Eisoptrophobia (Fear of Mirrors)

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

What is eisoptrophobia?

Some people experience extreme distress or shame when they catch their reflection in a mirror. This condition is eisoptrophobia. The root of the word is eisoptro, which is Greek for mirror, and phobia, which is Greek for fear. It translates to fear of mirrors or seeing yourself in a mirror or other reflective surface.

Phobias are real mental diagnoses. They fall under the category of anxiety disorders. A phobia is an excessive, irrational and overpowering fear of an object, animal, person, activity, environment or situation. In general, people with phobias know their reaction is out of proportion with reality. They understand there is no or very little real risk to themselves. But they can’t control their response to the phobia stimulus.

Eisoptrophobia is a simple phobia. Another name for simple phobias is specific phobias—they have specific triggers. Simple phobias are the most common type of phobia. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) believes the incidence of simple phobias is around 9% of the United States population.

Eisoptrophobia causes a persistent and overwhelming fear of mirrors or reflections. For some people, even thinking about looking in a mirror can cause anxiety. People with eisoptrophobia know this is not reasonable.

What are the symptoms of eisoptrophobia?

Like other simple phobias, eisoptrophobia symptoms are both physical and psychological. Physical phobia symptoms are real. They are the result of physiologic changes in response to fear or danger. Adrenaline is a main part of this response. It’s the hormone at the heart of fight-or-flight response. Common physical eisoptrophobia symptoms include:

  • Trembling or shaking

Common psychological eisoptrophobia symptoms include:

  • Avoidance of mirrors and other reflective surfaces
  • Dread or worry about having to look in a mirror
  • Guilt or shame about the fear of mirrors
  • Intense distress, panic, or desire to flee when looking in a mirror or other reflective surfaces
  • Recognition that fear of mirrors is irrational

If a child has eisoptrophobia, he or she may not be able to express their anxiety. Instead, they may react to mirrors by crying or throwing a temper tantrum.

If you think you may have eisoptrophobia, see your doctor. Early treatment for simple phobias is often successful at resolving the anxiety and distress.

What are the causes of eisoptrophobia?

The cause of simple phobias, including eisoptrophobia, is likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In some cases, past experiences with mirrors or reflections are to blame. This involves an area of the brain called the amygdala. It acts as a recorder for events in your life and your reactions to them. If you have a scary experience, it will remind you of your feelings when you encounter a similar event.

However, many people can’t recall a specific event that would explain the phobia. Genetics could play a role in this case. Many people with simple phobias have a first-degree relative with the same phobia. This suggests that inherited traits, such as personality, could be involved. Then again, many of our attitudes and behaviors are learned, consciously or not, from our families. So, it’s often hard to tell whether fears are indeed inherited or passed down in some other way.

What are the treatments for eisoptrophobia?

Many people find relief in simply knowing that their phobia is a real disorder. It isn’t some kind of character flaw or weakness and they can’t “just get over it.” And it is possible to gain control over it with treatment. In general, doctors recommend treating phobias when they become disruptive. This includes interfering with your ability to function normally and have normal work, school, social and personal relationships.

The most effective eisoptrophobia treatments are psychotherapy—or talk therapy—approaches including:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), which teaches you to identify and change negative thoughts, feelings and behaviors. A therapist helps you learn and embrace new beliefs about your fear. In the process, you will build confidence about your ability to face it. CBT is most effective in combination with exposure therapy.
  • Exposure therapy, which takes you through controlled situations that expose you to mirrors. The stimulus starts with a mild exposure, possibly just thinking about mirrors. A therapist helps you use anxiety-reducing strategies to work through the exposure. The exposures gradually get more intense. The goal is to know you can master your fear during these exposures. Desensitization therapy is another name for this approach.

Talk therapy is the preferred treatment for simple phobias. It usually provides long-term relief of anxiety and distress. However, medications are sometimes useful. Doctors usually reserve them for phobias relating to temporary situations, such as fear of flying. But they may have a role in helping people get started with talk therapy or when other mood disorders are present.

Eisoptrophobia can take a toll on your life. It can interfere with your personal grooming. It can even cause you to miss signs of disease if you aren’t able to view your reflection. Other possible complications of simple phobias include:

  • Social isolation, loneliness, and problems with work, school and social relationships
  • Substance abuse with alcohol or drugs in an effort to self-medicate and deal with the phobia
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 21
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