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knittingandcanning's avatar

Why am I afraid to be out at night, and how can I get over it?

Asked by knittingandcanning (346points) November 29th, 2010

I’m a mother of a 2 and a half year old and ever since I became pregnant I’ve been especially afraid of the dark. I have always been cautious when walking/busing through town in the dark, something that I picked up from my mother. (She used to always tell me that when in a parking garage I should check under the car before getting in to make sure that no one was under there waiting to attack me.) But since I became pregnant I’ve become increasingly scared to be by my own or with only my daughter outside at night. It’s been taking a toll more and more recently… my partner, daughter and I are moving to a new house and even just the thought of having to get used to new surroundings is making me have nightmares. I feel like I wouldn’t be able to protect my daughter and myself if I got into a situation that required such an act. Therefore, I only feel safe if my partner, or another close friend is with me. Though, remember, I feel safe in my current home (didn’t always) but now I’m moving to a new home. I’m mostly concerned because this same problem happens all the time if I’m outside a night no matter where I live (I live in a very safe part of town). My partner says I need therapy and I don’t necessarily disagree but he gets angry at the same time which makes me feel like shit. I’m wondering if anyone out there has had a similar experience or has any advice. Greatly appreciated either way. Thank you.

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34 Answers

augustlan's avatar

I have very similar issues. As a teenager, I was never afraid to be out at night, completely alone. Now I’m a quivering mess if I have to go out after, say, 10 PM. I think it may very well have to do with the fact that motherhood makes us responsible for someone else’s life, and if we were to be injured/killed we’d be leaving them ‘defenseless’. It makes us more aware of our own mortality.

I don’t let this fear keep me from doing what I need to do, though… I just feel afraid while I’m doing it. If you’re at the point that it’s interfering with your quality of life, it’s become a phobia. The good news is: Phobias are very treatable! A cognitive behavioral therapist could help you a lot.

If you go and they do help you, be sure to report back. I’d really love to not be afraid of this anymore.

Good luck!

knittingandcanning's avatar

Thanks! The difference between our situations is that not only am I too afraid to be out at night alone or with only my daughter but it happens right when it gets dark. So, for winter time in the pacific northwest that’s 5 -5:30pm (currently). Luckily, I’m a stay at home mom and all of my shopping trips, etc. are finished way before that time. However, tonight my partner, daughter and myself were visiting a friends house within walking distance of our current residents. We left their house at about 11pm and walked less than a block when I realized that I left my coat back at the house. My partner didn’t want to walk back with me or stay where he was (he was pushing our daughter in the stroller) so I ran back to the house to get my coat. By the time I got back to the spot where he was he was gone and I didn’t know which way he went. I ran down the street that I thought he would take but didn’t meet up with him and my daughter for about 2 blocks, all the while running as fast as I could, thinking that if I didn’t take the right streets I might not meet up with them. And thinking that something truly terrible could happen to them or me during that time. (This is all coming from a stay at home mom, 22, who hasn’t had a job at all, let alone one that ran into the night, for a little over three years, btw.) So, I completely realize that I may be crazy/ exaggerating the situation in the moment. But at the same time, in the moment, all I feel is fear. When I’m in that kind of situation, my logical self doesn’t exist; my fight or flight instincts take over.

augustlan's avatar

I know just what you mean… you know it’s irrational, but that doesn’t make it stop. :(
It would be nice if your husband were more supportive, but maybe he thinks acknowledging your fear will only feed it. (A tough love kind of approach.) I strongly recommend you see a counselor about this, before it gets much worse. It can’t hurt, and just might make a big difference. :)

flutherother's avatar

Your mother’s fears seem irrational. Who would want to wait under your car and why? Her nervousness has communicated itself to you and you in turn may communicate it to your daughter. When you move introduce yourself to your neighbours, it will help your fears if you know who they are. I expect you are moving from a very safe area to a very safe area however speaking to the local police may also be reassuring.

