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Scopophobia – The Fear of Being Watched or Looked At

Scopophobia – The Fear of Being Watched or Looked At

Updated on Sep 13, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

Scopophobia - Meaning, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment & Much More

Key Takeaways

  • Scopophobia is an irrational fear of being glanced at, watched, or noticed by other people.
  • It can involve symptoms of social anxiety disorder.
  • Scopophobia leads to worry, mental uneasiness, and avoidance of crowded places.
  • This phobic response can occur during public speaking or meeting a large group in a public place.
  • In Scopophobia, the person fears being tested and scrutinized.
  • The treatment procedures include Cognitive behavior therapy and relaxation exercises.

Do you feel nervous and uncomfortable if someone stares at you? Are you conscious of being noticed and watched in public places? 

Do you fear being judged and criticized if people glimpse at you for some reason? If you think, it’s yes; then, you could be suffering from an unusual fear known as Scopophobia.

This fear response is not a simple terror or fright but it’s an inflated and heightened state of alarm and dread. The person can become self-conscious and may lose their ability to talk or function normally.

In this article, we will discuss the symptoms, causal factors, and treatment procedures of this specific phobia.

Read On…..

Scopophobia Infographics

Scopophobia - Meaning, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment & Much More
Scopophobia – Meaning, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment & Much More
Scopophobia - Meaning, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment & Much More
Scopophobia – Meaning, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment & Much More

Scopophobia – meaning

Scopophobia is a specific phobia of people either looking at you or trying to notice you in a social space full of many people. It is an excessive dread stemming from being watched or looked at.

If someone looks at you constantly without a reason, you will obviously feel uncomfortable.

You may either feel shy to look back or suffer from some intense form of anxiety response.

Scopophobia is associated with either glossophobia or social anxiety disorder. Sometimes, the fear gets so excessive that the person may become excessively nervous and get into a mute mode.

They may not talk or try too hard to avoid the situation if they can. Scopophobia is also known as Scoptophobia or Ophthalmophobia.

The disease gets intense and remains in a persistent state if not treated properly.

Scopophobia patients have fear of being stared at. They also fear being judged and evaluated by others. This feeling stems from an innate insecurity and inadequacy feeling. 

Maybe the person has some weak spots and unhealed wounds that could trigger such a fear response.

Any sort of visual attention can make a Scopophobia patient feel distressed. They may feel shy and withdrawn. They will not be able to communicate with others as clearly as needed.

People with Scopophobia feel conscious in public places. They avoid social interactions.

They avoid eye contact and other social gestures such as smiling at someone, lest anyone stares at them or notice them closely.

There is a constant fear of scrutiny or evaluation by others. Scopophobia patients suffer in all walks of life such as in school, workplace, social gatherings, etc. 

They are never comfortable in social situations where others are present.

They carry a load of fear with them wherever they go. This fear can interfere with the daily life of patients.

Some people with Scopophobia avoid going to doctor’s appointments because they fear being judged and ridiculed.

This fear is completely irrational for others but the sufferer goes through constant anxiety and agony. The fear response can rob their inner peace and happiness.

What does Scopophobia feel like?

People with Scopophobia suffer a lot of psychological wear and tear. Sometimes, the symptoms are present when an unknown person stares at them.

While at times, they may get uncomfortable with a friend or family member staring at them. Though it may sound weird, it’s real.

The severity of the symptoms varies from one person to another depending upon the previous experiences that were hurtful and embarrassing.

Scopophobia people have problems seeing into others’ eyes because they fear being watched.

They tend to avoid all sorts of close social interactions. The symptoms may range from shyness, shame, to more severe forms of social isolation.

They also avoid looking at people’s faces while talking to them. The condition displays signs that are not normal for others to understand. 

Others may find it extremely hard to understand why the person behaves in such a weird manner.

They always get busy diverting people’s attention to some other thing and not towards them. A Scopophobia person is fearful and vulnerable. 

With broken self-esteem, they struggle to put the broken pieces of their self-respect intact.

