Fear of the Dark

Most of us are uncomfortable in the dark, mainly thanks to years of being subjected to stories and films telling us about the horrors that lurk in the darkness, waiting and watching their prey, waiting to strike out of the darkness, waiting to attack. Thousands of years of evolutionary instinct has taught us to protect ourselves from predators that hunt at night. As children, some of use may have had nightmares and struggled to fall asleep because of the frightening nature of being alone in the dark. Most of us, as we grow older let go of our fear, but there are cases where this fear develops into a full-blown phobia, causing extreme issues for suffers.

Dark MoonCredit: Morguefile

Nyctophobia, the fear of darkness, comes from the Greek words “nuktos”, meaning “night”, and “phobos”, meaning “fear”.  It is triggered by the fear-fuel perception of what would or could occur to the sufferer in a dark environment. The fear is driven by the fact that in the dark a person cannot see anything, and  their mind imagines the worst case scenarios of what could occur, creating wild and scary images in their mind, thereby worsening the fear. Fear of the dark is the most common fear among children, and tends to arise when the child is around three years old. The fear manifests into Nyctophobia if the child is unable to get over it in their earlier years, resulting in the adult suffering from a debilitating fear of the dark.

Symptoms of Nyctophobia vary depending on the severity.  Symptoms include:

  • You become nervous in any darkened environment.
  • You are reluctant to go out at night.
  • You experience an increased heartbeat, sweating, shaking and nausea when forced to spend time in the dark.
  • You avoid or run away from dark rooms.
  • You become defensive or angry when someone tries to encourage you to spend time in the dark.
  • You become stressed, or have panic attacks when you are in the dark.
  • You find it really difficult to sleep in the dark.
  • You spend your day worrying and anticipating the night.

There are examples were this type of phobia has been triggered by a deep-rooted issue in the sufferer’s life that occurred in darkness, such as a traumatic experience such as, abuse, nightmares, or terrifying stories that are all connected to darkness. This can cause the sufferer to experience Nyctophobia as an adult.

One way to deal with this fear at night is to install a night light in the bedroom, so there is enough light to ease the fear of being alone in the dark. However, as you can probably tell, this only applies within the context of the house, and indoor darkness. To overcome or deal with Nyctophobia requires behavioural and cognitive changes to occur in the sufferer, such as hypnosis, breathing exercises, or therapy. The goal of therapy is to challenge the deep-rooted fear regarding darkness and replace the negative fear and aspects associated with it to help the sufferer overcome this debilitating condition. In severe cases, anti-anxiety medications may also be prescribed.