I hope you enjoy your new home and settle in well. Take a walk around at night. If you become more familiar with the darkness you may become less afraid of it.

starsofeight's avatar

Your answer is to go out at night. Often. Even if you just stand in the front yard. Have a purpose when you go, and always have lighted areas near you, or light with you.

snowberry's avatar

I hope you do get counseling. I’m guessing the counselor will need to talk to your husband too. He’s not helping the situation with his attitude and actions.

poisonedantidote's avatar

I’m a strong 6ft 6in tall street-wise 27 year old male, with quite a bit of experience in martial arts, and I don’t take going out at night lightly either. Some fear is healthy, I live in a safe town, there is hardly any serious crime here at all, but even so, there are certain areas that are a bit rought.

Don’t become an agoraphobic who never goes out, but don’t go skipping down the street at night as if you are off to see the wizard of oz either, the unfortunate truth is that we live in a world full of maniacs.

My advice would be to take a look at some crime statistics for your area, so you can get a good understanding of the risk, it may turn out that you are in more danger just from driving to the store on a weekend, or, it may turn out that the fear is more than justified.

Stay away from dark alley ways, and stick to well lit places where there are other people, while also avoiding areas that have lots of clubs and people drinking.

Cruiser's avatar

Take a self-defense class for woman….in just a few hours you can learn very effective strategies for navigating your environment in a safer and smarter way. You will learn how to make yourself a less vulnerable “target” at the very least. There are basic do’s and don’ts you will learn especially when out at night.

john65pennington's avatar

Do what my wife does, when she walks around the block. Mikey goes with her. Mikey is our border collie. he is very protective of my wife and would be killed in order to save her from harm. also, buy you a can of pepper spray and carry your cellphone each time. i do not recommend carrying a weapon, since it could be taken away and used against you.

BarnacleBill's avatar

Perhaps some of the fears would abate by not watching television or the news. The things that are reported, or pass for entertainment, can cause women to become unnecessarily fearful. It’s good to be guarded when out at night, or when out walking, or in a parking lot at night, but it shouldn’t turn into paralysis.

Spend lots of time getting to know the area in daylight, and talk to your neighbors and people who walk past your new place. I’m not sure why you would want to take a toddler out in the dark; I’m trying to think when I’ve walked with my children at night, and it’s usually only been on our block or around the corner, and I’ve always lived in a very walkable area.

bobbinhood's avatar

I second @Cruiser. A self-defense class will go a long way towards increasing your confidence, which in turn decreases your odds of being attacked. Confident people don’t make good victims.

Also, I disagree with the suggestion of carrying pepper spray. Consider that once you realize you are in danger, you have to manage to get the pepper spay out, open it, make sure it is pointing the right direction (possibly in the dark), and spray it on your attacker. All of this is done when you are very afraid, thus you are not very coordinated. At any point in this process, the attacker could get the spray away from you and use it against you. I know that pepper spray is commonly recommended, but it just seems like a bad idea.

@flutherother Your mother’s fears seem irrational. Who would want to wait under your car and why?
When I took a self defense class, they told us that we should always look under our car, because there have been a couple serial rapists and killers who would hide under the car with a knife and cut the Achilles tendon so the victim couldn’t run. While this is admittedly unlikely to happen to any particular person, the fear is not entirely unfounded.

meiosis's avatar

“the unfortunate truth is that we live in a world full of maniacs”

This statement couldn’t be more wrong. We do not live in a world full of maniacs. Granted, there are a few crazies out there, but the publicity they garner is massively out of proportion to their numbers.

Summum's avatar

I agree with @meiosis there are not that many who do harm to others especially if it is in a fairly good neighboorhood. Start a group of friends for just walking around the block together so that you become more comfortable with being out at night. No reason that you need to be alone but I would imagine that being this frightened is not something you want to keep doing. Taking a self defense class is a great idea and could help your self confidence. Good Luck and please keep us informed.

poisonedantidote's avatar

@meiosis well, i don’t really watch tv, and assume all news is 90% lies, i just happen to know a lot of the maniacs personally, maybe its the company i keep.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Sometimes pregnancy ( as well as other things ) can cause a hormonal imbalance which leads to greater anxiety. You might want to see your physician if this gets any worse. Just be very, very cautious about taking any sort of psychoactive drug during pregnancy!