They are scared of being misunderstood and judged as imperfect in social situations.

They fear observations of others and prefer to stay away from the social spotlight. This saves them from all sorts of social awkwardness.

Scopophobia symptoms

The Scopophobia symptoms are like a panic attack or extreme anxiety. The symptoms won’t be the same for everyone.

The intensity varies according to the effect the disease has on the person. 

Like all other phobic disorders such as agoraphobia, claustrophobia, and acrophobia, this mental health condition is draining and can keep the person from functioning normally in social situations.

The person suffers from various physical and psychological symptoms ranging from palpitations to intense nervousness. 

Scopophobia doesn’t go away on its own. People who suffer from Scopophobia need proper diagnosis and treatment over a period of time to get better gradually.

Physical symptoms

Scopophobia can have various physical signs that occur as an immediate response to the feared object. In this case, the sufferer is scared of people looking or staring at them.

Some of the physical signs and symptoms of Scopophobia are as follows:

  • Faster heart rate
  • Hot or cold chills
  • Face blushing
  • Feeling hot in the ears
  • Feeling thirsty and dehydrated
  • Inability to speak clearly as if the voice got choked
  • Sweating
  • Trembling out of fear
  • Poor eye contact with those people who might be staring at you
  • Dry mouth 
  • Shallow breathing
  • Chest tightness
  • Dizziness 
  • Restless state of the body

Psychological symptoms

People with Scopophobia also suffer from psychological symptoms that worsen with time. They need adequate support and medical help at times to overcome their irrational fear.

As already discussed, most specific phobias are severe dread that increases and makes the person’s life miserable. Some of the major psychological and emotional signs are as follows:

  • The person suffers enormous anxiety and fear when people look at them.
  • You may assume that others are watching you because they are trying to test you in the wrong way.
  • Constant paranoia of being looked at, stared for no reason or watching for a purpose.
  • The person ruminates and suffers from anticipatory anxiety that something bad is going to happen.
  • Constant worries about facing people in public places and social gatherings.
  • Rumination occurs before and after interacting with others in social settings.
  • The person suffers from worrying about being scrutinized or judged by known and unknown people.
  • The person gets self-conscious if someone looks at them even slightly.
  • They may try to find out why the other person is staring and looking at them, like whether they have any hidden intentions or not.
  • The person may not be fully present at the moment. Racing thoughts keep them away from having a good social interaction.
  • Incidental eye contact with someone can also cause blushing and emotional discomfort.
  • People with Scopophobia have a strong need to avoid situations that appears threatening, like where people seeing or staring at them are high.
  • The person feels anxious going out alone in case anyone starts staring at them.
  • They never call unknown people to visit their house. 
  • The inability to focus on the details of the situation is poor due to excessive stress.

Scopophobia patients also have other mental health illnesses. These neurological and mental health disorders can, directly and indirectly, contribute to symptoms of Scopophobia.

Some of them are as follows:

Diagnosis of Scopophobia

Scopophobia is a specific phobia, situation type.

The diagnosis of this anxiety disorder is usually done by following the criteria for specific phobias as given in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders (DSM-5).

The patient has to suffer for a minimum of 6 months to be diagnosed with the illness. In DSM-5, Scopophobia is not listed as a separate phobia. 

But the medical experts use the criteria of specific phobias to diagnose and treat the symptoms.

The diagnostic criteria for Scopophobia go like this –

  • Fear of certain triggers such as someone looking at you constantly.
  • Persistent and on the spot nervousness because of the trigger.
  • Fear is big and not relevant to the actual threat.
  • The anxiety and avoidance response is interfering with social and professional life.
  • The avoidance and worry last for 6 months or above.
  • The anxiety symptoms cannot be described by any other mental disorder.

Scopophobia impacts all areas of social life. If a child suffers from Scopophobia, he/she may avoid school, going to parks, or avoid making new friends.

Adults may refuse social interactions and communications from all ends. Scopophobia symptoms worsen with time if intervention is not sought. 

Thus, after diagnosis of this phobia, the person should either resort to self-help strategies or seek medical advice without delay.

