As an industry with its success predicated upon a distinct and age-specific trait (fear of the dark), the night light can trace back its origins as the primary tool utilized to combat this fear to a time long before the advent of electricity. In fact the need for a means through which we can escape the dark can be legitimately linked to the beginning of mankind when the sun would rise and quench our thirst for clarity following each nightly case of temporary blindness. We are a species whose interaction with the world around us is achieved through our five distinct senses, the most powerful being sight. As such, we are supposed to be able to see. Darkness, however obstructs this to a point where we can become confused, disoriented, and often times…afraid. It may be most closely associated with children, but what I noticed this week is that being afraid of the dark can mean many things to many people, and can afflict anyone of any age. When we’re young we have yet to grasp the concept that dark is temporary and is in no way an assumed harbinger of bad things to come. From an early age being afraid of the dark is not about darkness at all. As children we fear not the dark itself, but the uncertainty that hides behind it. We lay awake in bed trembling and wondering…will the daylight ever come again?
Starting out as a purely literal manifestation of our fears of the unknown, being afraid of the dark can be viewed as something very simple at its most basic level…that it’s not the black of darkness that scares us, but rather it’s what the dark represents which causes us such trepidation as children, and eventually continues on in different forms in adulthood. Darkness represents the sudden, raw, and often times painful realization that some things are simply out of our control. As we age our knowledge of the world grows, including that of both the good and bad facets of life. Each experience sticks with us and lives on in our subconscious and helps guide us the next time we encounter a similar situation. In the beginning our experiences are limited, and specifically the bad experiences (leading to fears) are primitive. Mom leaves us alone in the room at night and shuts off the light on her way out, and this immediately becomes the center of our fears and the cause of our stress. It’s not until we awake (safe and sound) in the morning light that we breathe a sigh of relief, and hold our breath until the next night.
Achluophobia is the technical term for having a fear of the dark. A complex word for a simple-sounding affliction, the digger we deep into its source the more we can understand why we never fully recover from our own individual nocturnal fears. Over time we grow and learn, and our fears begin to take on new shapes and forms. From the bully in the playground to our final grade in physics class, new and different fears begin keeping us up at night. Eventually the “dark” becomes a metaphor for the uncertainty surrounding that looming promotion at work, the overdue letter from the mortgage company, or the inevitable loss of our parents. Our fears of the night time no longer directly correlate to the lack of physical light, but instead become a representation of the time we spend laying awake in bed assessing each day passed as our daily fears ruminate in our minds and cause us to wonder…will the daylight ever come again?