associated with monsters.

Teraphobia isn’t specifically listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). However, it can be considered a type of Specific Phobia, categorized under ‘Specific Phobia: Other Type’ within the broader category.

Specific phobia occurs in 7.4% of individuals, making it one of the most common mental health disorders. In all types of phobias, the fear is disproportionate to the actual danger posed.

Causes of teraphobia

The exact cause of specific phobias can vary from person to person and may involve a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors.

Studies show that anxiety disorders can run in families. This is especially evident in identical twins (who share the same genes), having a higher likelihood of both having anxiety disorders compared to fraternal twins (who share about half their genes).

Specific phobias develop in two primary ways:

  • through innate fears, known as nonexperiential phobias
  • through direct, learned experiences, known as experiential phobias

For some people, teraphobia may stem from innate fears of the unknown or the dark, which are common in childhood.

Others may develop teraphobia after a direct and frightening encounter with a monster-like figure, such as someone in a costume.

Exposure to scary media, like movies or stories featuring monsters, can also contribute, especially if the person is highly impressionable or experiences a particularly vivid or traumatic portrayal of monsters. These experiences can create lasting impressions and associations, leading to a persistent fear of monsters.

Teraphobia can involve the following:

Intense fear or anxiety

Individuals with teraphobia experience an overwhelming and persistent fear or anxiety when confronted with situations, images, or thoughts related to monsters.

Avoidance behavior

A person with teraphobia might avoid watching movies, TV shows, or reading books that feature monsters, even if the content is mild or intended for children. They may also avoid Halloween events, haunted houses, cosplay events, or any setting where they might encounter monster imagery.

Physical symptoms

Individuals with teraphobia may experience physical symptoms like sweating, trembling, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, or even full-blown panic attacks. These physical reactions are involuntary and can be debilitating.

Sleep disruption

Nighttime can be particularly challenging, as the fear of monsters can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.

A child with teraphobia might resist or delay bedtime, fearing monsters will appear once the lights are off. They may need a nightlight or a closed closet to feel safe. Frequent nightmares involving monsters can lead to waking up scared and calling for a parent or caregiver for comfort.

Awareness of irrationality

Despite knowing that their fear is irrational or unfounded, individuals with teraphobia find it challenging to control their reactions. This awareness can add to their distress, as they may feel frustrated or embarrassed about their fear.

Teraphobia in children

Childhood teraphobia may manifest in the following ways:

  • Sleep avoidance: making excuses to avoid bedtime
  • Clinging behavior: excessive clinginess at bedtime
  • Physical symptoms: stomachaches, headaches, or nausea at bedtime
  • Increased vigilance: constant scanning for monsters or seeking reassurance
  • Avoidance of media: avoiding media with monsters
  • Refusal to enter certain rooms: avoiding dark or secluded rooms, including closets
  • Imaginary companions: creating imaginary friends or rituals for safety
  • Sleepwalking or night terrors: severe cases may lead to sleep disturbances

Teraphobia in adults

Teraphobia in adults may manifest in the following ways:

  • Avoidance behavior: avoiding horror media and places associated with monsters
  • Sleep disturbances: difficulty sleeping, needing lights or security measures
  • Hypervigilance: constantly checking for threats, like under the bed or in closets
  • Physical symptoms: increased heart rate, sweating, shaking, or nausea
  • Social avoidance: avoiding social situations involving monsters
  • Nightmares and night terrors: frequent nightmares leading to disrupted sleep
  • Ritualistic behavior: developing rituals to ward off monsters
  • Embarrassment: feeling embarrassed or ashamed, leading to isolation
  • Validate their feelings: Acknowledge and empathize with their fear without dismissing it.
  • Create a safe environment: Use night lights, establish a bedtime check-in routine, and ensure their room feels secure.
  • Model calm behavior: Demonstrate calm and confident reactions to their fears to provide reassurance.
  • Gradual exposure: Slowly introduce less scary monster images or stories, progressing to more challenging ones over time.
  • Teach coping skills: Introduce breathing exercises and encourage positive imagery to calm their anxiety.
  • Positive reinforcement: Praise and reward bravery in facing their fears to build confidence.

Specific phobia is commonly treated with exposure therapy, a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in which you gradually confront the feared object or situation. This therapy can be challenging but is effective in reducing fear and anxiety.

Medications such as beta-blockers and certain antidepressants, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are commonly used off-label to help manage symptoms of specific phobias. Beta-blockers can help reduce physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heartbeat and trembling, while SSRIs can help alleviate general anxiety symptoms.

Other treatments, such as virtual therapy, hypnosis, and family therapy, may also be considered. The goal of treatment is to help you recognize that the feared stimulus is not dangerous and to provide support.

Teraphobia is an intense, irrational fear of monsters or mythical creatures. It can develop from exposure to a frightening movie or book, a haunted house, or a realistic-looking monster costume.

If you suspect you or your child has teraphobia, and it’s interfering with daily life, consider seeking guidance from a mental health professional. A therapist can offer support, help you understand the fear, and provide strategies to help you manage it.