DEAR KRISTIN: I’ve been living by myself for my entire adult life, and I’m happy to report that I’ve recently started seeing someone pretty seriously. As our relationship evolves, I’m getting more and more concerned about this ridiculously embarrassing “secret” I’m going to have to share sooner rather than later: I’m terrified of the dark. Take my hand and shed some light on this conundrum, please. How do I handle this? -- NO NIGHT MOVES JUST YET
DEAR NIGHT MOVES: Sounds like you’re dealing with several different emotions at once: You’re not just grappling with your fear of the dark, you’re also facing the prospect of feeling deeply embarrassed and humiliated when your crush learns of this fear. Whatever you do, don’t panic. Panicking will only make it worse. Lean into this with grace and an open heart. You’ve got this.
I am not a therapist, but I certainly recommend your seeing one. He or she can help you wade through the source of your fears of the dark. There’s something happening at a deeper level that you should address with the help of a trained professional.
There are different approaches, and I’ll mention a few here: You could find someone to help you drill down to the original source of your fear. Or you could consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), where the focus is more on learning to change how you respond to the dark. I’m not offering any direct recommendations here, but I do want you to be aware that there are plenty of trained professionals out there who can help. But to seek help means you have to, well, seek help. Take the step. Initiate the action. See what’s out there.
And as you do so, try to feel pride -- rather than embarrassment -- about the fact that you’re taking purposeful, proactive steps to face and embrace your fear. You’re setting an example for all of us.
In addition to having these important conversations with a professional, it’s time to initiate some equally important conversations with yourself. Create some time for self-reflection and contemplation. Ask yourself where your fear is coming from. Try to remember its original source, so that you can, ultimately, stand up to it face-to-face and send it packing, once and for all.
As long as you’re having all these open, honest conversations, you might also want to have a conversation with your partner -- though you’ll need to rely on your instincts and your heart to tell you the best time to do it. Sharing confidences can build trust and deepen relationships.
You should also consider doing a few deep-breathing exercises just before bedtime. Place yourself in a more tranquil state of mind before you lay your head on that pillow. Mindset matters. If you read my column with any regularity, you already know that I’m a big proponent of meditation and relaxation exercises. I love them not just because they’re relaxing, but because they’re stabilizing. Grounding. Connective.
Use your breath to connect you to yourself. Remind yourself that, at all times, you are in complete control of your breathing. Your breath is the bridge between your brain and your body: Make sure your bridge is as strong and sturdy as it can possibly be. Taking slow, deep breaths from the diaphragm helps regulate the flow of oxygen to your brain. This control belongs to you: Exercise it.
The fact that this budding relationship is forcing you to face your fear could be seen as a blessing -- but it will only be a blessing if you take purposeful steps to embrace this issue with intelligence and intention. No more cowering in the dark. It’s time to face your fears -- and gain strength from the knowledge that you don’t have to face them alone. Oh, and one more thing: Get a nightlight.