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The Purification Room

The Purification Room

The Purification Room

Writing Psychological Horror about Trauma and Mental Illness

The genre of psychological horror often dives into the human psyche, frequently exploring themes of mental illness, trauma, and fear. I’d like to discuss how I experimented with this by writing the haunting narrative, The Purification Room, where the protagonist Tony’s mental torment creates a spine-chilling tale that might resonate with many readers.

If you’d like to read more about trauma, has a brief article about it.



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The Themes

Mental Illness and Guilt

The Purification Room discusses themes of mental illness and guilt, reflecting real-life struggles. The character Tony is plagued by voices and hallucinations, symptomatic of his underlying mental health issues. This condition has been well-explored in literature and film, such as in The Shining by Stephen King, where Jack Torrance’s descent into madness is terrifyingly portrayed.

The Search for Redemption

Tony’s yearning for redemption and peace leads him to the mysterious Ashdown Asylum. His quest for self-forgiveness and understanding is a journey many readers can empathize with. This theme is also seen in the film A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), where characters grapple with guilt and the desire for redemption.


The Purification Room

This room is symbolic of Tony’s desire to cleanse himself of his guilt and mental torment. It represents hope, forgiveness, and healing – a universal symbol that has been used in other works, such as the “Room of Requirement” in the Harry Potter series.

The Asylum

Ashdown Asylum itself represents the darker side of psychiatric treatment and mental illness. The history of asylums and psychiatric treatments is a grim one, reflected in movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In The Purification Room, the asylum becomes a living, breathing entity that embodies fear, despair, and suffering. 


Tony’s hallucinations of his late mother and the other characters within the asylum blur the line between reality and delusion. They symbolize his inner demons and his struggle with guilt, anxiety, and depression. A similar concept is explored in films like Black Swan, where the protagonist’s hallucinations reveal her deepest fears. 

Trauma in Psychological Horror

The exploration of trauma in psychological horror is a reflection of the complex and often frightening nature of the human mind. In The Purification Room, Tony’s trauma is interwoven with the dark history of psychiatric treatment, manifesting in his hallucinations and the terrifying environment of the asylum.

Tony’s traumatic past, symbolized by the loss of a precious family heirloom, his father’s death, and the haunting voice of his mother, drives the narrative forward.

Recommended Works of Literature and Film


Beloved by Toni Morrison: The traumas of slavery and the loss of a child haunt the protagonist, Sethe, and shape her life and relationships in profound and haunting ways.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: Amir’s guilt and shame over a traumatic incident in his childhood continue to affect him into adulthood and drive the narrative as he seeks redemption.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut: Billy Pilgrim’s experiences as a soldier during the bombing of Dresden in World War II lead to a complex narrative that jumps in time and explores the lasting impact of trauma.

Atonement by Ian McEwan: The protagonist’s misunderstanding and subsequent action as a child lead to a lifelong guilt that drives her need for atonement, forming the central conflict and theme of the novel.


Mystic River (2003): In this film directed by Clint Eastwood, the traumatic childhood event experienced by one of the main characters shapes the entire narrative, leading to a tragic and complex unfolding of events.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): The protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, is driven by her traumatic past. Her history of abuse shapes her character and motivations, adding depth to the story’s mystery and intrigue.

Ordinary People (1980): This film explores the complex emotions and traumas following the death of a family member. The surviving son’s guilt and the mother’s inability to cope create a tense and dramatic narrative that explores the intricacies of grief and family dynamics.

Half Nelson (2006): This indie drama features a high school teacher battling drug addiction and the lingering effects of his past. The traumatic experiences that shaped him play a significant role in his relationship with one of his students.

These works, much like The Purification Room, use past traumas as a central narrative device, shaping characters, driving plots, and providing emotional resonance. By doing so, they create deeply engaging stories that invite audiences to reflect on the lasting impact of trauma and the complex ways in which individuals cope with their past.

Final Thoughts

The Purification Room is a powerful exploration of trauma and mental illness within the genre of psychological horror. By utilizing interesting themes, symbols, and literary elements, the story resonates with readers and offers a terrifying journey into the depths of the human mind.

Examples from literature and films enrich our understanding of these themes, showing how universal and poignant they are. Whether through the redemption-seeking journey of a tormented soul or the haunting setting of an old asylum, The Purification Room is a testament to the captivating power of psychological horror and its ability to dive into the darkest corners of our psyche.

If you really enjoy this horror piece, check out my other horror short story where I discuss supernatural horror in Onryo.

Also check out my other short stories discussing other themes.

The Purification Room