nebule's avatar

I too have anxiety issues about going out at night..well, actually going out in general. The world just seems a very scary place for me and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better, regardless of what I do. I’m contemplating going back on drugs, but my doctor is reluctant to prescribe them. I don’t think I can cope much longer with my anxiety though it’s getting the better of me. Sorry it’s not a very helpful comment but just wanted to express my support, you’re not alone in this. I hope we can overcome it…somehow xxx

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

BTW, you should never bend and look under the car for the attacker – it gives them an excellent chance to club you over the head.

bobbinhood's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir The idea is to approach at an angle such that you can look under the car when you’re far away. Thus, you stay away from the car entirely if you see someone.

knittingandcanning's avatar

Thank you everyone for your responses!

I think I will get some counseling/therapy and the self defense class is a great idea. Not only for myself but also so it’s less likely that I pass on these fears to my daughter.

Luckily, the place my family and I are moving to is right next door to some friends of ours (neighbors we already know, yay!) but I will introduce myself to our other neighbors and take frequent walks outside at night to get more comfortable. However, I’m not comfortable with pepper spray – not willing to risk my daughter accidentally getting a hold of it. I don’t have a dog to protect me or a cell phone, so I may need to get a good, loud whistle.

I really doubt that the part of town I live in is at all dangerous but it’s a good idea to check out crime reports just in case. Also, I never watch the news and keep scary movies/tv to a minimum these days. However, Law and Order and countless other movies/shows have already been embedded into my brain.

My partner understands why I feel the way I do about going out at night (some caution/fear is warranted) but he thinks it’s getting too intense and too irrational. I agree, I don’t want to have these feelings anymore. He’s agreed that if we’re walking around at night we won’t separate, i.e. to go get my coat. At least for a while, so I can get used to our new neighborhood and get some of my confidence back.

@nebule: I’m very rarely afraid when I go out during the day, but I wouldn’t be surprised that my fear of night time, if not dealt with, could translate into an anxiety of going out no matter what time of day. Thank you for sharing. I hope we can overcome it too.

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Justice13's avatar

…hm, you know, you should learn to take your fear, and turn it into your greatest strength…

I used to be scared of the dark as a kid…

Now I bitch whenever any amount of light reaches my eyes, to the point that you don’t need excellent night vision to see your surroundings…

CyanoticWasp's avatar

It seems that you’ve gotten a lot of good advice so far, and your decision to look into counseling and self-defense classes is a good one, regardless of any threat or fear that you feel.

But I think that @meiosis actually had the best advice of all so far (maybe indirectly). That is, that you evaluate “threat perception”. Obviously your mother colored your perceptions as a child and trained you in some kind of hyper-vigilance, whether that was warranted or not. For example, how many people have you ever heard of in your entire life who even encountered someone hiding beneath their car. Ever? Even granting that someone might do that for some weird reason, how effective would that be as an attack strategy?

Now, I don’t like walking downstairs in my own home in the dark, and I admit that a tiny part of my hesitation comes from vestigial fears I had as a kid that there would be “murderers” hiding there in the dark. But really, my main fear these days is simply seeing and counting all of the stairs. If I thought I had stepped on the 11th stair when I was really only on the 10th, then I could set myself up for a serious fall.

Likewise, when crossing the street from my office to parking lot each evening, I’m wary of the dark. Not because it’s a dangerously crime-ridden place to walk, but because the street that I cross is dark, visibility is poor, there’s traffic on the street in both directions and the entrance / exit to the parking lot is right where I cross the road. I’m more concerned about being accidentally struck by a car – even by someone else who thinks he’s driving carefully – than accosted by a person with an intended threat.

And when I get to the parking lot and walk across it to my car, at this time of year I’m aware of and on the lookout for patches of ice that I might slip on, “fenderbergs” that might mess up my clothes or shoes, or trip me, and other cars leaving the lot.

If you take the time to analyze the situation and available data for “what is there to be afraid of in this environment” then you’ll come up with a list of specific threats and the likelihood of them occurring. Then you can adopt specific coping strategies and policies that, while they don’t obviate the need for thinking, can help take your mind off of a ‘generalized anxiety about everything’ that is more crippling than helpful.

