What Is Spectrophobia?

Woman with eyes closed holding a small mirror.

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What Is Spectrophobia?

Spectrophobia, a type of anxiety disorder classified as a specific phobia, is the fear of mirrors and/or the fear of what may be reflected in them. It may also be referred to as eisoptrophobia or catoptrophobia. Individuals with spectrophobia may be extremely fearful of their own reflection, of the mirror itself, or of ghosts appearing in mirrors.

This condition is very rare, but it can also be quite serious. Like other phobias, spectrophobia can disrupt all aspects of an individual's life and lead to avoidance behaviors. Experiencing symptoms of spectrophobia can be incredibly debilitating and can impact one's overall quality of life.

Symptoms

Symptoms of spectrophobia will vary depending on the individual, but may include the following:

  • An individual may experience anxiety and/or fear symptoms (such as shaking, sweating, increased heart rate, and panic) when they encounter or think about mirrors or reflections.
  • The fear is out of proportion given the socio-cultural context.
  • The person may engage in avoidance behaviors.
  • An individual may experience significant distress and disruption to their life because of the fear of mirrors or reflections.

For a diagnosis of specific phobia, the symptoms must be present for at least six months and cannot be better explained by another medical condition or mental health disorder.

It is important to note that individuals who experience spectrophobia may also have a comorbid diagnosis, which may include panic disorder. Both specific phobias and panic disorder are classified as anxiety disorders, and despite some overlapping symptoms, they are distinctly different diagnoses.

When to Seek Help

Experiencing spectrophobia can be incredibly scary. If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others, or you are having difficulty with acts of daily living, reach out for help immediately. Call 911 if you are in a life-threatening situation, and consider contacting a mental health professional or SAMHSA for ongoing treatment and support.

Diagnosis

A specific phobia may be diagnosed by your doctor or a mental health professional using the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5). The DSM-5 details the specific diagnostic criteria that must be met in order for you to receive a diagnosis. Your treating clinician may ask you to describe your symptoms, their intensity, and their frequency. They may also ask you to rate your fear or anxiety level on a scale in order to better understand your experience.

Related Conditions

During the diagnostic process, your treating clinician will rule out other conditions and may diagnose you with a co-occurring condition. By taking the time to fully understand the scope of your symptoms, your clinician can offer you the best treatment and/or referrals possible. Your treating clinician may rule out:

Comorbidities with Spectrophobia

Research indicates that having a specific phobia strongly correlates with an individual experiencing a later onset of another mental health disorder, with the most common being mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance use disorders.

Causes

Specific phobias may be caused by a traumatic event, but that isn't the case for everyone who experiences them. Research indicates that genetic and environmental factors may also play a role in developing a specific phobia. Spectrophobia can manifest in a variety of ways depending on the individual and their unique experience and genetics.

  • Children and adults with over-activated amygdalas (a part of the brain involved in emotion and behavior) may be more prone to developing specific phobias.
  • Children and adults who experience issues with habituation processing may be more prone to developing phobias. In other words, objects or situations that would otherwise be seen as non-threatening to the brain over time instead continue to trigger the fear response.
  • Underlying fears may be exacerbated by genetic, environmental, and/or traumatic experiences. Those with spectrophobia may have a fear of ghosts, reflections, death, and/or criticism.

Trauma-Induced Spectrophobia

An individual who has experienced a traumatic event involving a mirror may develop spectrophobia. For example, a child who was frightened by someone in the mirror one or multiple times may eventually develop spectrophobia.

Types

Spectrophobia may be used to describe several different types of mirror-related phobias. Keep in mind that these subtypes are not official diagnoses.

Fear of Mirrors and Body Image

If you experience body image-related issues, the thought of mirrors or reflections may trigger a phobic response. You may also concurrently experience symptoms of spectrophobia, along with a feeding and eating disorder, and/or body dysmorphic disorder.

Fear of Reflections

A fear of mirrors may be related to a more generalized fear of reflections. In addition to mirrors, you may be afraid of any reflective material such as a highly polished car or some types of sunglasses. Reflections inherently distort the reflected items, causing them to appear slightly unreal, which some may find disturbing.

Spiritual Fears

Mirrors have long been linked to religious rituals, customs, and superstitions. Some believe that a mirror reflects a person's soul. In some cultures, individuals cover the mirrors in a newly deceased person's home, whether to prevent dead spirits from appearing or to keep surviving loved ones from being marked for death. The link between a mirror and the soul has led to a wide range of urban legends that may contribute to an individual's fear of death and/or ghosts.

Treatment

Treatment for spectrophobia will depend on your unique needs, although it typically involves some sort of psychotherapy. While seeking treatment for spectrophobia may feel overwhelming or scary, it's important to prioritize your well-being. Know that you do not have to experience this alone and that there are resources and skilled clinicians available to help you learn to overcome your fears.

Exposure therapy is the most commonly used method for treating specific phobias.

Medication

Treatment of spectrophobia typically doesn't require medication, but psychoactive drugs are necessary on occasion, particularly if an individual has a co-occurring mental health disorder. Research has found that medication works best for treating specific phobias when used in conjunction with psychotherapy. Medication options may include:

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is often an effective treatment option for people who experience symptoms of spectrophobia. Psychotherapy may be used in conjunction with medication or on its own. Therapeutic techniques will vary depending on your unique needs as well as your therapist's treatment style. Some common techniques used to treat specific phobias include:

Coping

Experiencing spectrophobia can feel incredibly overwhelming and may significantly decrease your quality of life. Whether you are currently seeking treatment for spectrophobia or not, finding healthy ways to cope may decrease some of your symptoms.

If you are supporting a loved one with spectrophobia, be sure to take care of yourself as well. Watching a loved one experience something life-altering can feel heartbreaking, so make it a priority to check in with yourself and seek therapeutic support if needed.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how to face your fears in a healthy way.

A Word From Verywell

Regardless of the underlying cause of your spectrophobia, know that there are many effective treatment options available. If you are experiencing a decrease in your overall quality of life because of spectrophobia or are having difficulty with acts of daily living, it's important to reach out to a mental health professional as soon as possible.

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