Trick or Trauma: Getting through Halloween With PTSD

Jack-o-lantern

Ghosts, ghoulies, goblins. Zombies, Frankensteins, werewolves, vampires.

Rapists, murderers, muggers, psycho killers, serial murderers, child abusers, child molesters.

All of these are difficult to deal with. Especially at Halloween. When you are a child who has not experienced trauma, going to a haunted maze or a scary movie is a fun way to celebrate this more terrifying time of year. However, when you have experienced evil in person, and been attacked by some of those above, Halloween can be a different experience.

A friend of mine who was, sadly, raped by a stranger, does not like Halloween. Strangers knock on her door and ask for candy, everyone has masks, some have weapons, although they are fake, and everyone reminds her of the terror she felt. She does purchase paid in, however, her participation is very limited.

Another person I know, who went through trauma, joyfully goes to amusement park haunted houses, and laughs, stating, “Please, is that the best that you can do?”  Needless to say, he has seen worse.

So, how does one get through Halloween with PTSD?

I think the answer is threefold. The first part is the person going through this needs to use techniques to ground themselves to the here and now. The second part is the person going through this needs to decide going into it how they want to get meaning out of the holidays. The third part involves a lot of self-acceptance.

Sometimes, in events like this, some people can be easily triggered, particularly when they have been the victim of human on human physical crime, such as assault, rape, and/or murder of a loved one. Grounding techniques are methods that can quickly bring them back from the place of fear.  The techniques can be a simple as reminding themselves of where they are and when they are. They’re not in in that bedroom or dark alley. They may be at home, safe with their families and kids. Reminding themselves of this fact can be helpful. They are in the present, as well. They’re not back at the time of the trauma.

My general recommendation for anyone who is having difficulty with staying in touch with their body and what’s happening to them, is to do the following:

Get some kind of physical sensation by tapping their knees or their face with their hands lightly,

Going through their five sensesAnd noticing what they detect in this order: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell,

Reminding themselves of where they are and when they are, and

Finally, reminding themselves that this is actually their brain trying to heal itself, that it is normal, given what they went through, and that it will pass. If you have questions on this point, message me.

When someone has gone through a traumatic event, they oftentimes find that their way of viewing the world has been changed significantly. No longer is the world safe. Danger can lurk anywhere. Danger can even be in the costumed teenager at your door. However, not everything is danger, even when your body says otherwise.  It is, however, always in your best interest to double check if your Spidey-Sense is going off. A lot of the way that one approaches holidays and events like this is in the way that one thinks about it to begin with.    Ask yourself, are holidays and events like this threats, where you have to be on the defense continuously and not participate at all?  Or are they ones where you can have a moderate amount of safety preparation, i.e. locking windows, not going out if you don’t want to (or going out with trusted friends), and using a peephole to check outside your door first?  Can you enjoy focusing on giving candy out and letting the more troubling thoughts simply be acknowledged, checked for truth, and then let go?  Do you trust your ability to protect yourself if the worst happened?  If not, where can you go to get training to assure yourself and assure possible perpetrators of your ability to protect yourself?  There are plenty of places around.  For example, our office has a karate studio across the hall.

Choose now how you want to ENJOY the holiday, not hide from it.  Decide now what activities you will enjoy.  Maybe going to a friend’s house to help with giving candy.  Maybe having friends over.  Maybe walking your kids with a friend around the neighborhood.  You CAN choose.  Alternatively, you can be like some I know and go to the haunted house and laugh at it as a way to laugh at the power that PTSD seems to have over you.  It is YOUR choice.  You CAN choose what you are comfortable with.

Self-forgiveness figures into all this.  You did not choose to experience what you did.  You did not choose to experience PTSD.  However, you can do what you can, and simply allow yourself to be human.  Self-forgiveness really is a misnomer, to be truthful.  Self-acceptance is a better way to put it.  When you begin to accept that which you experience in the here and now, you begin to feel less anxious about it and you let go of what you are “supposed” to be.  When you accept who you are, that gives you breathing room to then become not what you are “supposed” to be, but who you WANT to be.  If you don’t want to go in the haunted house at the amusement park, that’s perfectly fine.  If you are OK with just walking your kids around the block, that’s perfectly fine.  If you just want to turn off your lights and go out to dinner with a friend to a romantic comedy movie, GREAT.  YOU are in control of how you want to celebrate or not celebrate.  Relish that.

Halloween is more than a scary holiday.  It is also a holiday where we honor the dead whom we love.  Turn it into that if you want.  In some religions, it is their New Year, so, celebrate New Year’s a little early.  JUST HAVE FUN ENJOYING WHATEVER WAY WORKS FOR YOU.  Allow it to have some positive meaning.

Make it a celebration of your turning away from terror and towards life.

Happy Halloween.

About Nate Prentice, MSW, LCSW, CAS-PC

Nate Prentice, MSW, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Pastoral Counselor who maintains a private psychotherapy practice in Drexel Hill, PA.
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5 Responses to Trick or Trauma: Getting through Halloween With PTSD

  1. Pingback: Trick or Trauma: Getting through Halloween With PTSD | Vantage Point Therapy

  2. Hi Nate,

    I was Googling to find some articles on PTSD and Halloween. And I found your blog. Thanks for what you’re sharing, however do you think it’s wise to use this “charged” image for this article? Maybe not, eh? 🙂

    Regards,

    Andre

    • I thought about what you said, and, with all due respect, I don’t think it is so charged. I like to credit folks who have PTSD with being able to handle more than most of us can. Thank you for your concern for people with PTSD, however.

    • I hear you, I understand your point of view, though, even if I would disagree. One does not consider if an image is charged, somewhat charged or not. The nature of PSD is that it’s a reaction. It is simply a red flag for someone who suffers from these kinds of conditions, an immediate deterrent and the person never even had a chance to read anything. I copy-pasted your article to share with a friend who suffers from PTSD. I would never dream to assume to know for sure that it’s OK to expose my friend to a Jack O’ Lantern. But it’s your blog, people coming to it – who know you – may expect to be challenged. I was new.

      Regards,

      Andre

    • Not a problem. I am making a judgment call, but I appreciate you looking out for others.

      Best regards,

      Nate Prentice

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