Teraphobia Explained: What is the Fear of Monsters?

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I remember being a child and thinking there were monsters in my closet or hiding under my bed. The fear was so real that my heart would race and my palms would sweat, as I called for my parents to come to my room. Can you relate?

I’m betting you can… since teraphobia is very common in pre-school aged children – and can even linger into their elementary years. In fact, there have also been documented cases of teraphobia in teens and adults, although more rare. 

These cases are usually driven by something a bit more specific (think horror movies, urban legends, poltergeists or the fear of a true evil).

Today, we’re going to educate you on this fascinating phobia… whether your own child or grandchild is suffering from it, or someone else. Maybe it’s you? Or maybe you’re just curious?  

We will define teraphobia, learn how to identify its symptoms, explore potential causes of this fear and provide a few actionable strategies to overcome it.

What is Teraphobia?

Simply put, teraphobia is a fear of monsters. It can lead or extend to a fear of the dark, as those who suffer from this phobia may begin to wonder what is lurking in the darkness.

According to an article from BestLife, the fear of what’s under the bed (a form of teraphobia) is among the 20 most common childhood fears. In fact, 87 percent of Americans won't sleep with their feet outside of the blanket, for fear of being snatched up by The Boogeyman.

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Causes of any phobia are often rooted in a childhood experience. 

My children, ages 7-11, won’t sleep without covers… no matter how hot it is. I think they believe it’s some sort of forcefield.  I know I used to at their age. And, honestly, whatever makes them feel safe is ok by me.

Symptoms of Teraphobia

As with any phobia, symptoms of teraphobia will typically present themselves in a few common ways.  These include:

  • Panic or anxiety attacks
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Night sweats or chills
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Hyperventilating
  • Nausea or decreased appetite (*especially in children)

Other symptoms, specific to teraphobia, include feelings of:

  • Fear of being attacked by monsters
  • Fear of being eaten by monsters
  • Fear about things “going bump in the night”
  • Anxiety about watching monster horror movies
  • Trouble sleeping in complete darkness because the dark may hide a monster
  • Fears that there might be a monster lurking

Causes of Teraphobia

Causes of any phobia are often rooted in a childhood experience.  Generally speaking, things like a parents’ divorce or death of a loved one can trigger phobias.  Also, social circumstances can come into play, like being teased at school or fears of not being good enough.

But phobias don’t necessarily have to be triggered by a traumatic experience, especially for a phobia such as this, which is most prominant in young children.

That said, possible causes of teraphobia often include:

  • Exposure to a scary movie, television show or story
  • A nightmare
  • Influence of an older sibling or friend
  • Fear of the dark
  • Shadows that appear to be “monster-like”
  • Sounds from outside, such as the wind against a branch

How to Treat Teraphobia

There are different ways of treating teraphobia, depending on the age of the person afflicted with it.

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Things like a parents’ divorce or death of a loved one can trigger phobias.

When treating teraphobia in a young child, the following methods (or combination of) may work:

  • Talk with them, provide reassurance that monsters aren’t real and you are there to protect them.
  • Declare a “safe space” in your child’s room, or closeby. This should be somewhere they can go when the fear of monsters starts to surface.  You can give them a flashlight or battery operated lantern, or get creative and make a “runway” out of rope lights to lead them there.
  • Concoct a monster potion. In a plastic jar, blend food coloring and sugar water.  Then drop in some beads or marbles.  Be sure to have your child choose a color that they believe scares monsters away.  Then tell them the beads and marbles are there because monsters don’t like round objects.  But honestly, you can be as creative as you want with this.  You can even make a calming glitter jar and tell your child it is capable of protection.
  • Rewards for being brave. You can make them a certificate or medallion, and give them an extra hour of technology time or treat them to ice cream, etc… for facing their fears.

For older children, adults or severe cases of teraphobia, you may want to consider:

  • Exposure Therapy. Since monsters aren’t real, exposure therapy may look a bit different in treating teraphobia.  For instance, you can try watching a horror movie with someone else (or a group) and afterwards talk about it.  Then, find behind-the-scenes or director's cuts of the film to explain how these creatures were made and the thought behind them. Sometimes seeing the actor that played the creature takes some of the sting out of their bite. This worked on my son when he was afraid of Lord Voldemort.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  Traditional therapy can work very well for phobias and anxiety.  You can find a licensed therapist online or seek help in person.  Sometimes talking about it with someone other than a family member or friend is the way to go.
  • Support Groups/Online Forums. If you feel the problem is getting bad, but you still haven’t hit the point of no return, talking to other people in the same boat as you can make this phobia seem less scary… literally.

Final Thoughts on Teraphobia

If you read this article to the end, you are one of two kinds of people.  You are either someone whose life has been affected by teraphobia in some way or you’re a non-believer who has your doubts that this is a real thing.  Well, I’m here to tell you it is.

In fact, Disney even made a little movie based on teraphobia. You may have heard of it… Monsters Inc.? It grossed $577.4 million at the box office – and its sequel a whopping $743.6 million, both earning their place in the top 10 grossing Pixar Films of all time since their release.

Just as with any other phobia, teraphobia is one to be taken seriously.  If it is scary enough to disrupt someone’s life, it is worth trying to find help.  Not doing so can lead to a slew of physical and mental issues, some of which may not be as easily cured.

Nicole Krause has been writing both personally and professionally for over 20 years. She holds a dual B.A. in English and Film Studies. Her work has appeared in some of the country’s top publications, major news outlets, online publications and blogs. As a happily married (and extremely busy) mother of four… her articles primarily focus on parenting, marriage, family, finance, organization and product reviews.

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