The Psychology Behind Halloween Costumes: What Our Choices Say About Us

Halloweenpsych(PCM) Halloween is here. That means all the super heroes and sexy nurses will abruptly show themselves for a single night. Suddenly it becomes permissible for you to scare your friends. Also, it is probably the only day when you would seek out strangers and ask them to give you candy.

But what about Halloween is so exciting? Is it the thought of candy? Couldn’t possibly, candy is available all year round for our consumption. Could it be the decorations? No, we decorate for nearly every holiday in America. What about the costumes? Ah, I think we are on to something here.

In 2009 Halloween costume sales surpassed six billion dollars and 62% of the sales were adult oriented costumes, showing the holiday is no child’s play. Some of us spend hours contemplating the perfect outfit, discussing it with our friends, purchasing makeup and creating realistic props. For many, Halloween becomes one of the largest productions of the year. The question is: Why do we bother ourselves with the daunting task of dressing up?

The most obvious and simple reason is fun. Dressing as an exaggerated version of your ninth grade math teacher can provide endless entertainment for your classmates. Covering yourself in synthetic blood will most likely cause your mother to squirm. The concept of being someone else to get a reaction from others is enjoyable.

Another motive for dressing up on Halloween is to step into one of your idol’s shoes, literally. According to a National Retail Federation report in 2010 the top two most popular child costumes were “the princess” and “Spider Man.” What young girl doesn’t want to wear an extravagant pink gown and rule the kingdom? What boy doesn’t want to sport a body suit with chiseled muscles and save the world? Stepping into the role of an idol, becoming them, we are able to act differently. This concept of performing a role other than the one you play everyday can be appealing.

This is the true motivation to buy/create Halloween costumes; but the question is why? Well, every human develops what is called an “ego” and a “shadow.” Our ego is built of every aspect of ourselves that we are aware of and are proud to share with others; things like being a good student or a caring person. Our shadow is comprised of parts of us that have been rejected as negative as we grow up. Qualities such as being violent or overtly sexual are in many of our shadows. The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a great example of this. By day Dr. Jekyll is a fine doctor; however, by night he unconsciously becomes Mr. Hyde and maliciously terrorizes London. Dr. Jekyll is indeed a respectable man, however, that is not all he is. He has a dark side, Mr. Hyde, who after being suppressed needs to escape.

With these concepts in mind, let’s examine the idea of Halloween costumes again. Imagine a boy named Jeremy. Jeremy has two sisters and often gets punished by his parents for being rough with them. The negative reaction he receives from his parents forces Jeremy to push his aggression into his shadow, to hide it from everyone. When Halloween rolls around Jeremy wishes to dress as a serial killer. He is able to scream, be rough and thus allow his aggression to come out. Jeremy is using his costume as a means of exercising his shadow, for it is permissible to act violent and aggressive while playing the role of the serial killer on Halloween. Wearing this costume is a healthy means for Jeremy to release some of the pressure his shadow has put on him.

I am not saying that Jeremy has a potential to become literal killer, however, playing the role for a few hours is beneficial for his psychological health. This same reason is why teenage girls dress as the scantily clad maid or sexy devil. They are playing the role of seductress and allowing sexuality they have been forced to repress to run free. We are unable to deny our shadow, for it is a part of us. If our shadow is ignored completely it will explode, like as Dr. Jekyll’s did. Halloween provides a context in which many of our shadow behaviors are acceptable.

So this Halloween allow yourself to have fun and step into a new role. If you need some help deciding, consider looking at your walls. Do you have a poster of someone you do not know but idolize? Consider the reasons why you like them. What qualities do they possess that you feel you lack? Take these questions into consideration when deciding what to be this season, for your costume choice may say more about you than you think.

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