Many of us either experience anxieties or come across people who deal with various phobias in their everyday lives. While some mild and manageable anxieties don’t disrupt our lives, there are more severe versions like social phobias and the fear of being touched that can make everyday living difficult.
Haphephobia: Fear of Being Touched
You may be familiar with common phobias like claustrophobia, arachnophobia and even agoraphobia, but have you heard of haphephobia?
Haphephobia is defined as the fear of being touched by a stranger or being touched without consent and while individuals with mild attacks are only afraid of unfamiliar people, in more severe cases it might be difficult to be touched by loved ones too.
Many of us may have a mild fear of being touched by strangers, but it is diagnosed as a full-blown phobia when an individual panics with every touch, even an appreciative pat on the back. The panic mode can remain active for six months or more and start affecting both personal and official relationships.
Here are the general symptoms of haphephobia to look out for:
- Intense panic attacks characterized by profuse sweating, hot flashes, chills and an increased heart rate brought on just by the thought of being touched
- Staying away from places or situations where people may touch you
- Being aware of the irrational fear but being unable to deal with it
- Depression and low self-esteem
Some specific symptoms you may notice in children with haphephobia:
- Severe tantrums
- Becoming immobile when approached by someone who intends to touch them
- Constant crying when faced by a situation
- Staying near a parent or caregiver to avoid being touched by anyone else
Causes, Risk Factors and Treatments for Haphephobia
Psychologists and mental health experts believe that the fear of being touched might arise from another phobia, the fear of large mob-like crowds or ochlophobia.
A person can also become haphephobic by observing another person show a fear of being touched; this means that a child who grows up seeing an adult avoid situations involving touching may adopt the same fears.
The condition can also arise by being a witness to or experiencing a traumatic event that involved being touched, possibly without consent. While this episode may no longer be fresh in the individual’s memory, especially if it happened during early childhood, it can become a strong trigger for haphephobia and remain a part of the psyche for the rest of their lifetime.
Some of the common risk factors for this phobia are:
- Having other phobias and anxiety disorders like ochlophobia (fear of crowds), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Traumatic experiences in the past
- A family history of this or other phobias
- Gender: women are twice at risk than men
The main course of treatment for haphephobia and any other phobia is to teach the individual how to face situations that cause the fear and gradually cope with them to lead more normal lives.
Talk therapy is one of the first options that doctors choose, as it involves talking about the individual’s fears, understanding their triggers and trying to come up with coping mechanisms.
These sessions are often enhanced by incorporating exposure therapy, where the therapist slowly introduces a possible anxiety-causing situation, in a monitored environment. The therapy may start by imagining being touched to actually being touched or standing amidst big crowds to eventually overcome the fear.
Another course of treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy, where the therapist teaches the individual to think and behave differently when faced with difficult situations. They may also use virtual reality exposure therapy, which as the name suggests only involves virtual reality and no actual crowds or touching. This method may be more useful for people with severe haphephobia.
Some doctors may also prescribe medications like anti-depressants and beta-blockers to help with anxiety and other symptoms. Many also recommend practicing mindfulness techniques like meditation, breathing exercises and yoga.
It may be overwhelming to deal with phobias and anxieties on your own, so remember to reach out to friends and family when you feel like things are getting out of hand, get help and learn to overcome haphephobia forever.
Smith, A. (n.d.). Haphephobia: What to know about the fear of being touched. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320763.php?sr