There are literally hundreds of specific phobias known to man and nearly 6.3 million Americans suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder. One of the lesser known phobias is the fear of eyes, also known as Ommetaphobia or Ommatophobia. The word Ommetaphobia is derived from Greek ‘matia’ meaning eyes and ‘phobos’ meaning fear or deep aversion.
A person with Ommetaphobia or Ommatophobia is extremely concerned or worried about his/her eyes. They may refuse to touch their eyes for plucking an eyelid or putting eye drops in them. A trip to an Ophthalmologist could cause extreme panic in their minds and they might try putting it off as long as possible. The slightest vision-related issue can trigger full-blown panic in the phobic’s mind. An Ommetaphobe may be worried about losing their sight and going blind or might constantly use sunglasses to protect his/her eyes. You might find them closing one eye to check how it would feel if they were to lose vision in it. Needless to say, life can become extremely distressing living with such fear.
Causes of Ommetaphobia
Like most phobias, Ommetaphobia may occur due to a traumatic experience involving the eyes. The phobic might have seen someone’s eye pop out of the socket or some other accident involving the eyes. The thought of losing sight can cause extreme panic in their mind. Naturally, there is usually never a single cause that triggers a phobia and many factors can play a role in its development. Here are some of the common causes of Ommetaphobia:
- Learned response – The individual may have seen someone in the family, usually an older person, being afraid of eye disorders. The phobic then picks up the fear and learns to be afraid of eye related issues as well. Often, parents who are anxious and worried all the time can pass on their fears to their children. An older sibling or friend can also instill fear in the young individual, leading to lifelong phobia.
- Genes – Some individuals are simply more susceptible to anxiety disorders and phobias.
- The individual’s response to the situation – Such a phobia evokes a strong response in the individual which then causes a great deal of embarrassment. As a result, the phobic gets even more worried about it and that exacerbates the feelings of anxiety further.
- Stress – We all experience some form of stress at some point in our lives. A little bit of stress is actually conducive to growth. But long-term, unresolved stress can manifest in different forms such as anxiety disorders. Many Ommetaphobes tend to be suicidal and depressed. They might have had an abusive past and may not have friends or loved ones to talk to about it. Bottling up one’s feelings can lead to excess stress which can also cause phobias.
- Movies or media – Many horror movies depict ghosts or villains with terrifying eyes and this can also be a trigger of this phobia.
It helps if an Ommetaphobe works out the cause of his/her phobia. In most cases though, they may find that there is no simple explanation. Irrespective of the cause of the fear, it is wise to seek help for this disorder. Otherwise, the fear can worsen over time.
Symptoms of Ommetaphobia
People with phobias usually experience panic attacks that cause anxiety and other physical or psychological symptoms.
- Feeling unsteady, dizzy, or faint
- Feeling like you are choking
- Shaking or trembling
- Sweaty hands
- Chest pain or tightness in the chest
- Nausea, vomiting, other gastrointestinal distress like diarrhea, lack of appetite etc.
- Hot or cold flashes
- Numbness or tingling
- Shortness of breath
- Pounding heart, accelerated heart rate
- Thoughts of death or dying
- Feeling a sense of disconnect or loss of touch with reality
- Fear of embarrassment or losing control
- Feeling like running away or escaping and hiding
If the symptoms are intense, they could trigger a panic attack. Some Ommetaphobes are suicidal and depressed and many suffer from social anxieties as well. Even talking about one’s fear can be difficult for the individual. Some phobics tend to suffer in several areas of their lives including their relationships, careers etc. The phobia can greatly impact one’s quality of life.
Self-help options for Ommetaphobia
There are various things you can do to cope with your phobia. These days, there are many online forums and groups where you can seek help. Here, you might also find other people suffering from similar issues, anxieties and phobias. Talking to someone you trust can be really helpful.
You must also use techniques to manage your anxiety symptoms. Some of these include deep breathing, visualization, meditation, affirmations, and journaling. Writing down your fears and making positive affirmations can help reprogram your mind to overcome the fear.
Joining a peer group is a good way to overcome Ommetaphobia too. Your physician can refer you to such groups or you can find support groups online.
Self-help books and online programs are quite useful for battling phobias of all kinds. These programs are usually based on the principles of CBT or cognitive behavior therapy. They make it easier for you to face your fear and also understand the causes, so you can overcome negative thought patterns. Self-help books are available in libraries and you can also download them on your phone or computer.
Treatment for fear of eyes
Your general physician or family doctor can help you select the right treatment for your specific symptoms.
Cognitive behavior therapy or CBT mentioned above is one of the most popular treatments for overcoming most specific phobias and social phobias. It includes getting an understanding of thought patterns and finding connections between feelings, behavior, and your panic attacks. There are several sub-treatments in CBT and one of them is exposure or desensitization. In desensitization therapy, you are slowly exposed to facing your fear, in this case, eyes. You may be asked to:
- Write about eyes
- Draw an eye
- Read up on eyes
- Watch photos or videos of them
- Touch your eye or apply eye drops
Through repeated exposure to the object of your fear, you realize that while it may be unpleasant, it is not harmful. With each exposure, you start to feel an increased sense of control over your fear. This sense of control is what will liberate you from your negative thought patterns and anxiety.
Apart from CBT and exposure therapy, you may also consider hypnotherapy or, in some cases, your doctor or therapist may decide that medication is the right course of treatment for you.