Nyctophobia: Understanding Fear of the Dark

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Have you ever been scared of the dark? Or maybe you still are! Many kids and adults are known to suffer from the fear of darkness or night phobia. Several non-clinical terminologies are used for describing this phobia, namely: Nyctophobia, Scotophobia, Lygophobia as well as Achluophobia.

The word Nyctophobia is derived from Greek ‘Nyctus ‘meaning night or darkness and Phobos which means deep fear or dread. Nyctophobia is a common phobia among children. In many cases, childhood Nyctophobia passes as the child matures. While adults with Nyctophobia realize that these fears are irrational, they often find that facing, or even thinking about, facing the darkness brings on a panic attack or severe anxiety.

It is common for children to be irrationally fearful of the dark; their brain perceives frightful images of ‘what would happen’ once the lights are turned off. However, it is also not uncommon to see adults suffering from Achluophobia. Adults having nyctophobia is because they are being evolved into something more serious or they got a traumatic experience that haunts them.

Perhaps the Nyctophobic person experienced some abuse as a child and has associated that with the darkness. Maybe this individual suffered from frequent, terrifying nightmares. Such a condition can greatly impact the sufferer’s day to day life mainly because the individual tends to be depressed, anxious or high strung all the time. Sufferers often refuse to step outside after dark or sleep alone. People are not really scared of the dark. They are scared of who or what lurks in it.

Causes of fear of darkness phobia

In children, having nyctophobia is because of an experience where there is not much safety and security when being in the dark. This is due to children are often used to watch horror movies or films which they always imagined whenever they in a darkened room or place. However, according to J. Adrian Williams’ article titled, Indirect Hypnotic Therapy of Nyctophobia: A Case Report, many clinics with pediatric patients has a great chance of having adults who have nyctophobia. Adults having nyctophobia is because they are being evolved into something more serious or they got a traumatic experience.

Perhaps the nyctophobic person experienced some abuse as a child and has associated that with darkness. Maybe this individual suffered from frequent, terrifying nightmares. Maybe the nyctophobic person heard or told too many frightening stories or urban myths and a phobia developed based upon those experiences. Experts believe that Nyctophobia generally originates from a traumatic experience in the past.

As a child, one might have been left in the dark as a punishment. Siblings and friends might also be responsible for instilling the fear of darkness. Movies, TV shows and literature depicting horror, blood, gore, ghosts and other paranormal activities that normally take place in absence of daylight are also often responsible for creating a deeply rooted fear of darkness in a child’s mind. Domestic violence, car accidents, and other devastating or traumatic events can also leave a child confused, scared and anxious. Teenagers and young children are known to react very differently to such events.

One of the responses to such incidents could be a persisting fear of night or darkness when the events might have occurred. Most childhood fears go away as one grows up and matures. However, in some cases, Achluophobia can continue well into adulthood. This is because many people have had tragic incidents in the past about the dark. Such people tend to keep recalling these past events which they associate with the dark.

Symptoms of Achluophobia/ Nyctophobia

Preschoolers might resort to thumb sucking, or bed-wetting owing to their fear of night or darkness phobia. She/he might become clingy and protest to sleep without a nightlight, or insist upon sleeping with an adult/companion. Often the sleeping and eating habits of children and adults alike might change owing to this fear of darkness phobia.

They might experience physical symptoms in the form of:

  • Aches and pains
  • Rapid shallow breathing
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shivering and trembling
  • Chest pains or feeling like choking
  • Nausea and other gastrointestinal distress
  • Crying, screaming
  • Reduced appetite or conversely overeating or binge eating
  • Psychological symptoms of the fear of darkness include:
  • Thoughts of death, dying-often associated with Thanatophobia
  • Fear of being attacked by ‘boogeymen’, ghosts, and monsters; Checking and rechecking under the bed or in closets
  • Refusing to sleep alone or refusing to step out of the house after sunset. Trying to stay up all night, waking up several times.
  • Feeling dread, feeling like running away at the thought of facing darkness.

Emotional symptoms include:

  • overwhelming feelings of anxiety or panic
  • an intense need to escape the situation
  • detachment from self or feeling “unreal”
  • losing control or feeling crazy
  • feeling like you may die or lose consciousness
  • feeling powerless over your fear

The fear of darkness phobia can affect one’s sleep quality. This can lead to stress. Adults might start showing a lack of productivity at work. Hence, depression and other mental and physical disorders are common in Nyctophobic individuals. All of these can negatively impact one’s quality of life.

Overcoming Nyctophobia

Adults suffering from Achluophobia often realize that their fear is irrational. Yet they feel powerless to overcome it and dread the arrival of nighttime all through the day. Thankfully, there is hope, and many therapies can help overcome this phobia. Professional therapists can help get to the bottom of one’s fear of darkness and so can Hypnotherapy. Apart from this, one can also consider self-help techniques.

These include gradually exposing oneself to one’s object of fear and writing down irrational thoughts and changing them to rational ones. Meditation and positive visualization are other expert-recommended self-help methods to overcome Nyctophobia.

Neuro-linguistic programming or NLP, as well as behavior and cognitive behavior therapies, are other effective techniques used for overcoming Achluophobia/Nyctophobia. All of these help the individual manage his anxiety response when faced with the stimulus, in this case, darkness or night. Medicines and drugs can also be taken to calm anxiety and reduce depression. However, these are not long term solutions for Nyctophobia and one must be aware of their possible side effects.

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