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Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Can I Keep the Light On?"


Specific phobias affect an estimated 19.2 million adult Americans and are twice as common in women as men.
(National Institute of Mental Health, July 7 2009) "Phobias are the most common mental disorder," says R. Reid Wilson, PhD, spokesman for the American Psychological Association. "Over their lifetimes, 11% of people will have a phobia." Most of these go mistreated.

Phobias occur when fears become unreasonable. Everyone needs fears to help keep them safe. For example, a fear of heights is a good thing as it keeps people away from the edge of a cliff. If the fear of heights stops someone from going above the third floor when is is a phobia. A phobia is unneeded, unhelpful, and disabling to life.

Fear of Darkness

It is human nature to be afraid of the dark. All people have experienced fear in the darkness. Most have felt symptoms of fear such as air hunger, heart palpitations, chest pains, smothering sensations, trembling, shaking, or sweating in the eerie blackness. And, typically, most people retain a bit of a fear of the dark throughout life.

Lisa Fritscher writes, "This fear may be evolutionary in nature, as many predators hunt at night. Consequently, darkness is a frequently used element in horror movies and Halloween events." (, August 11 2008)

Fear of the dark is a phase of child development. (Adele Pillitteri, "Maternal and Child Health Nursing," 2006) Fear of the dark is not fear of the absence of light, but fear of possible or imagined dangers concealed by the darkness. (William Lyons, "Emotion," 1985) Humans cannot see in pitch darkness, so they are left to their imagination as to what is lurking in the darkness, often to a terrifying effect. Aristotle contended that humans are "rational animals." As an extension of this idea, he contended it is in their nature to fear what they do not know, as well as in their innate desires to discover and learn what is out there.


But what about people who retain an intense fear of darkness throughout life? This limiting, disabling disease is called nyctophobia. It is triggered by the mind's disfigured perception of what or could happen when in a dark environment. Nyctophobia patients are horribly frightened by thoughts of darkness and assume a much quicker response to darkness than do most people.

Severe nyctophobia is a psychologically-impacted feeling of being disposed from comfort to a fear-evoking state. Like many other phobias, nyctophobia causes a mental derangement leading to one’s inability to cope with things during night times. Anticipation of darkness for nyctophobic patients may affect their entire day.

Nyctophobia is a phobia generally related to children but, according to J. Adrian Williams’ article titled, "Indirect Hypnotic Therapy of Nyctophobia: A Case Report," many clinics with pediatric patients have a great chance of having adults who have nyctophobia. The same article states that “the phobia has been known to be extremely disruptive to adult patients and… incapacitating.” (William L. Mikulas, "Behavioral Bibliotherapy and Games for Treating Fear of the Dark," Family Behavior Therapy, 1985)

At present, the lack of analytical and interpretive studies on nyctophobia allows only a limited understanding of the condition. There is little known information about the pathological background and emotional aspects of nyctophobia. There have been few tests and experimentations; although, the few credible experiments have put some light on what nyctophobia really is: Nyctophobia is a dangerous disease.

Nyctophobics experience various neurological or psychological side effects. Depression is a possible side-effect for someone with the disease. A person with a very severe case of nyctophobia could experience continual thoughts to commit suicide and is prone to have other desires likely to result in personal injury.

Causes of Nyctophobia

Tammy Duffey (, January 11 2009) writes of the causes of nyctophobia, "All phobias are the result of an actual real-life trauma. Thereafter, that traumatic experience is consistently and automatically associated with darkness." Studies of nyctophobia suggest that the condition tends to emerge around the age of two, supporting the idea that fear of darkness is not necessarily innate in humans.

Sigmund Freud considered severe fear of the dark as separation anxiety in which an individual experiences excessive anxiety regarding separation from home or from people to whom the individual has a strong emotional attachment (like a father and mother).

A variety of things can trigger nyctophobia, ranging from frequent, terrifying nightmares which seem even more traumatizing when the victim wakes up in darkness to child neglect. While many children are afraid of the dark (and monsters under the bed), a child with nyctophobia manifests intense fear which lives on until adulthood. (

Television shows and movies are two of the known factors that cause children to develop a fear of darkness. Telling scary stories or urban myths, especially while in the dark, is one other factor that may cause children to develop the phobia. Perhaps the nyctophobic person experienced some terrible abuse as a child and has associated that with darkness. 

Adult patients who developed the phobia in childhood may suffer from any retrospective reference or mental-recall of past events in the dark. Adult nyctophobia is usually an indication the patient had not faced the fear early on and continues to associate the dark with bad experiences in their past.

Virtual Reality To the Rescue?

The treatment that was most common in the past was called systematic desensitization."Virtual reality is the other newer treatment being used for phobias," says R. Reid Wilson, PhD, spokesman for the American Psychological Association. "It's three to four years away from being used on a broad basis because the equipment is so expensive to use, but there are four or five places in the U.S. that are using it today." (Heather Hatfield, WebMD)


The sun has set to end the day,
Chimera monsters come to play.
Broken door sings songs of taunt,
While rumination starts to haunt
As footsteps get louder, heart rate increases,
All sense of security is shattered to pieces.
Ears plugged shut, and closed eyes tightened;
Praying not to be so frightened.
Hum a tune that's comforting,
And act like nothing's happening.
Bite a lip and wish them away,
Anxiously awaiting the suns first ray.
Is it the darkness that kids are afraid of?
Or is it what they believe darkness is made of?  --Scotophil (Quizilla)

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