When the sun dips below the horizon and darkness fills the sky, I tend to think there’s a certain vulnerability embedded in the night.
I know as a young girl, I was definitely afraid of the dark and afraid of ‘ominous’ occurrences unfolding in the dark (hence I yearned for a night lite) and nowadays, I know other young children who cling to this fear as well. (I suppose some fears are timeless in that way.) And although our fears evolve as we grow up, the night may still be unsettling in some way, shape or form. Maybe we wake up in the night from a real bad dream that seemed so visceral and it takes a few moments to peacefully return to sleep. Maybe we feel worried or restless with our brain on autopilot, and we’re awake, thwarting thoughts away. (I know if I’m up in the middle of the night, I take comfort in knowing that any bird chirping signifies that morning will arrive soon enough).
I was interested in researching why the night may sometimes bring about this sense of agita, this sense of discomfort and mystery. And interestingly enough, evolutionary psychology also explains why humans carry around this specific fear and how it originated. (Perhaps this is what initially fueled and perpetuated our culture’s take on the night, too — the night is when the supernatural manifests; the night is when all bets are off.)
According to the 2015 article, “Why We’re Afraid of the Dark,” posted on Medical Daily, darkness automatically induces vulnerability since it impairs our ability to see. “The darkness impairs our vision, first and foremost, which is a huge part of our ability to understand and manage our surroundings,” the article states. “Darkness blinds one of our most important senses, and leaves us with a lack of control and vulnerability.” And since darkness occurs when we are supposed to asleep, our guard is already down, the article notes. Once again, this diminishes our sense of control.
“You’re more likely to be caught unaware when you’re sleeping, compared to being awake and alert, the article states. “This is perhaps why we fear crime at night, as well — because we’re more likely to be unaware of the burglar entering our homes at 3 a.m. Walking home late at night as a lone woman, likewise, is considered a major no-no, since it puts them in danger that wouldn’t be as severe during the daytime.” (However the article then goes to say that crime is not necessarily more prevalent at night, concluding that the darkness truly heightens a fearful mindset.)
In regards to evolutionary roots, researchers advocate that our fear of darkness is genetically wired within us as a protective measure against predators. In primitive times, dangerous animals were lurking in the shadows at night (I added the ‘shadows’ part for this to sound even more creepy), and humans had to be cautious and prepared since their survival literally hung in balance.
Nowadays we are thankfully not faced with lions around the corner, but we do come face to face with our own ‘demons.’
“As we lay in bed trying to go to sleep, the work day over and all distractions aside, we often find ourselves careening deeper into our own minds and subconscious psyche,” the article explains. “The demons we hide away during the daytime, our deep-rooted worries and sadness and fears, all begin to reappear and creep back into our awareness. Thus the night serves as a time when our brain sways between its daytime pragmatism and its evening subconscious dreamscape. For some, the problems they hide are too overwhelming to face during the day, so they’re able to put them aside. But at night, internal demons — not necessarily the demons in our closets — return to our minds.”
Now I’m going to switch gears, a tad, and briefly mention the other side of the equation — the side where vulnerability at night can be showcased in a positive light. Sometimes, the night allows us to be vulnerable — in a good way — as we have more personal conversations and share our truths with one another. Our armors are down as we feel more exposed to readily confide with darkness as our backdrop. I also revel in taking walks at night; I’ve always found something rather spiritual and peaceful and grounding within the night-time air.
The fear of the dark — the foreboding and mysterious unknown — does appear to have its psychological and primal roots. It’s interesting to trace how darkness can induce vulnerability; it impairs our vision, is present while we are unguarded at rest, and can bring us face to face with our own demons, so to speak. On the other hand, I also believe that we can embrace a certain brand of vulnerability the night has to offer as well, where we’re more emotionally open to what’s in front of us.