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Eisoptrophobia: An irrational fear of mirrors

Having a phobia these days has become very common. One might have a phobia of insects, while others might fear heights. But did you know, one might end up having eisoptrophobia-an intense fear of mirrors? Wondering how and what exactly it is? The Pioneer’s K. RAMYA SREE speaks to experts and brings you a detailed analysis to answer all your questions in this regard.

Have you ever heard of the term “Eisoptrophobia”. We guess no, because this is still an uncommon term in India, both for its meaning and the term in itself.

For the unknown, Eisoptrophobia means an intense fear of mirrors. Eisoptrophobia is a specific phobia, which means it causes fear of a particular situation. The fear is typically much greater than the actual risk of danger. It may also be called spectrophobia or catoptrophobia.

People with Eisoptrophobia experience intense anxiety, fear, or distress, which is irrational,when they encounter mirrors or see their own reflections. Here, mirrors can act as a reminder of perceived flaws or imperfections.

Whenever you look into the mirror and feel supremely frightened, then there are higher chances of you having eisoptrophobia.

A report by NCBI (National Library of Medicine) highlighted a case of Eisoptophobia. The report read, “Ms. A is a 55-year-old woman who has experienced eisoptrophobia continuously for 30 years. Ms. A’s phobia was associated with a feeling of distress and shame. On a visual analog scale of 0 to 10, her fear was regularly scored above 9. During 30 years, she had no other Axis I or II disorder. Ms A had never been treated for eisoptrophobia and was medically healthy. She presented to our outpatient unit searching for psychotherapy to treat her phobia.”

To understand more about this phobia, we spoke to Dr. Neerja Aggarwal, PhD psychologist at Emoneeds, who explained to us: “Like other phobias, Eisoptrophobia is considered as an anxiety disorder and can have a significant impact on an individual’s daily life. But like other anxiety disorders, Eisoptrophobia does not have any distinct subtypes. However, people with this phobia may also go to an extent to avoid mirrors or reflective surfaces, such as by covering or removing mirrors in their environment or avoiding places where mirrors are commonly found. When it comes to the causes of Eisoptrophobia, it varies from person to person and may involve a combination of psychological, environmental, and experiential factors like traumatic experiences associated with mirrors, superstitions, and cultural beliefs, low self-esteem and body image issues like dysmorphia, and more.”

She asserted that people may learn to fear mirrors by observing others who display fear or an aversion towards mirrors and the underlying anxiety or phobic tendencies; if someone already has a predisposition to anxiety, they may be more prone to developing a fear of mirrors.

Dr. Neerja Aggarwal stressed that it is important to note that these are potential causes and that each individual’s experience may differ, and on the basis of that, the causes can also differ.

Similarly, different individuals who have eisoptrophobia exhibit different kinds of signs and symptoms, which can be observed in an individual’s behaviour and physical responses.

Behavioural responses:
Avoidance: People with eisoptrophobia may actively avoid situations or environments where mirrors are present.
Anxiety or panic attacks: The fear of mirrors can lead to heightened anxiety or even panic attacks in severe cases.
Hypervigilance or Excessive checking: People with eisoptrophobia may constantly scan their surroundings for mirrors, or fear unexpected encounters with their reflection.
Distorted self-perception: Eisoptrophobia can contribute to a distorted self-image and negative body image.
Preoccupation with appearance: Some individuals may exhibit excessive concern or preoccupation with their appearance due to a fear of mirrors or reflections.

Physical responses:
• Increased heart rate and blood pressure
• Sweating and trembling
• Shortness of breath
• Nausea or dizziness
• Muscle tension
“These behaviours and physical responses can be exhaustive. Individuals with eisoptrophobia may display a combination of these or other symptoms, and living with eisoptrophobia can be challenging as it is possible for individuals with eisoptrophobia to experience other fears or anxieties in addition to their fear of mirrors or reflections like- fear of imperfection, or fear of ugliness,” added the psychologist.

Asked who is more prone to getting eisoptrophobia, Pallerla Srikanth, MPhil PhD scholar (NIMHANS) and technical lead-cum-psychiatric case manager at Dr. Bharati Rao’s rehabilitation center, shared, “Individuals having self image issues may get Eisoptrophobia.”

He listed out types of eisoptrophobia such as: “Fear of mirrors, spiritual fears, fear of reflections, fear of the body image.” He further added, “One should have an insight about their phobia and must seek help from mental health care professionals and take medicines without fail by consulting the psychiatrist.”

Some common approaches that can be effective are:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy: It involves identifying and challenging negative thoughts and beliefs associated with mirrors.

Gradual exposure therapy: This therapy involves gradually exposing individuals to mirrors or mirror-related situations, starting with less anxiety-provoking situations and progressing to more challenging ones.
Virtual reality exposure therapy: Virtual reality technology can be used as a tool for exposure in a safe and controlled manner, by simulating mirror-related situations.
Relaxation techniques: Learning and practicing relaxation techniques, such as- deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation, can help individuals manage anxiety and stress related to eisoptrophobia.
Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage the symptoms of anxiety or panic associated with eisoptrophobia.
Support groups: Participating in supportive groups or group therapy sessions with individuals who share similar phobias can provide a sense of understanding, encouragement, and validation.

So, if you or your loved one is experiencing significant distress or impairment due to eisoptrophobia, seeking professional help from a mental health provider is advised. A mental health professional can provide an accurate diagnosis, offer appropriate treatment options; certainly, several treatments can be helpful for individuals struggling with eisoptrophobia. The choice of treatment may depend on the severity of symptoms and the individual’s specific needs. Remember, overcoming eisoptrophobia takes time, patience, and perseverance. It is a gradual process, and individual progress may vary. Some individuals may experience significant improvement or even full recovery, others may achieve a level of management.

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