In this blog we will discuss why people are afraid of being stared at and the therapies that will rectify this phobia.
Scopophobia is an intense fear of being stared at.
People suffering from this phobia get anxious when people stare at them, even if they are strangers or known to them.
Just by having someone eyes on themselves they suffer acute anxiety. Another name for Scopophobia is Scoptophobia.
They may suffer from paranoia, especially that of persecution, that is that the other might be there to get him or they may suffer from a fear of being judged by others.
Eyes are linked with a lot of emotions. They are known to be the windows of the soul and also depict a lot of emotions.
Generally, we are scared of being judged by those around us.
Many of our actions are the direct result of this fear and many times the reason for a lot of distress.
Scopophobia is more common in people who suffer from neurological disorders, like Tourette’s Syndrome, Epilepsy and Autism Spectrum Disorder.
These disorders have a physical manifestation of symptoms and usually people stare at the ones suffering from.
These people already in distress due to their condition may suffer from an added dilemma of Scopophobia.
Scopophobia may also be linked with Ommetaphobia (fear of eyes) where the person is scared of eyes.
There have been a lot of cases in which an individual has developed a phobia from being seen or stared at where they become fearful of experiencing anxiety itself because it would make them feel very uncomfortable the moment they are in contact with any of those.
Panic attacks can be very discomforting for the main reason that they are felt in a physical level.
People experiencing panic attacks commonly feel a pounding heart, palpitations or accelerated heart rate.
Symptoms of Scopophobia
- hot flashes or chills
- shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- pain or tightness in the chest
- a sensation of butterflies in the stomach
- rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
- headaches and dizziness
- feeling faint
- a choking sensation
- numbness or pins and needles
- dry mouth
In some very severe cases, a person suffering a panic attack triggered from Scopophobia or Scoptophobia.
Usually when exposed to its triggers such as being seen or stared at. Can have one/or all of the following symptoms.
- fear of losing control
- fear of fainting
- feelings of dread
- fear of dying
- fear of harm or illness
- guilt, shame, self-blame
- Withdrawing from others
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Feeling disconnected
- Confusion, difficulty concentrating
- Anger, irritability, mood swings
- anxiety and fear
Causes of Scopophobia
Scopophobia, like all other specific phobias, has no known cause.
These types of phobias can be a result of a number of factors such as biological (genetics) and or environmental (past experiences or social learning).
Genetics refers to the genes and neurotransmitters in our body.
Someone with a family history of a phobia/mental disorder has a higher chance of having the same or different disorder in the future.
This is because the genes of the parents are transferred to their children, thus any alteration in the genes of one’s parents is inherited by the child.
This genetic tendency to develop a mental disorder/specific phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship.
According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Scopophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of being stared at.
As mentioned earlier, one can develop Scopophobia as a result of OCD.
Thus, someone who is already diagnosed with this disorder is more likely to have this irrational fear of stares.
An environmental trigger event can be for example, a traumatic childhood experience with falling down or losing balance.
It could have happened that an accident occurred while the person was being watched by someone.
The root cause is still embedded in a personal experience and can be ousted with therapy.
It could also be a stage fright inter related with this phobia.
Another reason to develop Scoptophobia could be watching movies that depict stalkers who are watching their victims and paranoid tendencies in people who victimize.
Thus, Scopophobia is caused by both a genetic predisposition and environmental trigger events.
Treatment of Scopophobia
Scopophobia, like all other specific phobias, has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Scopophobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Exposure Therapy, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lower downs the anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Scopophobia is defined as the irrational fear of being stared at.
Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.
The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about stares.
Therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation.
The ABCD stands for:
i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.
iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Scopophobia (or any other kind of specific phobia).
In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his fear over a certain span of time.
As the therapy progresses and the patient is able to control his anxious feelings, imagery can be used to take the treatment a step further.
In this part of the treatment the patient is asked to visualize/imagine that he is being watched by some people.
During this process of imagery, one actually feels being in that particular situation or place, experiencing various senses.
Once the person successfully, without feeling anxious clears this step of the therapy.
While the patient is being exposed to different intensities of stimuli during the various stages of therapy, the therapist simultaneously teaches them coping exercises.
These include, breathing techniques or muscle relaxation methods to lower their anxiety, when in an actual fear/anxiety causing situation.
This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to the fear stimuli.
Before actually starting the exposure therapy, the therapist needs to figure out the intensity of the patient’s fear, as to deduce whether they will be able to undergo this treatment, without any physical or psychological harm caused to them during the exposure processes.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions.
Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions.
Lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example, to focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process.
This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation sessions for 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Scopophobia.
It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of specific phobias.
Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6-months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group).
i. Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts.
The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling.
Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.
ii. Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts.
Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment.
This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then.
iii. The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills. This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed.
Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse.
Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Scopophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people.
Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while the person is in a particular yoga posture.
Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calmer, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like. Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga.
The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about stares.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Scopophobia.
Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.
This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic.
However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.
Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
- Anti-anxiety Drugs
Medicines like Klonopin are anti-anxiety drugs.
They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
- Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs, as the name suggests don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias.
Medicines like Paxil reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm.
They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes Scopophobia?
Scopophobia is caused due to anxiety disorder and a fear of people staring at the sufferer.
Why are people afraid of looking into eyes?
People are afraid of being judged and can even get paranoid, if they feel eyes on them.
This is the reason they avoid looking into eyes.
Why do people get paranoia about being looked at?
People get paranoid when looked at because they think that they are being assessed by others.
Examples of other interesting phobias
Titles to Read From
by Helen Odessky
- Badass Ways to End Anxiety & Stop Panic Attacks! A counterintuitive approach to recover and regain control of your life
by Geert Verschaeve
by Ann Swanson
by Matthew Sockolov, Daniel Henning, et al.