Did you know there is an anxiety order which is the fear of being touched, medically known as Haphephobia?

It is understandable for people to be uncomfortable being touched by strangers. However, when a person feels uncomfortable or highly stressed being touched by family or close friends, there is a possibility the person may suffer from Haphephobia.

Another type of disorder where a person is hypersensitive to touch is called Allodynia, where the affected person may also avoid being touched, generally because touching causes then to feel pain.

Haphephobia symptoms

Haphephobia can be characterised by the following symptoms:

  • panic attacks – increased heart rate, sweating, chills, tingling sensation
  • immediate fear or anxiety just by thinking about being touched
  • immediate fear when actually touched
  • avoidance of situations or crowded places where chances of being touched are increased

All these symptoms may lead to depression, general anxiety and a lower quality of life.

Young children can also suffer from Haphephobia. They may display the following symptoms:

  • crying when another child or person tries to touch them
  • tantrums
  • clinging onto a parent or caregiver
  • freezing on the spot

Possible causes of Haphephobia

Research done on the disorder indicates Haphephobia can be caused when a person experiences or witnesses a disturbing or traumatic event that involved touching, though the individual may not remember or may choose to erase such an event.

It is somewhat surprising to note that Haphephobia can run in the family. A child can pick up a fear of being touched, if they see a parent or family member showing fear or avoiding being touched.

Haphephobia can also be related or caused by other conditions or phobias such as:

Mysophobia – a fear of germs, where due to a fear of uncleanliness or contamination causes a person to avoid being touched.

Post-traumatic stress disorder – PTSD sufferers fear being touched due to a previous traumatic experience related to being touched. This could be by experiencing or witnessing sexual abuse or a violent assault.

Ochlophobia – a fear of crowded places. A person suffering from Ochlophobia will be very anxious about being in crowded places as there is a fairly good chance/s of being touched by strangers.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – OCD sufferers fear situations outside their control, e.g., being touched by unknown people.

Historically, doctors have noticed that Haphephobia occurs twice as likely in women, probably because they are deemed the weaker sex.

Can Haphephobia be treated?

For a person to be treated for Haphephobia, he or she has to be taught how to be able to cope with anxiety and fear. Treatment will take time according to how well an individual can or is willing to cope.

One treatment is Talking Therapy, where trained experts teach a person new thoughts to help cope with the anxiety felt when being touched.

Getting a Haphephobia sufferer exposed to the fear gradually works too. A psychiatrist may start off by asking the patient to imagine being touched, then gradually progress on to actually being touched.

Hypnosis has also been known to calm a Haphephobia sufferer’s anxiety.

A doctor or psychiatrist can prescribe certain medications to reduce anxiety or panic attacks.

A therapist can teach a Haphephobia sufferer breathing exercises which can provide a sense of calm in an anxious situation of being touched.

Self-care in the form of exercise or relaxing situations like meditation are ways to promote better mental health and empower a person to tackle his or her phobias.

To conclude: there is hope for Haphephobia sufferers to control their fear of being touched. It takes a very experienced doctor or specially trained children’s counsellor to notice Haphephobia in children.

There are treatment options that a doctor will suggest according to the individual’s condition. Many Haphephobia sufferers have successfully undergone treatment and are able to overcome their phobia and be touched comfortably.

We would like to remind our readers the general information provided in today’s article on Haphephobia is not to be taken as medical advice, which should always be left to your doctor to dispense.

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