Good luck.

RTT's avatar

If you have to go out at night, you should go outside with family or friends. Living in the city I had to walk around a lot at night. I always would go out with family members or friends. Sometimes if you are with someone or a group of people you can look out for each other. Hope this is helpful.

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Tay122's avatar

This is happening because being pregnant your hormones are crazed. this is why your emotional and are not supposed to watch scary movies when your pregnant because you will get scared easily.

blueiiznh's avatar

you are either nocturnal or suffer from

An irrational dread of night and its silence and darkness or of what might happen at night.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t blame you. You are vulnerable enough as a woman, then add a small child, then add the pregnancy. I wouldn’t be out at night without your man to protect you.

But then, when I was in my 20’s and my daughter was 2, I went to visit my aunt and cousin who were passing through and staying at a hotel near the freeway. By the time I left, it was dark and my daughter was asleep so I was carrying her across the parking lot to the car. I am always cautious also, so I noticed a guy approaching me from across the lot. I just barely got into my car and locked the door when he got to my window. He smashed his fist on my window and tried to open the door as I peeled out.

This world isn’t safe. Getting therapy to surpress your survival instincts (to me) is counterproductive.

noraasnave's avatar

There is fear and there is caution. Caution is a wise response to very real threats that may exist. Night time is the riskiest time of day, most crime happens at night. Everyone but tweens and teens have a healthy respect for nighttime. There is a definite need for caution, no matter who you are.

Fear seems to flow from lifestyle choices and thoughts based on a ‘stance’ of fear. Fear tells us that the unknown is unknowable, that it can’t be prepared against, that when the unknown strikes we are its chosen victim.

I encourage you to do the preparation to fight against the unknown. To do this we have to ask a few questions: What could possibly be out in the night? Vampires? Zombies? probably not. The worst possible ‘thing’ a person could experience is a human male. Although this opponent is still a bit intimidating, there are very adequate ways of guarding oneself from a human male. They are after all…mortal.

What equipment could a human male wield that would require caution? Pistol, knife, strenth, hands, feet, surprise.

What could be used to nullify their advantage? Pepper Spray, Tazer, a human male of your very own, pistol, knife, one’s own body (Karate, Kung Fu, Judo, etc.,) a ferocious attack dog from hell, caution, information (noticing places where one could hide, planning what to do if they jump from that place), preparation (picking a well lit route, planning to have a male with you, practice using your weapon of choice (pistol, karate, tazer)).

I concede that this takes a lot of thought, planning, and possibly considerable start up costs, but once one starts thinking from the stance of a ‘fight’ versus ‘fear’ then it begins to pervade in every part of onces life, and the real enemy becomes fear itself, and that one becomes a hard target.

I also concede that issues arising from one’s past can preclude one to irrational fear. This post may not be in reach of that persons understanding or capabilities, and so that person would probably be best to start with some therapy

SillyGirl's avatar

I know someone like that. The reason she was afraid of the dark was because she was worried that if any harm befalls her that her children will never have what she can give them. She has a trust issue and is overly protective of her children.

What if you took self defence classes, teach your child her address and telephone number and have a will in place where two or more are involved in the upbringing of your child if something ever happen to you. Live a healthy lifestyle and decrease your stress and anxiety levels by meditating and replacing caffeine with water and fresh (real) fruit juice. Every night no matter how bad your day find something good in it and ponder for awhile…then close your eyes and sleep….:)

Inspired_2write's avatar

Just look at the stats on crime in your area!
Then look at the times that crimes happen. (after midnight until wee early hrs ).
That is the time that few people are out..hense no witnesses.
I am in by 10PM for sure..usually with a busy lifestyle that warrents a good nights sleep.

chinchin31's avatar

you should be… the world is not a safe place…....

I don’t think you are scared… just cautious.

you also have another human being your are responsible for.

That’s natural

better to be safe than sorry.

I actually read a story of a woman that was attacked in broad daylight but on a sunday close to where I used to work.

As a woman there is nothing such as being too cautious.

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LuckyGuy's avatar

Do you have an update for us?
You’re 12 years older and wiser now. Have you gotten over this fear?

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