The psychology behind Scopophobia

The fear of being looked at, getting noticed, or being watched in public places comes from innate insecurity.

If you are suffering from Scopophobia, you will always have the fear of being judged and evaluated by others.

You are scared of being rejected and socially isolated. People with Scopophobia carry the burden of past insult or trauma in public places. Thus, they fear being scrutinized by others. 

These people feel inadequate and lesser in some way, thus they are fearful of getting insulted again in a similar way. 

The person suffers from personal insecurities and develops a self-fulfilling prophecy of not being good enough. This makes them live in a fear of being judged.

People suffering from Scopophobia are always anxious and fearful because they view others as hostile and intimidating.

They project their personal insecurities on others and develop a wrong notion that others are trying to harm or threaten them in some way.

Research studies have shown that Scopophobia patients suffer from a baseless and irrelevant fear.

Most of them are scared of others’ gaze and staring because deep down they also suffer from a social anxiety disorder.

Behavioral manifestations

They behave in some odd ways in social situations just to avoid the feared situation.

  • They think others are looking or staring at them without a reason, while they may be looking at something else.
  • Gets extremely self-conscious in group situations than when they’re alone.
  • Assumes that others are busy gossiping and talking about them.
  • Feels extremely fearful of eye contact.
  • Develops a wrong idea that people dislike them and want to harm them.
  • Tends to misjudge people’s neutral responses as a deliberate sign of rejection.
  • They actively avoid social gatherings where many unknown people will be seen.
  • Prefers not to draw the attention of others towards them by less socialization.
  • They never look into people’s eyes while talking to them.
  • Experiences extreme tension about some upcoming social meetings.
  • Fight or flight response is commonly seen in their behavior.

Scopophobia causes

Research has found a very high correlation between Scopophobia and social phobia. People suffering from social anxiety disorder are prone to develop excessive anxiety that is much more than shyness. 

They suffer from being noticed, talked about, and judged in social spheres.

Thus, Scopophobia is an associated condition of social phobia. Sometimes bullying, social insults, a trauma in social situations can all lead to Scopophobia symptoms.

People with Scopophobia fear social attraction. They can go to any length to avoid harsh talks and bad mouths of people. 

Sometimes, these fears are just assumptions without any actual threat.

The person lives in constant anxiety of being noticed and talked about, though in reality these apprehensions are just false and can never happen.

Sometimes genetics, faulty parenting in the form of abuse, and maltreatment at home can cause Scopophobia.

Let us analyze some of the key factors that cause this mental health condition.

1. Genetic factors

To some extent, Scopophobia runs in families.

People coming from homes where they have seen their parents showing unusual social fear of being watched and noticed are more likely to develop the illness. 

Research findings support that social anxiety has a strong genetic predisposition. Family history and early social learning through imitation from parents do play a role in Scopophobia.

2. Traumatic experiences

At times, traumatic events and negative social experiences cause Scopophobia.

If you have ever been humiliated and judged in the wrong way in front of many people, you are more likely to develop a phobia. 

You’ll always suffer from hidden insecurities and as such would fear being noticed or watched by others.

Any sort of visual attention in public places can make you suffer from panic attacks. You’ll perspire a lot with a racing heart and irregular breathing. The nervousness can actually make you feel dizzy and sick.

If you have been bullied in school or the workplace, you may fear the eyes of people pointing towards you, even if it’s just a negative thought.

Verbal bullying or manipulation in public places can undermine your self-esteem and make you insecure forever. You may not be able to regain the lost worth ever again in your life.

Negative experiences induce worry and anxiety beyond control. Even if you know that the fear is not relevant, you will not be able to control it in any way.

Sometimes adolescents are confused about their identity and social role. They suffer from identity crises and fear of not being good enough. 

So, they harbor the fear of rejection. If this fear persists for a long time, it could become a reason for Scopophobia. 

They become too self-conscious and fear being stared at in social setups such as college, social functions, etc.

