Scotophobia: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

The Scotophobia is irrational and extreme fear of the dark. It involves avoiding situations and places where there is darkness, and experiencing anxiety just by thinking about them.

Dark spaces or without light constitute situations that in themselves can create a certain level of alertness or activation in the person. This fact can be contextualized from the own development and evolution of the species.

That is, for the human being, attending to their characteristics and physical abilities, the fact of being in a place where they can not see or their vision is difficult, implies a situation that can be dangerous for their physical integrity.


In this way, people, when we are in dark spaces, we can experience a certain degree of anxiety.



Experiencing anxiety in the dark does not imply having scotophobia

Experiencing anxiety does not imply the presence of a scotophobia or a phobia of darkness.

Thus, the experimentation of nervousness or fear in dark spaces can be a normal and adaptive manifestation of the human being.

Let’s get in situation. For example, you are at home about to go to sleep, you get into bed and turn off the light.

If you are an adult, it is normal that in this situation you do not experience any feeling of anxiety or fear.

Why do not adults experience anxiety in the dark (usually)?

Now, why do not we experience anxiety in this type of situations adults?

The answer is very simple, since people, being individuals capable of reasoning, we can be perfectly aware that although there is no light we are in a safe, quiet and in which we do not need the view to control possible threats .

Thus, when we are at home without light we do not have any association between our home and the danger, so the fact that we can see what is there is more or less irrelevant.

What happens in children?

This fact can work in a different way in children, since children, despite being at home (safe place for them) can experience fear if they are left alone with the light off.

This greater vulnerability of children can fall on their ability to reason and @nalyze situations.

In this way, although the child may associate his home with a sense of security, often the absence of other elements that reaffirm that security such as light or being accompanied may be enough to begin to appear fears and fears .

Some adults may experience anxiety in the dark

However, if we change the situation we will see how darkness itself can be a highly unpleasant element also for adults.

If the darkness, instead of appearing at home when we go to bed, appears in the middle of the forest when we are lost, our answer may be very different.

Faced with this situation, the fact of not being able to see again becomes a threat to the person, since in the middle of the forest the human being does not have mechanisms to control everything that is around him, he does not possess elements of security and probably I need the light to stay calm.

Thus, we see how darkness is an element that in itself can cause fear, nervousness or anxiety because it implies a reduction in the survival capabilities of the human being.

Now, all these fears that we have commented, in principle can be considered as normal and adaptive, and not referring to a scotophobia.

In this way, in order to talk about phobia (not fear) to the darkness and therefore of a psychopathological alteration that needs to be addressed, a certain anxiety reaction must be presented.

The main characteristic is that the fear experienced in situations of darkness are presented in an extreme way. However, there are other important elements.

What defines scotophobia?

To define the presence of scotophobia evidently a fear reaction must be presented when the person is exposed to darkness.

However, not all fear reactions correspond to the presence of a specific phobia like this.

To be able to speak of scotophobia what must be presented is an extreme fear of the dark. However, a simple reaction of extreme fear in a situation of darkness does not have to imply the presence of scotophobia.

Differences of scotophobia with normal fears

Therefore, in order to differentiate the presence of scotophobia from the presence of a simple fear of the dark, the following conditions must be presented.

1-Disproportionate fear

First, the fear produced by the situation of darkness must be disproportionate to the demands of the situation.

This can refer to what is understood as extreme fear, but above all it considers that the reaction does not correspond with the exigency of a situation particularly dangerous or threatening for the individual.

In this way, independently of the intensity of the fear (extreme or not), so that it refers to a scotophobia, it must be presented in all those situations in which darkness is present but which are not particularly dangerous or threatening.

2-The individual does not reason their anxiety responses

The second main aspect that defines the presence of a scotophobia is that fear and the anxiety response can not be explained or reasoned by the individual who experiences it.

This means that the person who has a phobia of darkness is aware that the fear and anxiety experienced in this type of situation is excessive and irrational, so he is aware that his fear response does not correspond to a real threat .

Likewise, the individual is not able to control the experienced fear, not even to modulate its intensity, so when exposed to situations of darkness his fear and anxiety is triggered uncontrollably.

