Being stared at is a typical experience we all have when going about our daily lives. We get stared at in shops, cafes, on public transport, or while walking down the street. However, for someone who has scoptophobia, it is hard to escape this feeling of being watched.
As with other phobias, scoptophobia may begin as a rational response to being in a particular situation and slowly get intense with time – making it very hard to overcome. In this article, let’s learn more about scoptophobia and how to cope.
What Is Scoptophobia?
Pronunciation of scoptophobia
Scoptophobia (also known as scopophobia) is a fear of being stared at. Scopophobia came from two Greek words: skopeo, which means to ‘look at,’ and phobos, which means ‘fear or dread.’
It may seem odd that some people would develop an intense fear of being looked at or watched, whether it be the eyes of a person, animal, or even another object such as a camera lens. Many find eye contact uncomfortable, especially if they make direct eye contact with a stranger. But, it is not uncommon, and it can have a significant impact on one’s life.
What Are the Symptoms of Scoptophobia?
Scoptophobia or scopophobia is often linked to social anxiety disorder, affecting nearly 15 million Americans. Although this phobia is usually not debilitating, it can affect your daily life in several ways. If you fear spiders but encounter them in your house, you’re only being involved with negative feelings in cramped living conditions.
Regarding social situations, the effects of scoptophobia may be entirely different. You may be socially incapable of participating in gatherings with people because you fear they will pay attention to you too much.
You may dread shopping in large group grocery stores or watching long lines at the bank and might go out of your way to avoid situations that put you in the spotlight, such as giving a public speech. In addition, a person who has scopophobia may also become anxious and exhibit anxiety when looking at specific objects.
Generally, the symptoms associated with scoptophobia include:
- An overwhelming sense of panic that you could not explain
- Feelings of terror and dread
- Rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath
- Dry mouth and trembling
- Agitation and ignorance
A myriad of symptoms can plague people who develop social phobia. They can also experience dizziness, watering eyes, uncontrollable trembling, muscle cramps, high heart pulse rate, and redness of the eyes. Other common symptoms are blushing, sweating, trembling when addressing a crowd or performing in front of others, and extreme self-consciousness.
What Are the Causes of Scoptophobia?
Scoptophobia is very prevalent in both men and women. This phobia can be traced back to traumatic experiences, and often it stems from the scenario of being bullied or made fun of. It differs from being shy or lacking confidence and is usually encompassed as part of another condition. Scoptophobic feelings often continue into adulthood, causing anxiety and sometimes rendering the sufferer socially isolated.
What Are the Related Anxiety Disorders?
Scoptophobia is often described as being on par with other social phobias. It is not uncommon for scopophobia to be comorbid with other psychological problems, particularly those that directly influence self-esteem and social interaction and cause high anxiety. Studies have shown that scopophobia has been linked to Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
Neurological conditions can lead to social anxiety in some people, particularly those who have suffered from a severe bout of Tourette’s syndrome and Epilepsy. A person with scopophobia may also be associated with schizophrenia.
How Does Scoptophobia Affect Real Life?
It’s common for people to feel uneasy when they realize they are under a lot of scrutiny, but for scopophibic individuals, the exposure only intensifies their anxiety. They interpret most ordinary facial expressions as containing disapproval or even disgust, and they imagine others notice their every flaw, including blemishes, wrinkles, scars, and minor imperfections.
While it’s not something to be ashamed of, you might feel anxious about medical procedures or checkups because the physician’s office makes you feel exposed and vulnerable. Your social anxiety might be interfering with your ability to have a successful work or relationship life. It may also lead to missing out on opportunities to travel, date, have casual friendships, or further your education.
According to the researchers, individuals with social phobia tend to misinterpret other people’s facial cues, which may lead them to believe that they are being criticized or scrutinized—when they are not.
Treatment of Scoptophobia
Scopophobia is commonly treated with psychotherapy and anti-depressants but with varying success. Medical intervention may be required for severe cases. Both therapy and medications can help control the anxiety associated with this phobia.
Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive therapy is often the best option for treating a phobia. It uses your thoughts (cognition), actions (behavior), and emotions to combat fears and anxieties. Your therapists will teach you how to recognize unhealthy thinking patterns that trigger your anxious feelings and help you think differently about scary things, feeling confident so that you can handle them as they come along.
Exposure Therapy (ET)
Exposure therapy can be used as part of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and is about gradual exposure to the things that make you anxious. You will start by doing ‘exposures’ to things that are mildly anxiety-provoking, then graduating to things that are more anxiety-provoking as your confidence grows. This ensures you tackle the situations or thoughts that cause you the most fear. In a nutshell, there are five steps in Exposure therapy:
- Developing a fear hierarchy,
- Exposure to anxiety-provoking situations, and
The decision to prescribe medications depends on how severe the symptoms are. Anti-anxiety medications are used to alleviate the symptoms of scopophobia in the body. There are a variety of types of medications that fall under anti-anxiety medications, including antidepressants, which work by regulating neurotransmitter functions in the brain. Medications may also include benzodiazepines or beta-blockers that work by decreasing excessive activity in the brain or heart rate.
How to Cope With Scopophobia?
Scopophobia can feel like a scary condition, but many things can help us to overcome that. Here’s what you can do to reduce the symptoms of scopophobia and manage them when they occur:
- Don’t let your anxiety dictate your mood or how you spend your time. Remember that once the symptoms are gone, they’ll likely not be back and that while the worry is happening, it will pass soon.
- It is said that taking a walk in the beautiful nature releases endorphins, making us happy. It strengthens the immune system, reduces stress, and makes us feel better, more energetic, and more cheerful.
- Slow breathing is a powerful tool for anxiety reduction, and it has become popular again with the advent of mindfulness and meditation practices. The general idea behind slow breathing exercises involves focusing on your breath and practicing deep, diaphragmatic breaths through your nose.
- Imagine yourself in a serene, peaceful environment — may be on a warm beach or in the middle of a lush, green forest. Breathe slowly and imagine all your tension leaving your body. Visualization is a powerful stress and anxiety management tool because the more vivid you make your visualization, the more mindfully you bring to life all of the senses.
- You quickly get lost in your swirling thoughts when you’re emotionally overwhelmed or anxious. Take a moment to notice your body and physical status. Are you sitting? Standing? Stretching? Breathe deeply and slowly. You can bring yourself back into the present by paying attention to what’s happening internally. Doing this will help you feel better.
Treating the fear of being stared at begins with addressing any underlying psychological issues. This may include working through the psychological trauma which led to scoptophobia in the first place. For example, perhaps you feel like people are always trying to outdo you in the work environment, leading you to believe that everyone is always staring and resenting your success.
Your therapist may help you understand that others aren’t necessarily envious of you but are instead focused on their careers. Your therapist will also benefit by letting you know that being looked at is a natural part of daily life and something people do without feeling threatened or judged.
If you have a phobia, it can not only make you unable to lead an everyday life, but it can also be extremely frightening. Although breaking this phobia may appear to be a daunting task, it is certainly possible. The fact that you have taken action to seek help in overcoming your phobia is a positive step in the right direction.
- American Psychiatric Publishing. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5.
- Gamer, M., Hecht, H., Seipp, N., & Hiller, W. (2011). Who is looking at me? the cone of gaze widens in social phobia. Cognition & Emotion, 25(4), 756–764. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2010.503117
- Schulze, L., Renneberg, B., & Lobmaier, J. S. (2013). Gaze perception in social anxiety and social anxiety disorder. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00872