28th Mar 2023
Scopophobia is an intense fear of being watched or looked at and can occur following a traumatic event or due to unknown causes. Treatment for scopophobia includes therapeutic interventions and medications.
Scopophobia is an extreme fear of being watched or stared at and can lead to significant impairments in daily, social, or professional functioning .
While many people experience anxiety at the thought of performing or speaking in front of others, scopophobia is an intense fear of being looked at by anyone at any time, whether this is friends and family, colleagues, or strangers, so can be very disabling, potentially leading to a complete avoidance of any interactions or even leaving the house.
Although not specifically mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), scopophobia is considered a specific phobia. Specific phobias are characterized by an irrational and disproportionate level of fear or anxiety when faced with a certain stimulus .
Scopophobia is also often linked with social anxiety disorder, formally known as social phobia . This means many people with scopophobia also have social anxiety disorder. But it should be noted that although the two conditions share many similarities, they are two distinct conditions with different diagnostic criteria .
Current research on scopophobia is limited, partially due to the fact that many people do not report or seek help for phobias . Similarly, many people may interpret their symptoms as being due to other conditions such as social anxiety disorder. As such, further research is required to clarify the causes of and circumstances surrounding the development of specific phobias such as scopophobia.
Symptoms of scopophobia may vary from person to person but can include :
The exact cause of scopophobia is not known and may differ from person to person. However, there are several theories about certain risk factors that may increase the likelihood of a specific phobia developing.
Research suggests that there is a strong familial link associated with the development of specific phobias. Those with a specific phobia have been found to be significantly more likely than healthy individuals to have a relative with an anxiety disorder, phobia, or both, indicating that a genetic predisposition is likely .
Research into the neurobiology of fear and specific phobias has found that some people have a difference in the activation and function of the fear response in the amygdala, suggesting that they may have an increased sensitivity to fear that could lead to the development of a phobia .
Phobias can develop as a response to a traumatic experience . For example, someone with scopophobia may have experienced bullying and teasing as a child. The bullying and/or teasing may have involved people looking at them and ridiculing them. The emotional response to this negative experience could then become associated with being looked at by others, thereby developing into a phobia .
Specific phobias are often not diagnosed, as many people live with their fear and avoid the stimulus that causes it . However, if you think you have scopophobia, it is important to seek a diagnosis in order to receive appropriate treatment to prevent further impact on your life.
To diagnose scopophobia, you will be asked questions about your symptoms as they relate to diagnostic criteria. The diagnostic criteria for a specific phobia according to the DSM-5 includes :
The effectiveness of treatment for certain kinds of specific phobias is not well researched. Therefore, it is not clear if each phobia responds to treatment in the same way. Treatment for phobias typically involves systematic exposure and desensitization to gradually decrease the fear associated with the stimulus while also managing symptoms of anxiety .
Although there are no approved medications for the treatment of a specific phobia, a medication may be prescribed to help manage the symptoms of scopophobia, including :
It is important to take your medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor, as taking too much, skipping doses, or suddenly stopping a medication can cause adverse effects and may worsen your mental and physical health.
If you have scopophobia, you may be able to manage some of your symptoms by utilizing some self-help techniques, including :
The prevalence of scopophobia is not known, due to a lack of research and reporting of the condition. However, it is believed that between 1-10% of the population experiences a debilitating phobia and females are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with a specific phobia than males .
Scopophobia can have detrimental effects on daily, social, and professional functioning.
If the individual is unable to be near other people for fear of being looked at, they may be unable to attend medical appointments or speak with friends and family, so cannot receive the support they require, which may worsen their mental wellbeing. They may also be unable to go to work and could lose their employment, thus creating financial struggles.
Someone with scopophobia may even be unable to leave their home or enter any public place because of their fear, which may lead to them becoming entirely isolated and experiencing a decline in their mental wellbeing.
Social anxiety disorder and scopophobia share many similarities, as they both can cause severe anxiety when faced with a social situation and may lead to functional impairment or avoidance of certain situations.
However, scopophobia is a specific fear of being looked at, while social anxiety disorder applies more generally to being judged or scrutinized in any social situation .
For example, a musical performance for someone with scopophobia may not cause anxiety if people cannot see them, such as an audio recording or performing in the dark, as their phobia is related only to being looked at, whereas a person with social anxiety disorder may be unable to perform regardless, as their anxiety is related to the scrutiny of their performance.
Someone with social anxiety disorder may also have scopophobia, causing their anxiety to increase while being looked at. However, research suggests that for some people with social anxiety disorder, being looked at has no impact on their anxiety levels, showing that there is a distinct difference, although this requires further research and understanding .