This fact implies that the person persistently avoids the dreaded situation in order to avoid the sensations of fear and anxiety, as well as the discomfort experienced in those moments.

3-Fear persists

Finally, to be able to speak of scotophobia it is necessary that this pattern of fear response to darkness persists over time.

That is, a person who experiences intense fear, who can not control and who is not consistent with the danger of the situation, on one occasion, does not suffer from a phobia of darkness.

Scotophobia is characterized by being permanent and constant so that an individual with this type of alteration will present the fear and anxiety response automatically whenever it is exposed to darkness.

How is the anxiety response?

The phobic reaction of scotophobia is based on an alteration of the functioning of three different planes: physiological, cognitive and behavioral.

With regard to the physiological plane, the exposure to darkness sets in motion a whole set of physiological responses characteristic of the increase in the activity of the autonomic nervous system (ANS).

This increase in SNA activation produces a series of symptoms. The most typical are:

  • Increase in the cardiac rate
  • Increase of breathing
  • Sweating
  • Muscle tension.
  • Inhibition of appetite and sexual response.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Inhibition of the immune system.
  • Inhibition of the digestive system.

As we see, these physiological responses of anxiety refer to the preparation of the body for action (to respond to a threat), which inhibits physical functions that are not relevant in times of emergency (digestion, sexual response, immune system , etc.)

On the cognitive level the person can display a large number of beliefs and thoughts about the feared situation and about their personal capacity to face it, as well as subjective interpretations about their physical reactions.

In this way, the person can produce self-verbalizations or images about the negative consequences that the dark can bring, and devastating interpretations about the physical symptoms that he experiences in this type of situations.

Finally, at the behavioral level the most typical response is based on avoiding the dreaded situation.

Thus, the person with scotophobia will try to avoid any situation of darkness and, when in a place without light, will do everything possible to flee from this situation to relieve their symptoms of anxiety.

What are its causes?

Scotophobia is a specific type of phobia that can be interpreted from the theory of Seligman’s preparation .

This theory supports that the phobic reactions are limited to those stimuli that have supposed a real danger in the course of the evolution of the species.

Thus, according to this theory, scotophobia would have a certain genetic component, since the evolution of the species may have predisposed people to react with fear of a stimulus (darkness) that could have been threatening to the survival of the being human.

However, it is generally accepted that the genetic component is not the only factor that participates in the development of a specific phobia.

In this way, the direct conditioning from the experience of certain experiences, the vicarious conditioning through learning through observation and the acquisition of fears about darkness through verbal information seem to be important factors in the development of scotophobia.

How can it be treated?

The main treatment that exists for scotophobia is psychotherapy, since specific phobias have proven to be psychopathologies that can remit with psychological treatment.

Likewise, when an anxiety alteration results only in very specific situations, so that an individual can spend long periods without performing the phobic reaction, pharmacological treatment is not always completely effective.

However, unlike other specific phobias such as spider or blood phobia, scotophobia can be more debilitating and damaging to the person suffering from it.

This fact is explained by the characteristics of the feared stimulus, that is, darkness.

The absence of light or darkness is a phenomenon that appears daily, so the chances of people being exposed to us are very high.

In this way, a person suffering from scotophobia can have many difficulties to avoid their feared element, and their avoidance behaviors can affect their normal and daily functioning.

It is important that people suffering from this anxiety disorder are placed in the hands of a psychotherapist, since psychological treatment can completely repel the phobia.

The psychotherapy that has shown the most effectiveness in solving the problems of scotophobia is the cognitive behavioral treatment.

Cognitive behavioral treatment

This treatment for the phobia of darkness has two main components: exposure and relaxation training.

The exhibition is based on exposing the individual to his or her feared situation in a more or less gradual manner, with the objective of remaining in it.

It has been shown that the main factor that keeps scotophobia are the negative thoughts about the dark, so when the person is exposed frequently to the feared element begins to be able to not interpret the darkness as a threat.

Also Read: Agoraphobia: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

On the other hand, relaxation training reduces the anxiety responses we have seen previously and provides a state of calm so that the person can be exposed to darkness more easily.