Fear of mirrors (catoprophobia)-causes, symptoms, and therapy

Fear of mirrors (catoprophobia)-causes

There are many types of phobia that we have talked about in Psychology and Mind , some very rare or strange as is the case of triphobia. The fact is that phobias share many common symptoms and are fairly common anxiety disorders.

All human beings can feel fear, which is an adaptive emotion that has allowed the human species to survive over the centuries. However, this adaptive emotion can turn into a situation that produces great discomfort and even irrational terror in the face of some stimuli that are not dangerous at all.

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

The fear of mirrors, what’s that about?

The fear of mirrors or catoprophobia is a specific phobia that belongs to the group of anxiety disorders , since its characteristic symptom is the discomfort and great anxiety that people with phobia suffer. There are three groups of phobic disorders: social phobia, agoraphobia or specific phobia. In the latter case, they appear in the presence of certain objects or specific situations, such as spiders (arachnophobia), flying in an airplane (aerophobia) or, in this case, the presence of mirrors or the fact of looking into them.

Phobias cause the sufferer to try to avoid the feared situation or object and, for example, not go to places where he or she may encounter the phobic stimuli, something that can disrupt the normalcy of his or her life. Perhaps in the case of the 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 public transport to work, thus making his or her work and social life more difficult.

Now, it may happen that these people avoid, for example, going to their friends’ houses so as not to have to face the fear . It should not be forgotten 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.

Catoprobia can sometimes be confused with spectrophobia, which is the fear of the existence or appearance of ghosts or spirits, because people with this phobic disorder may be afraid to see their own reflection in the mirror and think that the figure may move away from the object.

What causes catoprophobia?

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

This character pretended to experiment with dogs’ saliva and so he brought them food. For dogs salivate when they go to eat to facilitate the digestion process. Pavlov noticed that at first the dogs salivated in the presence of the food, but after several trials, the researcher’s presence alone caused the dogs to salivate even without the food being present. This meant that the dogs had associated Pavlov’s presence with the food, and so the scientist provoked the response that originally triggered food alone.

Learning about 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 made it popular in the United States and, as a consequence, in the world. Watson experimented with a young child so that he would be afraid of certain stimuli, that is, he would provoke a phobia in him. This study is one of the most controversial in psychology, and is called the “Little Albert Experiment”.

In addition to this theory, another hypothesis that is being considered about the origin of phobias is that some stimuli are more likely to be learned because we are biologically prepared for them to avoid the disappearance of our species. That is why, 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 develop due to superstition or false beliefs, as there is a popular belief that breaking a mirror means bad luck will be with us for seven years.

The symptoms of catoprophobia

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

In general, three types of symptoms of catoprophobia are discussed:

  • Cognitive symptoms : experience of fear, great anxiety or distress Thoughts of avoidance.
  • Behavioral symptoms : performing escape or avoidance behaviors from the stimulus.
  • Physical symptoms : rapid pulse, tachycardia, headache, stomach upset, etc.

How to overcome this phobia

Fortunately, phobias can be cured, and psychological treatment works very well for this type of disorder . Since its origin is learned, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has proved to be effective and the prognosis in the recovery of patients 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 that is widely used is systematic desensitization, which consists of gradually exposing the patient 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 the patient is able to take a mirror with his own hands and look at himself in it without any fear.

Now this type of therapy, which works so well, belongs to the second generation of therapies, but the third generation, which is more recent, has also been shown to be effective for any anxiety disorder. Among the latter are Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy 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.

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