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Fear of mirrors (catoptrophobia): causes, symptoms and therapy

Fear of mirrors (catoptrophobia): causes, symptoms and therapy

May 22, 2024

There are many types of phobia that we talked about in Psychology and Mind , some very rare or strange as is the case of tripophobia. And is that phobias share many common symptoms and are quite common anxiety disorders.

All human beings can feel fear, which is an adaptive emotion that has allowed the human species to have survived over the centuries. Now, this adaptive emotion can become a situation that produces great discomfort and even irrational terror before some stimuli that are not dangerous at all.

In fact, one of these phobias is catoptrophobia or eisopothobia . The irrational fear of something as everyday as looking in the mirror.


The fear of mirrors, what is it about?

The fear of mirrors or catoptrophobia is a specific phobia that belongs to the group of anxiety disorders , because its characteristic symptom is the discomfort and the great anxiety that people with phobia suffer. Within the phobic disorders there are three groups: social phobia, agoraphobia or specific phobias. Regarding this last case. they appear in the presence of certain objects or concrete situations, such as spiders (arachnophobia), the fact of flying in an airplane (aerophobia) or, in this case, the presence of mirrors or the fact of looking at them.

Phobias cause the sufferer to try to avoid the dreaded situation or object and, for example, do not go to places where he may encounter phobic stimuli, something that can alter his normal life. Perhaps in the case of fear of mirrors, this pathology rarely affects the person's life in a very negative way except for the discomfort it causes, unlike other phobias such as claustrophobia, that the patient is unable to get on the transport public to go to work, thus hindering their work and social life.


However, It may happen that these people avoid, for example, going to their friends' homes to avoid having to face fear . Do not forget that mirrors are quite common objects, and discomfort can occur at any time, unlike other phobias in which the person rarely comes into contact with the phobic stimulus, such as snakes.

Sometimes, catoptrophobia can be confused with spectrophobia, which is the fear of the existence or appearance of specters or spirits, because people with this phobic disorder can be afraid to see their own reflection in the mirror and think that the figure can get out of said object.

What causes catoptrophobia?

Phobias can have different causes; but nevertheless, most experts agree that irrational fears are learned . Until just a few decades ago, the belief was that phobias were genetically inherited, but this view changed following the investigations of classical conditioning, a type of associative learning originally discovered by a Russian physiologist named Ivan Pavlov.


This character tried to experiment with the saliva of the dogs and that is why he brought them food. Well the dogs salivate when they go to eat to facilitate the digestion process. Pavlov realized that at first the dogs were salivating with the presence of food, but after several trials, the mere presence of the researcher caused the dogs to salivate even without food being present. This meant that the dogs had associated the presence of Pavlov to the food and, therefore, the scientist provoked the response that originally caused food alone.

The learning of fear in humans

Pavlov's experiments were the beginning of a new paradigm in Psychology: Behaviorism . But this current did not become popular until John B. Watson popularized it in the United States and, as a consequence, in the world. Watson experimented with a small child so that he was afraid of certain stimuli, that is, he provoked a phobia. This study is one of the most controversial of psychology, and is called the "Little Albert experiment".

In addition to this theory, another hypothesis that is shuffled around the origin of phobias is that some stimuli are more likely to be learned because we are biologically prepared for it to prevent the disappearance of our species. Therefore, when we learn something, mechanisms are produced that have little to do with reason and logic, and that is why it is difficult to overcome a phobia even though we are aware that fear is irrational.

On the other hand, this phobia can be developed by superstition or by false beliefs, because there is a popular belief that breaking a mirror assumes that bad luck will accompany us for seven years.

The symptoms of catoptrophobia

The symptoms of different types of phobias, whether specific or complex (social phobia and agoraphobia), are common among them. Anxiety is undoubtedly the most characteristic feature, which is accompanied by great discomfort and an attempt to avoid mirrors. The person can experience the phobia when he sees the mirrors or before his image in the mirrors.

In general, there are three types of symptoms of catoptrophobia:

  • Cognitive symptoms : experience of fear, great anxiety or anguish. Avoidance thoughts.
  • Behavioral symptoms : carry out flight behaviors or avoidance of the stimulus.
  • Physical symptoms : accelerated pulse, tachycardia, headache, upset stomach, etc.

How to overcome this phobia

Fortunately, phobias have a cure, and psychological treatment works very well for this type of disorder . Since its origin is learned, Behavioral Cognitive Therapy has been shown to be effective and the prognosis in patient recovery is very good.

Within this type of therapy it is common to use some methods such as relaxation techniques or exposure techniques. One type of exposure technique widely used is systematic desensitization, which involves exposing the patient gradually to the phobic stimulus while learning more adaptive coping strategies. For example, it is possible to start by showing the patient images of some mirrors, and at the end of the therapy he is able to take a mirror with his own hands and look at it without any fear.

However, this type of therapy, which works so well, belongs to the second generation therapies, but the third generation, which are more recent, have also been effective for any anxiety disorder. Among the latter stand out: Cognitive Therapy Based on Mindfulness and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

In extreme cases, pharmacological treatment is also a therapeutic action to consider, but it should always be combined with psychotherapy so that the symptoms are maintained over time.


Strangest Phobias in the WORLD!! Top 10 list! (May 2024).


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