In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Ommetaphobia.
What is Ommetaphobia?
Someone suffering from an intense fear of eyes is known to have Ommetaphobia. It is type of a specific phobia which comes under the category of Anxiety disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DMS-5).
As in the case of all other specific phobias, people with Ommetaphobia experience extreme anxiety when they encounter their fear stimuli (eyes in this case). Apart from just seeing eyes, people with this condition feel extremely anxious by the mere thought of eyes. If the anxiety becomes severe, the person might have panic attacks.
The DSM-5 also proposes, that for the diagnosis of Ommetaphobia, one must have extreme anxiety lasting for at least 6-months. This anxiety should affect ones social and occupational relations. For example, a sufferer might find it extremely difficult or stressful to talk to someone while looking in the eye. This may offend the other person, who is unaware of the sufferers’ condition. Therefore, one’s social relations might get compromised.
An example for occupational dysfunction can be, someone appointed to make an announcement on stage or address/present to a large audience is instructed to look in the eye of the people while speaking. Sufferers of Ommetaphobia will find looking in the eye to be traumatizing. Thus, they might not be able to complete their task correctly and be criticized by people or made of fun. They might even lose their job because of an unhappy boss.
People with specific phobias avoid the object/situation they fear. As in the case with Ommetaphobia, individuals avoid looking into someone’s eyes, or even their own. They might not be able to socialize with others, go for an eye treatment or examination if needed due to some medical reasons or see themselves in the mirror.
Ommetaphobia is described as an irrational fear of eyes. This fear can affect ones’ normal routine and or social life. It is irrational because the fear has no touch with reality, as eyes don’t cause any sort or ‘real’ danger. However, to the ones who suffer, the very site/thought of eyes can trigger extreme anxiety.
Ommetaphobia, like all other specific phobias have anxiety as their key symptom. This anxiety, if intensifies can lead to full-blown panic attacks and the person might even need hospitalization.
If the person comes across one’s eyes, it will not just trigger anxiety but other physiological symptoms as well. Therefore, the person avoids contact with the eyes through whatever means they can. This act of avoidance produces pleasant feelings and justifies their fear. The person is reassured that eyes are objects to be feared of and ones’ phobia is maintained.
In the long run, one can also develop Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), with compulsions of averting the gaze.
When in an avoidable situation, the persons’ anxiety increases and he may feel nauseous, dizzy or experience panic attacks.
Ommetaphobia has a number of other symptoms which are as follows:
- Extreme anxiety when looking into someone’s eyes
- Extreme anxiety upon the thought of eyes
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- High blood pressure
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of numbness, as if parts of your body have paralyzed
- Drying up of the mouth
An individual should experience, at least 3-5 of these symptoms to be diagnosed with Ommetaphobia. The physical symptoms of anxiety are the focal symptoms that are prevalent in phobias.
Ommetaphobia is an irrational fear of eyes. All specific phobias, including Ommetaphobia are said to be either caused by a genetic predisposition or some trigger event from the environment.
If someone has a family history of a specific phobia or anxiety related disorders, they are more likely to develop this irrational fear of eyes. This is because the individual has a genetic tendency or a diathesis to develop Ommetaphobia. According to this genetic explanation, any alteration in the structure of the person’s genes and an imbalance in the levels of neurotransmitters can produce symptoms of phobias.
However, genetics solely cannot be the reason for one to suffer from a specific phobia (for example Ommetaphobia). There is a diathesis-stress relationship which instigates phobic symptoms, such as anxiety. According to this model, one with a genetic predisposition won’t show symptoms for a phobia, until there is a triggering event which causes anxiety to them.
For example, a person might have developed Ommetaphobia after they saw someone’s eye getting injured. Or they might have heard of the incidents in which eyes were the reason one suffered extreme pain. These people have an irrational fear of getting their eyes injured and suffering the way others did.
Another possible reason for one’s fear of eyes can be association. For example, if a child had abusive parents, he might be scared of eyes in general because he associated his parents(s) aggressive eyes, with that of other people. Another incident can be in which one fears eyes because he associates or links the eyes of a vicious animal (for example, wolf) with that of humans.