3. Physical imperfections

If a person has a physical deformity they may suffer from body shaming tendencies. They fear being laughed at, or ridiculed in public places. 

They are highly self-conscious about how others perceive them in reality.

This insecurity about physical imperfections and distortions may lead to Scopophobia. Their physical distortions and ugliness make them judge themselves negatively. 

They start thinking that others are staring at them just to make fun of them.

Over time, these individuals develop low self-esteem. They undermine their worth and fall into a trap of fear and anxiety.

Research findings suggest a high correlation between Dysmorphia and symptoms of social anxiety disorder. These symptoms, if left unchecked, lead to Scopophobia.

4. Neurological diseases

Certain diseases of the brain can trigger Scopophobia symptoms.

These diseases call for unwanted attention in public places where you may find many people coming for your help, or trying to stare and watch you closely.

Some of these physical diseases are epilepsy, Tourette’s disease where unwanted attention from others always happens.

Thus, if someone is habituated to these situations, they may fear people looking at them. 

They fear being criticized and talked about. All these factors may increase the chances of developing Scopophobia.

Effects of Scopophobia

The aftermath of Scopophobia causes a lot of mental distress. The person remains nervous and anxious. They always hold a negative idea that others are noticing them, though not really. 

Scopophobia sufferers live in a constant state of heightened anxiety. This makes life miserable and interferes with day to day functioning of the person. 

The constant fear of someone watching or noticing the person leaves them paralyzed in fear.

Scopophobia can damage social relationships. It hampers personal growth and robs inner peace and happiness.

The mental disorder also negatively impacts personal and professional relationships.

Some of the negative effects of Scopophobia are briefly discussed below:

  • The person suffers excessive fear and constant anxiety.
  • Fear puts pressure on mental health and physical well-being.
  • It limits social interaction to a great extent.
  • The person avoids meeting new people or visiting social places where they may be watched or noticed easily.
  • They also fear that someone is trying to reveal their flaws and imperfections, though it’s not real.
  • People with Scopophobia develop the wrong idea that they are unattractive and not at par with others.
  • Scopophobia symptoms do not allow healthy interpersonal relations.
  • Most people with the illness cannot finish assigned tasks in school or the workplace.
  • They have a low attention span.
  • The person suffers from a negative spiral of toxic shame and self-loathing.
  • Scopophobia patients avoid going to social parties, school fests, office gatherings, etc.
  • It limits their ability to work on personal and professional goals.
  • They never enjoy recreational activities and outings with friends and family members.
  • Scopophobia leads to social isolation.
  • Feelings of loneliness and depression are common.
  • Shame and guilt feelings operate deep within.

How to overcome Scopophobia? (10 healthy self-help tips)

If you are living with Scopophobia, do not sulk because you’re not alone in this traumatic journey of anxiety and social isolation. There are many other people who share similar symptoms with you.

If you feel the discomfort of people staring at you quite often, you need to take on some quick healing ways to calm yourself.

1. Close your eyes for a few minutes when people are around you

Just close your eyes to avoid the visual stimulation around you. In this way, you can actually ignore the eyes that may or may not be looking at you at that moment of time. 

If you sense that there are people around you, take long and deep breaths while closing your eyes for a few minutes. Relax and then open your eyes again. You will feel much more relaxed and composed.

2. Face your fears

It might sound tough but is not that bad in reality. Whenever you are conscious of people staring or noticing you, just walk down and try talking to them. 

This will help to overcome fear. Maybe you’ll feel confident about your first move and go on doing the same thing next time.

This direct exposure can be done with the help of a friend or a family member. When you try talking and interacting with people around you, you will get to know their intentions.

You will not feel like a victim anymore. 

3. Learn more about Scopophobia

Try to gather more information about phobias and anxiety disorders. When you educate yourself more on these diseases, you will be able to manage the symptoms in a better way. 

Knowledge gives you the power and inner strength. Update your knowledge by reading books or seeing videos related to Scopophobia. 

You will also learn about coping skills and learn the stories of similar sufferers. All this will boost your mind’s power to face and overcome your fear response.

