Being Stared at, Is It Unnerving?
You’re inside your home, hesitant to leave. You know that once you do, people will see you. People will stare. Just that thought is causing your heart to feel like it’s beating out of your chest. You’d do anything to avoid being seen. As a result, you likely don’t go out in public very often and keep those trips as brief as possible.
If this scenario describes you, you may be suffering from scopophobia or the fear of being stared at.
If this is you, you’re likely extremely frustrated by the situation. You don’t want to be so scared of being stared at to the point that you cannot live your life, at least as easily as you see others live theirs. This situation can seem so completely out of your control. Fortunately, there are ways that you can gain a sense of control over this fear. Some of them can even be done by yourself with no professional assistance.
What Is Scopophobia?
This phobia has been known for thousands of years. In fact, in 400 B.C., Hippocrates described someone he knew as a person who “thinks every man observes him.” The word also has Greek roots. “Skopeo” means to look to, to examine, while “phobos” means fear. And, like other phobias, the fear that sufferers experience is not proportional to any threat that may or may not exist.
So, simply put, scopophobia is the fear of being stared at. But it’s more than that. It’s often the fear of simply being seen, and it often involves a related overwhelming feeling that you’re being scrutinized. This feeling can even occur when you’re alone at home if, for example, thoughts of being observed by hidden cameras are constantly at the forefront of your mind.
Some develop this type of fear because they have epilepsy or Tourette’s syndrome and are fearful of symptoms related to those occurring in public settings and then being stared at as a result. Others may have a physical deformity and are fearful of people staring at them for that reason. Those who have low body-image issues can have a fear of being stared at as well.
Bullying, particularly if it involves public ridicule, is another of the scopophobic/scopophobia causes. Some who suffer from the more common fears of public speaking and having stage fright develop scopophobia as well.
Symptoms of Scopophobia
It’s normal to feel uncomfortable if you notice someone actively staring at you, particularly if it’s someone you do not know. However, if you experience discomfort because you believe that everyone or nearly everyone will be staring at you as soon as you go out into public, that’s a definite sign of suffering from this phobia.
This is particularly true if that discomfort shows itself in more severe symptoms such as panic, a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and nausea. Some of the other symptoms that those suffering from scopophobia often experience include restlessness, difficulty concentrating, sweating, trembling, muscle tension, dry mouth, excessive worrying and blushing. Note that some with scopophobia also suffer from erythrophobia, the fear of blushing, which can significantly exacerbate this situation.
Of course, a common symptom of scopophobia is that fear resulting in avoiding being seen. At its most severe, it can result in the person rarely leaving home and experiencing an inability to work or to cultivate any sort of social life. The last point is particularly relevant when scopophobia has evolved from being scared of being seen by strangers to also including family members and friends.
Traveling on planes, trains or buses can be especially traumatic experiences for those with scopophobia.
When you realize that you’re starting to experience a scopophobia attack, take advantage of these self-help tips to get the situation under control. Take some deep breaths. Relax your body, focusing on one part of it at a time. Close your eyes to eliminate external visual stimulation. Visualize a place where you feel safe.
Also note that some are helped by a walk, especially if it’s in a quiet area, while others appreciate the support of a trusted friend or family member.
Scopophobia: Professional Help
In many cases, learning how to overcome scopophobia needs to be done with professional assistance.
One of the most common methods used by professionals is exposure therapy. They will analyze your fear and look to determine how it developed. Treatment methods would be provided next. Following the development of a fear hierarchy—a ranking of levels of fear experienced during different types of situations—is being exposed to those circumstances, the least fearful ones first. You’d then build from one step to another as you make your way through that fear hierarchy and gradually learn how to overcome scopophobia.
You can also engage in cognitive therapy. A professional would work with you to help you recognize how your thoughts have led to this state of mind and help you change your behavior.
Medication may also be prescribed to relieve anxiety.
How to Avoid Scopophobia
Avoidance is more of a symptom of scopophobia than a treatment method. This is because this fear is generally not one that can be avoided. For example, someone with a fear of heights could, for the most part, avoid heights if they didn’t want to attempt to overcome that fear. However, having a fear of being seen often results in great discomfort whenever outdoors or, in more extreme cases, indoors. That makes it especially difficult to go about life.
Fortunately, there is hope. Many of those who have taken advantage of self-help tips and the services of a mental health professional have reported the lessening of their scopophobia symptoms. You most likely have not experienced scopophobia your entire life, so you know that it doesn’t have to be this way. You can start to make your way to a mindset that has these thoughts and fears under control as you go about your day-to-day life in all types of settings.