What is Scoptophobia?

Understanding the Fear of Being Stared at

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Scoptophobia, also known as scopophobia, is the fear of being stared at. It varies in severity from person to person. Some people are afraid only when a stranger stares for a long period of time, while others fear even passing eye contact with a friend. Scoptophobia is often, though not always, associated with other social phobias. Untreated, the fear may worsen over time.

Scoptophobia and Related Disorders

Scoptophobia is a specific phobia, but it falls under the general spectrum of social phobias.

Most people with this fear also suffer from such related specific social phobias as stage fright or the fear of public speaking. Some people also experience more generalized social phobia, although many do not.

Some people with certain neurological conditions develop scoptophobia 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, autism spectrum disorders and some movement disorders are among the conditions that could heighten the risk for scoptophobia. 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 suffer from 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 unnecessarily impactful on your life.

Symptoms of Scoptophobia

If you have scoptophobia, you might go out of your way to avoid situations that put you in the spotlight. Some people are afraid only of large group situations, while others fear short transactions such as grocery store checkouts. Some are afraid of even 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 scoptophobia also suffer from erythrophobia, or the fear of blushing, making this symptom particularly troublesome. You might also begin to sweat, shake, experience heart palpitations or shallow breathing, and feel unable to collect your thoughts. You might feel a strong need to escape the situation.

Some people with scoptophobia begin to limit their daily activities in a quest to avoid the panic reaction. You might refuse to go out alone or to host people that you do not know well in your home. Over time, untreated scoptophobia sometimes worsens. You might eventually become uncomfortable even in the company of trusted friends or relatives.

Causes of Scoptophobia

Scoptophobia can often, though not always, be traced to a traumatic event. Those who were bullied or made fun of may be at increased risk for this phobia. In addition, people who feel shame or self-loathing are also at higher risk.

Many adolescents go through a phase of extreme self-consciousness which may include worries about being looked at.

In general, however, these feelings subside within a few months. If the fear persists or worsens, however, it may be diagnosed as scoptophobia.

Treating Scoptophobia

Like all phobias, the fear of being stared at responds well to a variety of brief therapy options. Your therapist will work with you to develop a treatment plan that addresses the scoptophobia as well as any concurrent disorders. Depending on the severity of your fear and any underlying issues, your treatment may last as few as three sessions or as long as several months.

Scoptophobia can be life-limiting, gradually forcing sufferers to restrict their daily activities. With hard work and perseverance, though, it can be overcome. The benefits of treatment are well worth the time and energy required to successfully battle this phobia.

Source:

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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