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Haphephobia – Fear of Being Touched and Its Impact on Lifestyle

Haphephobia – Fear of Being Touched and Its Impact on Lifestyle

Published on Feb 07, 2023

Haphephobia - Fear of Being Touched and Its Impact on Lifestyle

Some people do not like it if anyone touches them. It usually happens when a person knows that an individual has the habit of touching them inappropriately, hence resulting in stress and anxiety. Over a period, they find out ways to avoid them and continue leading a stress-free life.

If anyone fears touch or suffers from Haphephobia, it will make them suffer from intense and irrational fear. They will hesitate to get close to even known individuals and hamper their relationships.

Read on to know more –

Haphephobia – Fear of Being Touched

Haphephobia, the fear of being touched, is an anxiety disorder wherein an individual does not want to get close to any stranger who might touch them without their consent. In severe cases, it can hamper their daily life and relationships with their family members and friends. The affected person might always want to avoid them at all costs.

The term ‘Haphephobia’ refers to an anxiety disorder primarily characterized by a fear of being touched. It is usual for people to feel uncomfortable if strangers touch them without their consent. They will try their best not to get close to that individual from next time onwards.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America is an organization that dedicates itself to the prevention, detection, and treatment of anxiety as well as depression. According to this organization, anxiety disorders impact almost 40 million adults each year in the United States. It amounts to 18% of the total population.

Haphephobia comes under the group of specific phobias. Specific phobias are those which arise out of specific objects or situations. Haphephobia happens to be an irrational fear of getting touched that does not involve a lot of threat. 

This phobia can adversely impact an individual. It happens especially when any unknown person comes close to a point where there can be physical touch. Hence, they let them suffer from anxiety. Gradually, it can reach a severe level. Then their anxiousness becomes even more drastic and impacts their relationships.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 250 million people suffered from a minimum of one anxiety disorder in 2015. It indicates that the figure must have gone up a few times in all these years since then.

Haphephobia involves the fear of touch. Even though it is uncommon, still, this phobia tends to be a devastating one. It belongs to the class of phobias known as specific phobias. They refer to fears that develop from a specific object or situation. If a person has Haphephobia, they fear getting touched by another person. Some feel afraid of a person belonging to a different gender touching them.

This irrational fear of someone touching an individual is unusual because it does not link to any other anxiety-related condition. They include social phobia or intimacy and vulnerability. There are many suffering from Haphephobia, who can develop warm, tight bonding with others.

Even then, they might worry that those bonds remain at risk because of their inability to showcase physical affection. Haphephobia can be tough for unknown individuals to understand. People close to the sufferer can also find it difficult to know the reason behind its occurrence. One who offers the touch might feel rejected when a person moves away from them.

Some other names for Haphephobia include Aphephosmphobia, Chiraptophobia, and Thixophobia.

Symptoms of Haphephobia

The fear of being touched becomes a phobia when the fear arises within a person almost every time someone gets close to them. If this fear persists over six months and impairs personal or professional lives, then it is considered a Haphephobia.

The symptoms of Haphephobia tend to vary in severity. Some individuals with this phobia might build enough trust to get rid of their reactions with one or two individuals over time.

It is also possible that they might tolerate touch, which they initiate or offer express permission for someone else to take charge. Apart from these, other people continue to feel uncomfortable with any form of touch at all.

There are various symptoms associated with Haphephobia. We can further categorize the symptoms into physical and psychological. Both these types can hamper the daily lives of affected individuals to a great extent.

Let us now discuss the symptoms in detail –

Physical Symptoms

Haphephobia can sometimes become so intense that people might experience certain physical symptoms. In those situations, leading a healthy life can become difficult for those individuals.

Physical symptoms of Haphephobia are as follows –

 1. Chest Tightness

When someone suffers from Haphephobia, he or she might often come across chest tightness or chest pain.

It manifests from anxiety attacks. In this case, people always anxiously keep thinking of someone touching them. Then they can often feel like there is tightness in their chest.

This symptom is more likely to crop up when anxiety or stress comes along all of a sudden.

2. Cry

Another common physical symptom is that a person undergoing the problem of Haphephobia can resort to crying. It is more common among children.

It might happen because of an increase in muscle tension, releasing of stress hormones, or due to several other physical processes.

The body of an individual produces tears due to one’s limbic system. It is responsible for emotional arousal, which signals to the lacrimal glands.

These glands are located right above the eyelids. They, in turn, produce tears.

3. Dizziness

A person who is under the influence of Haphephobia can encounter dizziness now and then in their daily life. This fear that someone might touch them either appropriately or inappropriately makes individuals extremely anxious. The high level of anxiousness leads to dizziness along with headaches.

 One can experience dizziness in both acute and chronic anxiety. Under this adverse physical condition, someone might lose balance if the heart pumps insufficient blood to the brain.

Thus, whenever anyone who fears being touched, goes close to an individual, they face issues. The person feels as if they will faint and fall to the ground.

4. Increased Heart Rate

 If someone suffers from chronic anxiety due to Haphephobia, they will experience an increased heart rate. Once that happens, he or she will start breathing excessively.

Under the effect of this condition, the heart will not manage to pump sufficient blood to the rest of the body. Hence, organs and other tissues will not receive enough oxygen.

5. Trembling

The problem of Haphephobia will make a person anxious about any individual who comes close to them. Their pace of breathing, level of blood pressure along with heart rate will rise as their body prepares itself to deal with the problem that is causing stress.

