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What is Scopophobia? The Excessive Fear of Being Watched

In a world in which there is primacy of the image, scopophobia (the fear of being looked at) can be a real torture. However, its importance is sometimes discredited, since it is mistaken for shyness or fear.

It is not shyness, since in it the accused discomfort is less. While a person may have a hard time socializing, they don’t feel overly awkward or fearful in the situation. Instead, the phobia has a significant impact on the person’s everyday functioning.

Nor is it a simple fear, since it is adaptive and prepares us for action when necessary. But when fear becomes a permanent alarm and prevents us from bonding or developing our interests, then we have an impediment.

In the case of scopophobia, the fear is irrational and uncontrollable, even though the person tries to keep it at bay. In turn, it appears before a stimulus that in itself is not dangerous.

How is scopophobia expressed?

Scopophobia is characterized by an intense and persistent fear of being looked at. It is irrational or excessive in front of the situation.

So, it has the particularity of being both a social phobia and a specific one. In the first case, the person fears social situations, since in them he is exposed and can be observed. The anxiety and discomfort that occur are increasingly avoided, reinforcing and feeding a vicious cycle.

In turn, it responds to the specific type of phobia. It is a fear of something specific, beyond the fact that it occurs in a social situation.

Symptoms of scopophobia

The symptoms of scopophobia are similar to those of phobias in general, both somatic and autonomic and cognitive. Among them we find the following:

  • Tachycardia, body and voice tremors, sweating, chills.
  • Upset stomachs: from the feeling of emptiness in the stomach to diarrhea.
  • Thinking difficulties
  • Negative feedback: the perception of the symptoms is greater than what happens in reality.
  • Excessive self-centered attention.
  • Difficulty concentrating on another topic.
  • Fear of criticism and ridicule.

There are also cognitive biases that lead to extreme and unrealistic interpretations of the situation. For example, that everyone is criticizing, when there is no evidence that this is the case.

There is exaggeration of the mistakes made, underestimation of capabilities, selective attention to certain messages or reactions that confirm what is already thought. This is known as tunnel vision.

Causes and conditions related to scopophobia

There are different explanations or causal hypotheses that address the presence of scopophobia. Among them, two are the most widespread and we will explain them now.

1. Classical conditioning

Classical conditioning means that a negative event is associated with a previously neutral stimulus. That is, a person who attends a party and passes out in the midst of an observing crowd may develop a phobia of being looked at or of a social event.

2. Epilepsy

People who have epilepsy may develop scopophobia or a fear of being looked at in the face of a seizure. However, it is not an association that necessarily occurs in all patients. Nor does it have to do with neurological functioning, but with the meaning that is given to said disorder.

When to seek professional help?

As with other types of phobias, consulting with a professional is recommended. This disorder can be limiting. Even more so in the case of scopophobia, since contact with anyone can function as a stimulus for excessive fear.

Its approach is necessary due to the impact on daily life. Not only do people suffer great discomfort and anxiety in certain situations, but their social skills are also impaired.

The downside is that the anxiety caused by the phobia can increase over time, as you not only pay attention to the stimulus itself, but also to the fear reactions themselves. This could lead to avoidance, but also problematic substance use.

Available treatments for scopophobia

Phobias in general can be addressed through different treatments and techniques. Among the most common are those that are part of cognitive behavioral therapy.

One of the techniques that is worked with patients is that of gradual exposure to the stimulus that is avoided, also known as aversive stimulus. At this point, let’s remember that people with phobias tend to avoid those situations that are valued as potentially dangerous.

The technique consists of preparing the patient for the encounter with the feared situation. First through the use of the imagination of the scene, then with the sample of images or photographs, until reaching the real and concrete situation.

The cognitive restructuring is also one of the lines of action proposed, as is seeks to modify the irrational ideas that are at the base of the fears. In this way, new, more positive ideas are identified, questioned and proposed.

They also work on relaxation and coping techniques, through which they seek to develop resources in the patient so that they can remain calm in difficult situations. For example, with breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.

Finally, psychoeducation offers information about phobias, how they work and are expressed in the body. In this way, the patient can recognize the discomfort that ails him and begin to develop a minimal sense of control.

Let’s not normalize excessive fear

In the society in which we live, fear is often considered a sign of weakness, which is why people refuse to admit its existence. Thus, they normalize their discomfort instead of taking care of it and coping with it.

The anxiety that a phobia brings is exhausting. It produces deterioration both in your own life and in that of those close to you.

That is why when fear becomes excessive in a situation, uncontrollable and alters our routine, we must recognize ourselves as vulnerable and ask for help. There is all our power and even our greatest strength.

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