People who are sexually or physically abused can also develop Ommetaphobia because they think everyone’s eyes might resemble that of their convict and this can bring traumatizing memories back to them.
One, out of many other possibilities can be a person fearing eyes because according to the famous dictum, ‘eyes are the windows to your soul’. This means, due to someone’s negative personality their eyes can be associated to everyone with the same (for example eye color) by the sufferer. Which can later be generalized to the whole population (every eye color or eye).
Also, people with social anxieties find it difficult to look someone in the eye because of the fear of being embarrassed.
Therefore, Ommetaphobia is caused not just by a genetic predisposition but due to a number of other environmental factors that trigger anxiety.
Ommetaphobia, like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it. However, it is treated by a number of therapies including Exposure Therapy, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lowers down the anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Ommetaphobia (or any other kind of specific phobia). In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his fear over a certain span of time. To begin with the therapy, the therapist exposes the patient to the least triggering stimuli, a picture for example, that depicts eyes.
As the therapy progresses and the patient is able to control his anxious feelings, imagery can be used to take the treatment a step further. In this part of the treatment the patient is asked to visualize/imagine a situation in which they’re looking into someone’s eyes. During this process of imagery, one actually feels being in that particular situation or place, experiencing various senses.
Once the person successfully, without feeling anxious clears this step of the therapy, he is then exposed to real eyes (for example, that of the therapist himself).
While the patient is being exposed to different levels of fear during the various stages of therapy, the therapist simultaneously teaches them coping exercises. These include, breathing techniques or muscle relaxation methods to lower their anxiety, when in an actual anxiety causing situation. This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to a fear stimulus.
Before actually starting the exposure therapy, the therapist needs to figure out the intensity of the patients fear, as to deduce whether they will be able to undergo this treatment, without any physical or psychological harm caused to them during the exposure processes.
However, these steps desensitize one to their fear of eyes, by being exposed to the stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatment for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders. Ommetaphobia is defined as the irrational fear of eyes. Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones. The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about being exposed to painful situations. The therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation. The ABCD stands for:
i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation
iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Ommetaphobia. It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients of this type of specific phobia. Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6 months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group).
i. Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts. The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling. Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.
ii. Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts. Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment. This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then. For example, a person is told to focus on his breath or on the smell of a certain food presented to them, making use of their olfactory sense.
iii. The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills. This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed. Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse. Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, is used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions. Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions. Lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example to focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process. This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes’ yoga and meditation, 6 days a week and are told to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15minutes a day.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Ommetaphobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people. Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while a person is in a particular yoga position. Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calmer, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like. Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga. The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about eyes.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Ommetaphobia. Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.
This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic. However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.
Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
- Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs, as the name suggest don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias. Medicines like Zoloft reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm. They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without the doctor’s advice.
- Anti-anxiety Drugs
These include medicines like Xanax. They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers the anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
Whether the cause of Ommetaphobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Titles to read
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Rewire Your Brain: Overcome Anxiety, Depression and Phobias Using Psychological Techniques and Emotional Intelligence
by Bob A. Mills, DMS, et al
- Phobias: Revealed and Explained
by Richard Waters
- Phobias: Revealed and Explained
by Richard Waters
- The American Psychiatric Association Publishing Textbook of Anxiety, Trauma, and Ocd-related Disorders
By Edited by Naomi M. Simon, M.D., et al
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) How do you get over your eye phobia?
Eye phobia, called as Ommetaphobia has a number of effective treatments. To treat it, one needs to see a doctor (psychologist/psychiatrist). They will help the patient with a number of therapies which include Cognitive-behavioral therapy, Exposure therapy, DBT and many more.
Q2) What causes Ommetaphobia?
This type of specific phobia is caused either by a genetic predisposition or a negative event which triggers anxiety. For example, a past traumatic experience.
Q3) Do I have Ommetaphobia?
Symptoms help in indicating whether someone has Ommetaphobia or not. These symptoms include, extreme anxiety, full-blown panic attacks, nausea, breathlessness etc.
Q4) What to do if someone has Ommetaphobia?
After one is diagnosed with Ommetaphobia, they should contact a psychologist/psychiatrist in order for him to be treated by them, before the symptoms worsen.