Scopophobia, also known as scoptophobia, is the fear of being stared at. It varies in severity from person to person. Some people only fear when a stranger stares for a long time, while others fear even making eye contact with a friend.
It is normal to feel uncomfortable or even anxious if someone is staring at you in an unusual way. It is also normal to feel nervous in a public speaking or performance situation. Scopophobia is more serious, however. People with this phobia may feel that others are scrutinizing and examining them, which creates feelings of distress, discomfort, and fear.
Scopophobia is often, though not always, associated with other social phobias. Untreated, the fear may worsen over time. This article discusses the symptoms of scopophobia and how it is diagnosed. It also explores some treatments that can help people cope with this condition.
Symptoms of Scopophobia
A few common symptoms of scopophobia include:
- Avoiding eye contact
- Always feel as if others are watching you
- Feeling threatened when people look at you
If you have scopophobia, you might go out of your way to avoid situations that put you in the spotlight. Some people only fear large group situations, while others fear short transactions such as grocery store checkouts. Some are afraid of such incidental contact as exchanging pleasantries with someone walking down the street.
When confronting your feared situation, you might blush profusely. Ironically, many people with scopophobia also suffer from erythrophobia, or the fear of blushing, making this symptom particularly troublesome. You might also begin to experience physical symptoms of fear such as:
- Dry mouth
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Panic attacks
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shallow breathing
You might feel a strong need to escape the situation. Some people with scopophobia begin to limit their daily activities to avoid panic reactions. You might refuse to go out alone or host people you do not know well in your home.
Over time, untreated scopophobia sometimes worsens. You might eventually become uncomfortable even in the company of trusted friends or relatives.
Diagnosis of Scopophobia
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR) does not recognize scopophobia as a distinct mental disorder. Instead, a person experiencing this phobia would be diagnosed with a specific phobia.
To be diagnosed with a specific phobia, a person must:
- Experience significant fear or anxiety in response to the source of their fear
- Always experience this fear response
- Actively try to avoid their fear
- Experience fear that is out of proportion to the actual danger
In addition to these symptoms, symptoms of scopophobia must last for six months or longer and interfere with functioning or create significant distress. The symptoms also must not be better explained by another condition.
Causes of Scopophobia
The exact causes of scopophobia are not entirely clear. Like other types of phobias, several factors may contribute to the development of this condition.
- Genetic and family history: Research has found that people with family members with phobias or other anxiety disorders are more likely to have similar conditions. Genetics may play a part, but exposure to anxious behaviors can contribute to developing fearful responses.
- Traumatic experiences: Difficult or traumatic experiences can also play a part in the development of specific phobias. People who have been bullied or made fun of may be at increased risk for this phobia.
Many adolescents go through a phase of extreme self-consciousness, which may include worries about being looked at. In general, however, these feelings subside over time. However, if the fear persists or worsens, it may be diagnosed as scopophobia.
How to Be Less Self-Conscious in Social Situations
Scopophobia and Related Disorders
Scopophobia is a specific phobia but may be related to social anxiety disorder. Most people with this fear also have other related social anxiety symptoms, such as stage fright or the fear of public speaking.
Some people with certain medical conditions develop scopophobia either because they feel that being stared at may trigger an episode or because they fear that having an episode will cause people to stare. Epilepsy, Tourette's syndrome, and some movement disorders are among the conditions that could heighten the risk for scopophobia. People with disfiguring illnesses or injuries may also be more likely to develop this phobia.
Note that reasonable fears are never diagnosed as phobias. However, for some people, the fear is out of proportion to the risk.
If you experience the fear of being stared at due to a medical condition, it is important for a mental health professional, in tandem with your doctor, to determine whether, given your particular condition, your fear is excessive and having an unnecessarily negative impact on your life.
Treatments for Scopophobia
Like all phobias, the fear of being stared at responds well to various therapy options. Your therapist will work with you to develop a treatment plan that addresses scopophobia and co-occurring disorders.
Common treatments for this condition include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This therapy involves identifying the underlying thoughts that contribute to feelings of fear and then replacing them with more helpful, realistic ones. Doing this can help people reframe situations as less fear-inducing.
- Exposure therapy: This approach is a form of CBT that involves gradual exposure to the source of a person's fear. As people become more accustomed to the feared object or situation, their anxiety decreases. This strategy is often combined with relaxation techniques to help people gain more control over their fear response.
- Medications: In some cases, doctors may prescribe medications to help people manage symptoms of scopophobia. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be prescribed to help improve mood and reduce anxiety. Benzodiazepines, which have a sedative effect, can help people manage acute symptoms of anxiety and fear.
Scopophobia can be life-limiting, gradually forcing people to restrict their daily activities. With appropriate treatment and perseverance, it can be overcome. The benefits of treatment are well worth the time and energy required to overcome this phobia.
Coping With Scopophobia
There are also self-help strategies that people can use to help manage symptoms of scopophobia. Some helpful techniques include:
Find Ways to Relax
Finding ways to relax and deal with stress can help you control feelings of fear and anxiety when they arise. Some tactics you might find helpful include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, guided imagery, and meditation.
Face Your Fears
Taking steps to face your fears on your own gradually can also be helpful. The key is to do so slowly in situations where you feel safe and have support. Avoidance worsens anxiety over time, so look for opportunities to practice facing the things you fear.
Care for Yourself
It is also important to treat yourself well and take care of both your physical and mental well-being. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, staying active each day, and eating a balanced diet.
How to Face Your Fears
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By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.
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