You’ve probably already heard of the internet’s beloved corner of Reddit known as “Oddly Terrifying,” which is home to a whopping 2.5M members. The community is dedicated to sending chills down people’s spines by sharing images that are hard to look at, yet tempting to watch, in a strange way.
“It’s hard for us to look away from unsettling photos and videos because they challenge our usual ways of perceiving and cataloging the world, disrupting our sense of ordered reality and even suggesting that reality might be something other than we thought it was,” Lisa Yaszek, a Regents Professor of Science Fiction Studies at Georgia Tech, previously explained the phenomenon to Bored Panda.
While we may feel completely safe while watching uncanny images, glancing into weird and terrifying-looking objects, places, and people, encountering something odd and terrifying in reality is rather different. So in order to find out how terrifying experiences and events affect our personalities and behavior, as well as ways to build resilience to them, we spoke with Dennis Roberts, an American clinical psychologist based in Paris from the Paris Psychology Centre.
Roberts explained that frightening experiences can be challenging for us, but it’s important to remember that they don’t really change who we are. “Sometimes people can experience events that are so overwhelming that they feel that they will never be the same again. And that’s understandable,” he said.
According to Roberts, what really changes, though, is our sense of security in our environment. “Someone who has been in a severe car accident, for example, might say that they have trouble feeling safe in a car following the accident. Their personality hasn’t changed, but their sense of safety in that environment is now different,” he explained.
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It is perfectly normal to feel distress after any terrifying events. But you may wonder why some people get PTSD after these events and some don’t. Roberts said that it’s hard to answer because we really aren’t completely sure. “There seem to be some possible answers, but there is more research to be done. It might be a mix of previous experiences, underlying beliefs about ourselves and the world, and maybe even genetic predisposition.”
According to Roberts, “what matters is the idea that if someone feels that their reaction to a traumatic event has become problematic, perhaps they are having trouble sleeping because of nightmares, or they are experiencing intrusive memories, or they are having trouble with severe emotional reactions, then they should seek help.”
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The psychologist argues that there are good treatments available now, based on good research, and help is available. “If someone is in this position, perhaps a conversation with their primary care physician might be in order, or a talk with a psychologist or other mental health provider would be the best place to start,” Roberts said.
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Roberts argues that it’s most important to acknowledge to ourselves that something frightening or overwhelming has happened, and to remind ourselves that it’s ok to feel scared in those times. “I can accept that I was scared and it was a frightening experience. That sounds obvious, but a lot of people get themselves into mental health trouble by deciding that they can never let themselves think about what happened. A thought, a memory, is just that.”
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The psychologist reminds people who went through difficult things that “it isn’t dangerous to remember, and if we make a big effort to avoid thinking about or remembering something, we are probably not going to get the results we want. It is often the struggle to control our thoughts and memories that makes things worse,” Roberts concluded.
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Note: this post originally had 54 images. It’s been shortened to the top 40 images based on user votes.