What Is Haphephobia?

The Fear of Being Touched

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What Is Haphephobia?

Haphephobia involves a fear of touch. While uncommon, it is often a devastating phobia. It is in the class of phobias known as specific phobias, which are fears of a specific object or situation. If you have haphephobia, you fear being touched by anyone, although some people are only afraid of being touched by those of a different gender.

An irrational fear of someone touching you is unusual in that it is not particularly linked to other anxiety-related conditions such as social phobia (social anxiety disorder) or a fear of vulnerability or intimacy. Many people with haphephobia can form warm, tight bonds with others, although they may worry that those bonds are at risk due to their inability to show physical affection.

Haphephobia can be extremely difficult for strangers and people close to you to understand. The person offering the touch may feel rejected when you shy away.

Haphephobia is also known by other names, including aphenphosmphobia, chiraptophobia, and thixophobia.

Symptoms

The symptoms of haphephobia can vary in severity. Some people with this phobia may build enough trust to overcome their reactions with one or two specific people over a long period of time. And/or, they may tolerate touch that they initiate or give express permission for another person to initiate. Others remain uncomfortable with any form of touch at all.

If you have haphephobia, your reactions to encountering your trigger may be similar to those of people with other specific phobias.

You might:

  • Cry
  • Freeze
  • Run
  • Shake
  • Sweat

People may also experience panic attacks that can be characterized by rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, and a sense of impending doom.

Symptoms of a specific phobia frequently include avoidance. In cases of haphephobia, this can manifest as avoiding:

  • Handshakes and hugs by going out of your way to keep your hands full
  • People who you think have a romantic interest in you
  • Social situations where you fear that people might expect some form of physical interaction

The need for touch and human contact is innate, and the inability to enjoy that contact can cause additional mental health issues due to the resulting feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Diagnosis

Haphephobia is not recognized as a distinct condition in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-5). It would be diagnosed as a specific phobia (a phobia of a specific object or situation). In order to be diagnosed with this condition, your doctor will ask you questions about the nature, duration, and severity of your symptoms. They may also take a medical history, perform a physical, or conduct lab tests to help rule out other conditions.

The DSM-5 specifies that a specific phobia must:

  • Create excessive, unreasonable fear
  • Occur almost immediately in the presence of the fear source
  • Lead to either avoidance or extreme distress
  • Create limitations in a person's life

Symptoms must also be present for at least six months and cannot be caused by another medical or mental health condition.

Related Conditions

Before you can be diagnosed with this type of phobia, a doctor must first rule out other potential conditions that might be causing your symptoms. Conditions that may share some symptoms with haphephobia include:

A doctor would also rule out allodynia, which involves being hypersensitive to touch. In this case, people avoid being touched because they find it painful or overstimulating. Haphephobia can be related to sensory processing issues.

Causes

The exact causes of haphephobia are not known, but there are a number of factors that may play a role. Like other specific phobias, genetics, family history, experiences, and overall temperament can contribute to the development of a phobia.

  • Family history: Fears can be learned through observation, so seeing close members who also have a phobia or other anxiety disorder can also make it more likely that someone might develop this condition.
  • Traumatic experiences: Sexual assault or other traumas may also play a role. Any negative experience involving touch could potentially contribute to the development of the condition.

Research suggests that women are twice as likely as men to experience specific phobias such as haphephobia. Having another type of phobia or mental health condition also increases the likelihood of developing a specific phobia. According to the DSM-5, 75% of people with specific phobias have more than one phobia.

More often, it seems to develop without any known cause. This is true for many cases of specific phobias. Most people who cannot trace their haphephobia to a specific event developed the fear in early childhood, but the triggering situation could occur at any time of life.

The good news is that it's not necessary to know the cause to successfully treat this anxiety disorder.

Treatment

Fortunately, specific phobias are highly treatable. The rate of successful treatment for specific phobias is around 80% to 90%. A few different treatment options that are available include:

Medication

Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications may sometimes be prescribed to help people manage the symptoms of specific phobias such as haphephobia. These medications are often most effective when used in conjunction with psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy

Exposure therapy is often recommended for the treatment of specific phobias. This treatment involves progressively exposing people to the thing that they fear while also practicing relaxation techniques. Eventually, the fear response begins to become less severe.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is another treatment often recommended for specific phobias. This type of therapy addresses the negative thoughts and distortions that contribute to the development and maintenance of phobias.

Coping

In addition to seeking treatment for your condition, there are also steps that you can take on your own that can make it easier to cope. Some of these include:

  • Care for yourself: Make sure that you take good care of both your physical and mental health. Get plenty of rest, follow a healthy diet, get regular exercise, and find ways to relax and manage stress.
  • Get support: Having friends and family who understand and support you is also important. You may also find it useful to join a self-help group where you can talk to people who are going through similar experiences.
  • Try to avoid reinforcing your fear: Avoidance coping reinforces and worsens your phobia. This doesn't mean that you need to confront your fear directly, but finding ways to gradually expose yourself to what you are afraid of can help you overcome your fear.

Couples or family therapy can help those you are closest to understand your fear and develop alternative ways of expressing their affection for you. Look for a therapist with whom you can develop trust and therapeutic rapport, and expect the process to take some time.

If you or a loved one are struggling with a phobia, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

The fear of being touched can develop as a result of deeply traumatic experiences. Such reactions are understandable and treatment can help people cope with memories of the trauma as well as the symptoms of haphephobia.

If your fear is keeping you from fulfilling your everyday needs, it is important to contact a mental health professional. You may never become fully comfortable with being touched, but with hard work, you can learn to manage your fearful reactions.

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Article Sources
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