4. Start journaling your thoughts and feelings

Journaling can help to know your immediate triggers. You can introspect and reflect on your negative thoughts and learn that they are absolutely baseless and irrational. 

Journaling helps to record your anxiety and mood states in a proper way. Later on, you can go through this journal and understand the various triggers that led to the fear response.

If you are trying to face your fears, journaling can help to set short-term goals and track your progress. It gives you a taste of small success that can go a long way in overcoming Scopophobia.

5. Mindfulness meditation

This is a form of calming exercise. It can instantly reduce your anxiety response. By following a regular regime of this calming exercise, you can reduce negative thoughts and improve your mood. 

This process makes you aware of your precious moments. You will neither ruminate over past events nor future happenings. You will just learn to embrace your moments.

Scopophobia causes a lot of rumination and anticipatory anxiety. Both these maladaptive responses can be reduced by mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness meditation can be practiced by following a guided meditation technique. You can also use a mindfulness app to serve the purpose.

6. Start slow ways to overcome your fear

Try doing some small things every day to overcome your irrational fear. Start with easy steps and move on to the next harder ones once you have succeeded in the previous one. 

For Scopophobia, you can take small easy steps to overcome the fear.

  • Try to look into people’s eyes. 
  • Greet hello or revert back if they try to talk to you.
  • If someone is staring at you for a long time, ask them directly why they are doing it.
  • Just walk down and interact with the person even if you do not know them.
  • Stop being self-conscious and build your self-esteem.
  • Remind yourself that fears are treatable and you can overcome them completely.
  • Widen your social exposure.
  • Meet more people and talk to them.
  • Win over your fear simply by admitting it as real.
  • Have faith in yourself that you can overcome your fear.

7. Enjoy your little success stories

When you achieve a small goal in the process of overcoming your fear, you should always celebrate your success story with yourself. And how can you do that? 

You should reward yourself by giving yourself or indulging in some food craving, or you can give yourself solo travel and enjoy some ‘me time.’

Celebrating success means you are constantly feeding motivation to yourself. You’re happy about overcoming the first step and looking forward to completing recovery from your fear.

8. Practice self-compassion

You should never be harsh on yourself. Never push yourself hard to attain success in a day. Remember that overcoming fear may not happen overnight. It will take time. 

Thus, be kind to yourself and stop criticizing yourself if you’re taking time to overcome your fears.

Sometimes, when you show self-compassion, you are aware of your shortcomings and will be able to accept them easily. 

Self-compassion also reduces anxiety and improves mood. It paves the way for happy and healthy living. When you feel good about yourself, you’ll easily overcome your fears.

9. Indulge in self-care

Self-care means good care of your body and mind. It keeps stress at bay. You should eat healthily, sleep well and build your immune system.

These will help you to overcome the physical symptoms of Scopophobia. It is helpful to do some mental exercises to improve concentration.

Remove the distorted make-beliefs that others are staring at you because they don’t like you, or trying to make fun of you. 

Sometimes people may look at you because you’re quite good-looking.

Self-care improves mood and energy levels. You’ll stay motivated to work on your goals of overcoming fears successfully.

10. Join a self-help support group

Overcoming fear becomes easy when you meet like-minded people who are also suffering from Scopophobia.

You’ll get to know the stories of others about what they did in overcoming fear. 

Scopophobia is treatable and you can manage your symptoms by using the self-help tips given by others.

It improves your insight about the fear response and you know how to respond when triggers of Scopophobia strike in.

Scopophobia treatment

To remind you again, Scopophobia is a treatable condition. The prognosis rate is good and most patients benefit from therapy. 

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy give good results to people suffering from Scopophobia.

1. Cognitive behavior therapy

The purpose of CBT is to alter mind states. It means that the Scopophobia person is made to change the negative thoughts with positive and relevant ones. 

The therapist helps the patient develop awareness about the mental health problem. They are taught ways to replace faulty thinking with productive ones. 

Instead of thinking about how others are scrutinizing them, the patient is taught to interact with the person staring at them, so that they know the real intention of the person.

