Scopophobia or Scoptophobia is the fear of being watched or stared at. It originates from the Greek word ‘skopein’ which means “to look or to examine” and phobos meaning “deep dread or aversion”.
The degree to which a person suffers from Scopophobia can vary: some are so affected by it that they are afraid of “being watched” all the time. Still others may be Agoraphobic in that; they refuse to step outdoors as they feel they would be stared at by strangers (which makes them want to flee or hide).
In either case, the phobics experience a full blown panic attack at the mere thought of being looked at or stared at by people. Many sufferers of Scopophobia are also known to deal with other social or specific phobias and, when left untreated, these conditions greatly worsen over time.
Causes of Scopophobia
- It is common for patients of epilepsy or Tourette’s syndrome (a neurological condition wherein the sufferer has tics or vocalizations etc) suffer from the fear of being watched or stared at. However, compared to Scopophobia stemming from social/anxiety disorders, epilepsy-triggered phobia usually makes one fearful of experiencing an epileptic fit in a bus, train or other public places where everyone would look at them. Also, another difference in epilepsy triggered Scopophobia is that it usually affects middle aged people, while anxiety related Scopophobia affects younger patients.
- Children who have experienced a traumatic event such as public ridicule for some reason are more likely to develop the fear of being stared at. Others having a physical deformity due to an accident or an illness are naturally more likely to be stared at and could develop the fear over time.
- People with other social disorders like stage fright, fear of public speaking etc could also develop
- In general, individuals with low self esteem or those having some self developed body image are likely to suffer from this fear. Naturally, having a small amount of social fear is considered reasonable. However, in extreme Scopophobia, the fear tends to grow out of proportion compared to the actual triggers or risk factors.
- Autism and Schizophrenia are other existing disorders that are likely to cause the excessive fear of being watched or stared at.
Symptoms of fear of being watched
Like other specific and social phobias, Scopophobia can cause several physical and emotional symptoms in the sufferers.
- Most phobics avoid experiencing situations that would render them susceptible to being watched by strangers.
- They are highly likely to be depressed having little or no social life.
- Traveling on buses and trains can be traumatic for them.
- The mere thought of being watched makes them want to flee or hide. Shaking, sweating, having a dry mouth, experiencing thoughts of death or dying are some common emotional and physical manifestations of the phobia.
- Blushing is another common symptom of the fear of being watched. To make matters worse, the phobic might also be afraid of blushing (Erythrophobia) and knowing well that s/he has no control over this can cause him to further experience physical symptoms like heart palpitations, nausea etc.
- Towards the beginning, the person might only be afraid of being watched by unknown people/strangers. However, when left untreated, this phobia could eventually lead one to even completely stop participating in family activities or refuse to meet trusted friends or relatives.
- Avoiding activities and slowly withdrawing completely from public eye are the most common symptoms of Scopophobia which could develop over the years.
Treating and overcoming Scopophobia
The fear of being watched can be very self-limiting causing the phobic to withdraw inside oneself completely. If this is the case with you or a loved one, it is best to seek therapy. Various options are available today; popular ones include Hypnotherapy, Cognitive behavior therapy and NLP or neuro linguistic therapy etc. Most of these options can help get to the bottom of the fear to reduce anxiety or panic attacks experienced due to the phobia.
In either case, the phobic must also feel the urge to help him/herself. S/he could make use of self help techniques like meditation or positive visualizations etc, which can slowly, but surely, help overcome one’s Scopophobia once and for all.