Fear of mirrors is known by several names: Catoptrophobia, spectrophobia, and Eisoptrophobia. The word Catoptrophobia originates from Greek Catropto or katoptron (mirrors) and phobos (fear). Spectrophobia is derived from the Latin word spectrum (ghosts). Likewise, Eisotrophobia originates from Greek ‘eis’ (into) and optikos (vision).
Modern society is highly obsessed with self-image: most people, women especially, are quite afraid of looking into mirrors from fear of not meeting the set standards of beauty. They fear that, like in the famous fairytale Snow White and the seven Dwarves, the mirror would tell them they are no longer beautiful. That apart; most Catoptrophobic individuals are afraid of mirrors owing to their connection with the supernatural.
Let us study some more causes of Catoptrophobia.
Causes of Catoptrophobia
Catoptrophobia, as mentioned before, might originate due to preconceived notions of beauty and body image. Many overweight people, for example, tend to avoid looking into mirrors or even posing for photographs. Naturally, these people are not phobics but they try and avoid mirrors as far as possible. The difference is that: they do not necessarily mind having mirrors around them.
A majority of the cases of fear of mirrors phobia have their roots in the early past. Earliest known fear of mirrors can be traced back to mankind’s fear of still waters. Before modern advances, humans did not use mirrors; rather they saw their reflection in still waters of lakes, rivers etc. They often thought that “it was their soul staring back at them”. This gave rise to the concept that the ‘soul could be separated from the body even before death’. Many folktales were also developed around this concept. For example, there is a story about the disturbance in a character’s reflection in a lake that eventually leads to impending doom or disaster. This led to association between shattered/broken mirrors and bad luck/death. Till date, a mirror shattering implies “seven years of bad luck”. Many African tribes also associate reflections in dark still waters with death. They avoid looking in such waters, as they fear that crocodiles/evil spirits can kill them by simply snapping away at their reflection and taking away their souls.
In several cultures, children less than a year old are not shown a mirror due to the belief that they might die when shown their reflection. Similarly, in certain cultures, mirrors in households where death has occurred are kept veiled so that mourning family members do not see their reflection (or they too would die soon). Brides are prohibited from looking in a mirror when dressed in their wedding finery. (However, as a couple, the newlyweds may look in the mirror together since this is auspicious). Thus, Mirrors have many superstitions associated with them. These superstitious beliefs can easily create fear of mirrors in young or high strung/anxious individuals.
Catoptromancy or mirror divination was a type of black magic practiced by people in the early 17th century. The practitioners would dip metallic mirrors into the water and study the sick person’s reflection to accordingly deciding whether he would live or die.
Pop culture, media, books, movies (e.g. Oculus) show evil spirits trapped inside mirrors coming to haunt people. Vampires have no reflection since they do not have any souls. All these concepts might also trigger the fear of mirrors phobia
Some schizophrenic individuals or people with adrenal insufficiencies also tend to have Catoptrophobia.
Symptoms of fear of mirrors
An exaggerated or persistent fear of mirrors can cause many symptoms such as:
- Avoidance of mirrors
- Thoughts of death or dying
- Screaming, crying, trying to flee
- Rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, dilated pupils, sweating excessively
- Full blown anxiety or panic attacks
Treating the fear of mirrors phobia
Taking baby steps is the best way of overcoming any fear. Same is true for Catoptrophobia.
- Gradual exposure therapy can help an individual slowly progress to overcoming his fear once and for all. In this therapy, one starts by looking at images of mirrors, thinking about mirrors and then finally progresses to holding and looking inside one.
- Homeopathic remedies, herbs etc can also help relieve anxiety associated with the phobia. Lavandula, Chamomile, Melissa Officinalis etc are a few examples.
- Talk therapy, online and offline support groups etc can help the phobic give vent to his fears. Family and friends should support the phobic individual rather than teasing or making fun of him.
- NLP therapy, hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy are some other methods that are effective in treating the fear of mirrors.