What is Achluophobia?

Achluophobia, also known as nyctophobia, lygophobia, scotophobia or myctophobia, is the irrational and intense fear of darkness. It is a specific phobia and all these terms are used interchangeably. This might be thought of as a “primal” fear of the unknown or what might be “hiding in the dark”, such as monsters, criminals, etc. Phobias of this type are also often related to a fear of losing control.Someone with achluophobia will take extreme measures to avoid darkness, such as keeping the lights on at night and staying inside after sunset.

The name originated from the word “achluo” which is Greek for “night” or “dark”.

The name is variously spelled as “nyctophobia”, “nyctiphobia” or “nyktosophobia”.

Up until the 19th century development of the lightbulb, the world was trapped in darkness. After the sun went down, work essentially stopped and people were forced to find their way around with the help of meagre lighting from fireplaces, candles, and lanterns. Roaming busy streets at night, especially in crowded cities, presented a real risk. The eventual adoption of street lighting eventually lessened society’s achluophobia.

When civilization was new and people were mainly nomadic, the “primal” fear of darkness was a survival mechanism. Firelight represented safety, and whatever hid just outside the circle of light was a risk to one’s safety.

Achluophobia may be linked to facts about increased crime rates at night. The media, including literature, film, and television have maintained the darkness’ inherently evil qualities, such as stories of Jack the Ripper, vampires, werewolves, and true crime in general.

Many children fear the dark, or "what “waits for them” under the bed or in their closet when the lights turn off. This is a common fear in children with highly active imaginations. A night light may help a child sleep. Some people claim that as a “primal” fear, achluophobia is a sensible, life-saving, and perfectly natural and necessary fear. While this may be true to some degree, it should be stressed that true achluophobia causes physical, mental, and emotional trauma to the phobic, which can lead to social isolation, depression, and sleep disorders. While most people aren’t afraid of darkness when they’re in the safety of their bedroom, a phobic may display symptoms of a panic attack in this situation.

If you know someone with achluophobia, do not try to help them overcome their fear by turning the lights out or exposing them to darkness. Only mental health practitioners should provide treatment for their phobia. Despite your best intentions, your attempts may cause further trauma to the phobic, as well as trigger feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, humiliation, and physical symptoms that could be hazardous. An experienced and professional therapist will be able to uncover the underlying cause of the phobic’s fear in order to create a personalized treatment plan for their recovery.

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Symptoms of Achluophobia

  • Extreme Anxiety, Dread

  • Shortness of Breath
  • Rapid Breathing
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Excessive Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Dry Mouth
  • Confusion / Inability to Articulate Clearly
  • Lack of Focus
  • Irritability
  • Shaking
  • Feelings of Powerlessness
  • Obsession with the Subject of the Phobia
  • Fear or Feelings of Losing Control
  • Avoidance Behavior
  • Headaches

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Causes of Achluophobia

Achluophobia has been associated with evolutionary causes.

Achluophobia is a specific (or “isolated”) phobia, centered on non-social key factors. Isolated phobias tend to have some previous trauma (often in childhood and often physically injurious) as a root cause; a fear of bees may stem from an injury in childhood, for instance. While many people may experience symptoms of achluophobia after seeing a horror film or something similar, these symptoms quickly go away on their own. True achluophobia must be present for several months in order to receive a diagnosis.

Upbringing can also play a role, such as parental warnings about a direct threat (e.g. “snakes can bite and kill you”) which is especially notable in cases where a threat is more imminent. An allergy to bees or peanut butter, for instance, would naturally reinforce a real medical concern.

It is thought that genetics and hereditary factors may play a role in specific phobias, especially those related to a danger of injury. A primal “fight or flight” reflex may be more easily triggered in those with a genetic predisposition, for instance.

By contrast, social phobias (like a fear of body odour or touch) are less well-understood, are driven by social anxiety and are broadly labeled as “social anxiety disorder”.

In all kinds of phobias, external experiences and / or reports can further reinforce or develop the fear, such as seeing a family member or friend who is affected. In extreme cases, indirect exposures can be as remote as overhearing a reference in conversation, seeing something in the news, on TV, or in the movies.

Achluophobia, like most phobias, stems from a subconscious overprotection mechanism, and as with many phobias can also be rooted in an unresolved emotional conflict.

Learn more about the causes of phobias ›

Treatments for Achluophobia

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

  • Habit Strategies To Relax
  • Cognitive Therapy (CT)
  • In Vivo Exposure
  • Response Prevention
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Group Therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Energy Psychology
  • Medication
  • Meditation

Learn more about phobia treatments ›

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