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Psychoanalytic and Behaviorism Explanations of Phobia of Darkness (using an Example)

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In the psychoanalytic perspective, Sigmund Freud believed that the role of unconscious mind, importance of early experiences and the structure of mind contributes the explanation to one’s behaviour. In this case, the three areas will be used to rationale Marilyn’s phobia of darkness.

Role of unconscious mind

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Marilyn always has her mother around or being protective of her since childhood. Now that she is working on her own alone, without her mother by her side, anxiety is formed as she could not seek assurance from her mother. She then repressed her anxiety into her unconscious mind, in which, was then projected in the form of fear of darkness.

According to Doctor, Kahn, & Adamec (2010), the fear of darkness is commonly caused by isolation. They explained that since childhood, children are exposed to monsters and aliens, which are associated with the dark as it also signifies danger and threats. Therefore, Marilyn could possibly be feeling insecure as she was unable to adapt to being independent in a foreign country, which caused her anxiety to be projected in the form of fear of darkness unconsciously. Importance of early experience According to Freud’s psychosexual stages, Marilyn was unable to satisfy her pleasure in the Phallic stage, which occurs approximately 3 to 6 years old. Marilyn did not have a close relationship with her father and has been influenced by her mother to perceive his father as a ‘weak man’ or incompetent. Therefore, she did not undergo the Electra complex, whereby girls develop feelings toward their father. This results in Marilyn’s defense mechanism – reaction formation, as she saw her mother as a protective and important person who was always there for her. And also, displacement as she got frustrated with her father that he always did not do what he said.

Structure of mind

Lastly, Freud also suggested three main structures to one’s personality, which are the Id, Ego and Superego. In Marilyn’s case, her Id possibly is her desire to be loved by both of her parents, especially her father, whom she did not have close relationship with. Her Ego caused her to be mad at her father as she thought that her father was not helping her in any way. As she moved out to live on her own, she began to feel fear and her structure of mind became confused, causing her to have a stronger desire to feel love from her parents. She then retreated to one of the defense mechanism, reaction formation, whereby her desire was substituted to her fear of darkness, which is a more acceptable way of expressing.

Behaviourism explanations of phobia of darkness

In comparison to the behaviourism perspective, which focuses on Ivan Petrovich Pavlov’s classical conditioning and Burrhus Frederic Skinner’s operant conditioning. In Marilyn’s case, it is very evident that she has been conditioned that her mother was always out there for her, the door would always be open whenever she needed to seek for assurance. Therefore, her behaviour of being dependent or reliant to others has been reinforced. Now, without the reinforcement, which is the presence of her mother’s assurance, she is unable to cope with her needs and isolation. Therefore, her anxiety is formed through the fear of darkness or being alone. In addition, when her mother shared with her about her own fear or childhood experiences, the idea or thought must have been processed into Marilyn’s unconscious mind that it is normal to be afraid of the dark or being alone as her mother was also the same. Through social observation and imitation, she believed that fear of darkness is an acceptable behaviour and has learnt the way others react to certain situations. Furthermore, Marilyn has been so used to her mother’s parenting method that now at twenty-four years old, moved away from her parents and living independently, she is not shaped to adapt to the new environment, as well as developing a sense of familiarity by her own, which possibly caused anxiety in her.

In conclusion, phobia has variation in explanations from different perspectives. In Marilyn’s case, there are many possible explanations to her phobia of darkness.


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