CBT focuses on mind training and behavior modification techniques. The person is taught to act calmly in stressful times. They are taught to respond to the feared situation and not react instantly.

The therapy also helps the patient to identify those irrational thoughts that lead to fear responses. Once the patients become aware of their condition, they will be able to overcome the fear easily.

A research finding in 2013 revealed that CBT helps in reducing the fear of being scrutinized. People with SAD (social anxiety disorder) felt better after being treated with CBT sessions.

The researchers used a method known as CoDG (Cone of Direct Gaze). This method measures the gaze range of a person who might be looking at the patient to make them feel uncomfortable.

The findings of this study showed that people with a social anxiety disorder had a larger CoDG than those without the disease. 

After CBT therapy sessions got over with SAD patients, the difference between the experimental group and control group disappeared. The study revealed the efficacy of CBT in treating social phobias.

2. Exposure therapy

This therapy aims at facing the feared object in safe surroundings. In exposure therapy, the patient is exposed to the feared element gradually.

Their fear responses are recorded and feedback is given to the patient. 

People with Scopophobia avoid social situations. Through exposure therapy, the person will be exposed to small social setups where they will be taught how to cope with their anxiety.

There are different forms of exposure therapy that can be used with Scopophobia patients. They are as follows:

  • In vivo exposure – This is a direct form of exposure to the feared object. The Scopophobia patient can be exposed to make eye contact with others to remove their fear.
  • Exposure through imagination – In this, the patient imagines in detail the feared situation.
  • Virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) – This is a simulated exposure. The person is exposed to the feared situation through computer programs. 

The therapist prescribes a graded exposure for patients with Scopophobia. The patient is asked to face their fear in a step-by-step procedure. 

It means they are exposed to easy situations first and later on, the degree of difficulty is increased.

In this way, the fear is overcome when the patient gathers enough confidence to face and eliminates their fear completely.

Scopophobia prevalence

Scopophobia is not uncommon. On average, about 12% of the adult population globally suffers from Social anxiety.

They also fear people looking at them, staring at them, and trying to evaluate their worth. Not much exact data is available about the prevalence rate of Scopophobia.

But it is believed that Scopophobia can co-exist with either agoraphobia or social anxiety disorder. 

People with Scopophobia live restless lives. They show almost all the prominent signs of panic attacks. The fear response causes a sense of alarm and threat. 

They develop the insecurity of being harmed, misinterpreted, rebuked, or ridiculed in some way. They fear the gaze of other people and perceive it as threatening. 

As too much avoidance response is associated with this illness, we can say that Scopophobia is energy-draining and exhausting.

Eye contact avoidance, blushing, dry mouth, nervousness are associated signs of social anxiety disorder as well as Scopophobia. 

Another research finding also suggested that 15% of people in the United States will suffer from these two anxiety disorders at some point in their lives.

When to see the doctor?

If your Scopophobia symptoms are getting worse over a span of a few days or months, you should consult a therapist or a mental health professional for further assistance. 

They will put you through a treatment plan that will help to overcome the symptoms.

Living with Scopophobia is not easy because it interferes with your daily life. It limits your social functioning and you may fall into a trap of more fear and insecurity.

The symptoms vary from one person to the other. Your skill training in coping and symptom management will be individualized as well.

No two people will be given the same treatment plans. The doctor will do a detailed mental status examination and ask you several questions related to your phobia.

Then a treatment plan will be prepared and put to use for several weeks to get the desired outcome.

Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’

Scopophobia can cause a lot of emotional discomforts. But it is a treatable disorder. It means that if you’re clinically diagnosed with Scopophobia, you need to treat yourself to overcome your fears.

You need to place your mental health at the top of your priority list. You should not ignore the symptoms if it’s bothering you for quite some time. 

Becoming aware and developing insight into the illness leads to better recovery rates. 

If you or any of your loved ones are suffering from Scopophobia, you should seek medical advice on time to live a happy and healthy life.

Are you interested to know more about ‘Technophobia’ then click here?

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