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Psychologists tell us that one of the most difficult conditions a person can be forced to bear is light deprivation. Darkness, in fact, is often used in military captivity or penal institutions to break down an individual’s sense of self. Once a person becomes disoriented, once they lose a sense of where they are, and what it is that lurks in the dark around them, or where the next crevasse or wall or attack may be coming from—once they can no longer feel in control of their physical surroundings—a person loses a sense of self.

Every shred of self-confidence shrivels. The giant within them falls and they become whimpering prey of the unknown. The natural instinct to be combative is paralyzed by fear. The spirit of resistance weakens. The prisoner becomes more pliable, more submissive, more willing to take directions.

It disarms a person, this fall into the sinkhole of sensory deprivation. It can drive them to madness. It is, every military knows, an effective technique. Nothing does more than darkness to isolate us from the sense of human support and understanding which, whether we’re commonly conscious of it or not, is the human being’s main source of self-definition. Indeed, darkness separates us from reality. It disorients a person both physically and psychologically.

Joan Chittister, Between the Dark and the Daylight, 2015, p. 17-18. The Crown Publishing Group.

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