What is Haphephobia?

Fear of Touch

Doctor comforting senior patient
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Haphephobia, or the fear of touch, is an uncommon but often devastating phobia. If you suffer from haphephobia, you fear being touched by anyone, although some people are only afraid of being touched by those of the opposite gender.

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

How Did I Get Haphephobia?

Sexual assault or another trauma can trigger haphephobia, but more often, it seems to develop without any known cause.

Being unable to trace the cause is common in cases of specific phobia, a fear of a specific object or situation. The good news is that it's not necessary to know the cause to successfully treat this anxiety disorder.

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.

Symptoms of Haphephobia

An irrational fear of someone touching you is highly 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. Actually, many haphephobic are, thankfully, able to form warm, tight bonds with others, although they may worry that those bonds are at risk due to their inability to show physical affection.

The symptoms of haphephobia vary in severity depending on the level of fear. Some sufferers are:

  • able to tolerate touch that they initiate or give express permission for the other person to initiate
  • able, over a long period of time, to build enough trust to overcome their reactions with one or two specific people
  • 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 any other specific phobia.

You might:

  • freeze up
  • cry
  • shake
  • sweat
  • run away

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

  • going out of your way to always keep your hands full in an effort to avoid handshakes and hugs
  • avoiding spending time with people you think have a romantic interest in you
  • an aversion to any social interactions where you fear that people might expect some form of physical interaction 

Haphephobia Treatment

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. 

The rate of successful treatment for specific phobia is around 90 percent and, thankfully, haphephobia generally responds well to a variety of therapeutic interventions. 

In addition, 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.

You may never become fully comfortable with being touched, but with hard work you can learn to manage your fearful reactions.

Source:

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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