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NYCTOPHOBIA :FEAR OF DARKNESS
While being afraid of the dark may be a part of normal development in young children, that is not the case for older children and adults. Nyctophobia is an age-inappropriate fear of darkness that can prompt someone to limit their activities, avoid certain situations, and experience anxiety in anticipation of there being no light.
It is when the concern crosses over from being an inborn protective mechanism to disrupting everyday life that it is designated a phobia.
Nyctophobia, also referred to as scotophobia, achluophobia, and lygophobia, may be evolutionary in nature, as many predators hunt at night. The fear may not be related to darkness itself but unknown dangers hidden in the darkness (which is why horror and suspense movies often use darkness as a way to scare viewers).
Lack of security and confidence can play into this as well, especially if you tend to be afraid of the dark more often while alone.
Some psychoanalytic writers believe that fear of the dark may be related to separation anxiety from a primary attachment figure, a phenomenon that is detailed further in a 2014 analysis on attachment and fear arousal published in the journal Psychoanalytic Dialogues.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Symptoms of nyctophobia vary from person to person and according to the severity of a particular case. In general, symptoms of nyctophobia include:
- Becoming nervous in any darkened environment
- Being reluctant to go out at night
- Experiencing physiological symptoms, including an increased heart rate, sweating, visible shaking, and even feeling ill when forced to spend time in the dark
- Need to sleep with a night light
Symptoms of more severe cases of nyctophobia include:
- Attempting to run away from dark rooms
- Becoming angry or defensive if anyone tries to encourage you to spend time in the dark
- Compulsively staying indoors at night
Nyctophobia has some diagnostic criteria that are common to all phobias, which distinguishes them from simple fears.
Treatment for Nyctophobia
The goal of therapy is to challenge fearful beliefs about the dark and reduce the severity of symptoms one experiences due to that fear.
The rate of successful treatment for specific phobias like nyctophobia is about 90%. Many techniques for nyctophobia treatment are drawn from the cognitive-behavioral school of therapy.
The treatment plan your therapist suggests for you or your child may include:
- Exposure to the dark in small, incremental, non-threatening doses in a process called desensitization (this should only be done under professional supervision)
- One-on-one talk therapy
- Learning relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing
Doctors recommend treatment when fear of the dark affects your ability to live and function normally. The most effective achluophobia treatments are forms of psychotherapy including:
- Cognitive behavior therapy helps you or your child learn to identify and change unhealthy thoughts and emotions to change behavior. A therapist will guide you through the process of confronting your fear and changing your beliefs about your fear. The goal is to gain confidence in yourself instead of letting fear of the dark overwhelm you. Therapists often use this technique in combination with exposure therapy.
- Exposure therapy involves gradually and repeatedly facing your fear of the dark. Another name for this approach is desensitization therapy. A therapist will help you through controlled situations involving darkness. It may start with just thinking about being in the dark. You will practice anxiety-reducing strategies until you master your fear. Then, your therapist will gradually expose you to more intense situations. The goal is to reach a place where fear of the dark doesn’t control you or limit your ability to function.
In some cases, doctors also use medications for a short period of time to help reduce symptoms. However, long-lasting relief relies on effective psychotherapy. Medications are often more useful for temporary situations, such as fear of flying.
When fear of the dark is severe, it can be devastating. Complications include:
- Mood disorders. People with phobias have a higher risk of anxiety and depression.
- Social isolation.Children who fear the dark may withdraw from peers due to shame about the fear. This can lead to loneliness and even academic problems.
- Substance abuse. People may try to manage their fear with alcohol or drugs, which can lead to abuse and addiction.