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Understanding Catoptrophobia: The Fear of Mirrors

written by: Elise M. • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 4/27/2011

The fear of mirrors, or Catoptrophobia, is a specific phobia often rooted in superstitious and supernatural irrational fears. Read on for common beliefs, experiences, and symptoms of patients suffering from Catoptrophobia.

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    Catoptrophobia is the fear of mirrors. It is considered a “specific phobia" since it is irrational, poses no actual danger, and is specific to mirrors. Since mirrors are in every home, bathroom, and are often used as decorative pieces in public areas, mirrors cannot fully be avoided and may cause incredible suffering to an individual suffering from this specific phobia. Understanding the basis of the fear and the symptoms that arise from it are the first steps in gaining help to overcome it.

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    Symptoms

    Patients with this diagnosis are consciously aware that their fear is irrational. Despite this, mirrors cause them great anxiety. People may avoid walking near mirrors or even rooms that they know have mirrors in them. If an individual’s phobia is severe enough, it can cause a full blown panic attack.

    Common symptoms when exposed to a mirror include:

    1. Shortness of breath
    2. Sweating
    3. Anxiety
    4. Rapid heart rate
    5. Dry mouth
    6. Nausea
    7. Inability to think or speak clearly
    8. Fear of dying or losing control

    The fear of mirrors and the resultant symptoms that develop from exposure (or thoughts of being exposed to) mirrors are often based in an individual’s fearful thoughts. The most common fearful thoughts linked to Catoptrophobia include:

    1. The fear of seeing something other than what should be reflected
    2. Fear of being watched from inside the mirror
    3. Fear of something coming out of the mirror to get them
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    Irrational Basis in Superstition

    Most patient’s fears are grounded in a form of superstition. One of the most well known superstitions involving mirrors is the idea that you will experience 7 years of bad luck if you break one. A patient may avoid mirrors to avoid incurring bad luck by accidentally breaking one. In addition, some people may feel that they are “losing" a part of their soul when their reflection is “caught" in a mirror. This is similar to the belief that photographic images of a person also captures a part of that individual’s soul. Mirrors have also been linked to the supernatural world in many books and movies, and an individual with Catoptrophobia may feel that looking into a mirror will connect them to a supernatural world and make them vulnerable to the unknown.

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    Common Misdiagnosis

    Catoptrophobia is often misdiagnosed as Eisoptrophobia, which is the fear of seeing oneself in a mirror. Catoptrophobia is the fear of mirrors themselves, and not of a person seeing themselves in a mirror. A distinction between these two diagnoses is vital for understanding the pathology of the illness and in utilizing effective treatment modalities specific to the underlying issue. For example, exposure treatment for Eisoptrophobia may include varying levels of exposing a person to seeing images, videos, and gradually up to prolonged periods of looking at oneself in the mirror. If your fear is not one of seeing yourself, but of the mirror, the treatment would focus more on the mirror, instead of how one looks.