It’s perfectly normal to be apprehensive about being alone in the dark, but for some people, an excessive fear takes over typical apprehension.
Nyctophobia, from the Greek Nyktos, meaning night, is a rather common phobia, and while it predominantly affects children, adult cases are not uncommon. Indeed, research suggests that up to 90% of children will suffer a period of intense fear of darkness – typically after the age of 2 years old.
Normally Nyctophobia fades with age, but in some cases, it can persist long into adulthood. Differing from case to case, Nyctophobia can manifest itself in many ways. Some people are scared of what could be hidden in the darkness, while others simply fear the darkness itself.
Fortunately, treatment is available – so, let’s shine a light on Nyctophobia.
CAUSES OF NYCTOPHOBIA
Psychologists suggest that the most common cause of Nyctophobia is a traumatic experience, often in childhood. For example, the child who is regularly punished by being locked in a dark wardrobe is extremely likely to develop Nyctophobia. Abuse, violence or accidents that occurred in the dark can also lead to an intense fear of the environment in which the trauma arose.
Nyctophobia can also be learnt, with the media being the number one teacher. There’s no shortage of movies, stories, folk tales or news reports that focus on bad things happening in the dark. It doesn’t take an overly active imagination to connect darkness with danger.
Nyctophobia has also been linked to other mental conditions, such as depression. During a low period, an individual’s mind is far more sensitive to abnormalities. As an example, an unexpected power cut can trigger Nyctophobia in someone who is currently depressed.
SYMPTOMS OF NYCTOPHOBIA
Sufferers of Nyctophobia are likely to exhibit typical symptoms of anxiety when their fear is triggered. In more extreme cases, just thinking about darkness can also bring on a panic attack.
- Increased heart rate
- Nausea or vomiting
- Profuse sweating and clammy hands
- Hot or cold flushes
- Difficulty breathing
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Freezing to the spot
- Desire to escape
- Thoughts of death
Avoiding darkness at all costs becomes a necessity in many cases, with sufferers sleeping with some kind of light. Nyctophobics may not be able to sleep if they are alone, and can spend the entire night awake in a state of extreme discomfort and tension.
Nighttime activities are also avoided, especially if the individual has to venture out alone. Indeed, many sufferers find being in the company of others a great help – though this is not true for everyone.
Nyctophobia can lead to poor sleep quality, which in turn can develop into more serious conditions. Insomnia and depression are common off-shoots, and a lack of sleep begins to have an impact on other areas of life.
By far one of the most effective methods of treatment for Nyctophobia is Exposure Therapy. A trained specialist will teach relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises and meditation. In a controlled environment, patients will gradually be exposed to their fear, using the relaxation techniques to keep anxiety at bay.
Eventually, the patient will be able to stand in a dark room without panicking, effectively cured of their phobia. Results are often achieved fairly quickly and are long lasting.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) encourages patients to discuss their fear with a therapist. In this way, they learn where the fear stems from, and how to go about changing the negative thought processes. Positive ways of thinking are implemented, allowing the patient more control over their fear.
Hypnotherapy works in much the same way, although the subconscious mind is spoken to. Subliminal suggestions are implemented to help change the way the sufferer copes with darkness. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is another exceedingly effective tool.
NLP exercises, as well as various other methods can be carried out at home as well as with a trained therapist. Self-help books and courses encourage positive affirmations, meditation and various other useful exercises designed to help deal with Nyctophobia.
BENEFITS OF OVERCOMING FEAR OF DARKNESS
While sleeping with a nightlight may seem like the answer to your problems, it is not until you truly overcome the fear of darkness that you can relax. After all, there are many other occasions you may find yourself left in the dark. By treating the fear itself, you prepare yourself for all eventualities.
No longer will you live a life of tension, avoiding various activities due to the chance you may find yourself alone in the dark. You’ll also be able to look after yourself, without relying on other people to keep you safe. As a result, you’ll find life offering many more opportunities, and a lot less fear.