In this situation, their brain and body start interpreting anxiety as a sign of either escaping danger or standing firm on the ground. Hence, it provokes their muscles to act, which results in shaking or trembling.

6. Hot or Cold Flashes

Intense anxiety can cause a person to experience chills or hot flashes. They are like those that one feels while suffering from a fever. Their body can show resistance by fighting, freezing, or fighting response to regulate temperature.

A person can hyperventilate, which does not allow the blood to flow efficiently. On top of this, blood flow directs toward larger organs, which are critical for survival.

Hence, these extremities leave behind various sensations of being cold. They can even produce intense heat within the body.

Psychological Symptoms

Haphephobia can also give rise to various psychological symptoms. They are those which adversely impact the mental or emotional well-being of people. A person might soon come across a negative experience that can disturb their peace of mind.

This irrational fear can make them avoid being touched. Hence, they will always like to stay away from suspicious people. It can also make an individual feel nervous while standing in a queue or taking tuition from a teacher. These individuals will constantly live with the fear of getting touched or suffering physical harassment.

The psychological symptoms of Haphephobia are as follows –

1. Irritation

 Haphephobia can cause a lot of irritation in an individual’s personality. If the sufferer sees anyone hugging a person or holding their hand, they will not like it. Seeing these scenarios can make them run away from that place.

They will express their discomfort toward that individual whenever she comes close to them. The person might ask that man or a woman to stay away from them.

Thus, this irrational fear will not only create problems for the sufferer but also make others’ lives miserable. One who suffers from Haphephobia can even have problems when someone among their family members tries to display their love and affection. It especially happens if they do it through forehead kisses. Irritation creeps in when an individual puts their arm around the person’s shoulder. 

2. Fear of Loss of Control

A person who suffers from the intense, irrational fear of getting touched or Haphephobia always thinks that if they fail to control the result of future events, something terrible might happen to them.

It will make them anxious. The sufferer will start leading their life under extreme stress and tension. Hence, the person’s life will be nothing short of hell. They will yearn for peace and happiness.

The fundamental reason behind this issue is to find certainty in this fear of touch, which carries a lot of uncertainty. There is no solid reason behind suffering from the fear of touch and getting adversely impacted by this phobia. 

3. Apprehension

Haphephobia can often make people nervous or apprehensive when they must undergo a massage to release some pain in the body. The extent of fear will be such that they will prefer living with the pain to getting exposed to physical touch.

This level of apprehension can even let them avoid having fun with their friends and family members. Even when there is no chance of having physical touch, they will avoid exposing themselves to all those instances as well.

4. Fear of Losing Life

The irrational fear of touch can become so extreme that the sufferer might feel as if they or will lose their life.

They might think that if they try to resist the touch of an unknown person. Then, the person could get hold of their throat and choke them to death.

5. Lack of Clarity of Thoughts

Whenever a person suffers from any phobia, it can severely impact their clarity of thought. Therefore, it causes interference in the decision-making process.

This symptom can reduce one’s ability to focus on important things in life, the ones that truly require attention.

The person would keep thinking about someone touching them and they are finding ways to avoid it. Hence, it will only result in the wastage of precious time.

Causes of Haphephobia

Phobias are common occurrences among people across the world. NIH or The National Institute of Mental Health shows an estimate that 12.5% of adults in the United States of America experience phobia at some point of time in their lives.

Following are some of the factors that can lead to the occurrence of Haphephobia –

1. Negative Previous Experiences

o   If an individual had undergone traumatic experiences like getting touched inappropriately by several unknown individuals earlier in their life, there is every chance that they will suffer from Haphephobia.

o   Sexual abuse can also turn out to be an extremely disturbing experience, which can have repercussions even after years, hence causing a person to develop hatred toward physical touches.

2. Family History

o   A person can suffer from Haphephobia if anyone in their family has had a history of this fear of touch.

o   One can learn about fears by observing someone in the family suffer from the same. It applies to getting touched as well. Hence, they become averse to getting touched by unknown people. It slowly gains intensity, which can make the person dislike touches from their family members.

o   There might also be some genetic factors that might increase the likelihood of people developing these kinds of anxiety disorders.

3. Some Other Phobias

 DSM-5 states that nearly 75% of people with a specific phobic disorder will suffer from the impact of more than one phobia.

o   Hence, an individual suffering from Haphephobia is bound to have some other phobia. It impacts their personality and life, in general.

4. Gender

Gender plays a significant role in the occurrence of Haphephobia among individuals. It is more likely to occur among women than men. Hence, the female fraternity needs to take extra precautions not to succumb to this fear of touch.

5. Type of Personality

A person can carry a neurotic personality. Then, he or she will have every chance to suffer from the fear of getting touched.

Apart from this type, some individuals can have behavioral inhibitions. Those people will also develop phobic and anxiety disorders. Therefore, it will not be long before Haphephobia adversely impacts their life.

Haphephobia Test

There is no definite number to suggest how many people suffer from Haphephobia. More than 12.5% of adults in the United States have already suffered from a phobia at some point of time in their life. Experts would offer proper medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment. They would diagnose Haphephobia as a specific phobia. While specific phobia is related to a particular situation or an object, Haphephobia is related to physical touch. This is a kind of anxiety disorder.

The sufferer might first consult with their healthcare professional. He will ask about their overall health condition, the presence of any additional condition along with family history. They will even have queries regarding the sufferer’s specific phobia-related symptoms. Following this conversation, they might refer the patient to a mental health expert for diagnosis.

The mental health expert would assess them and implement criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Before the professional diagnoses the problem inside an individual, they must fulfill the following criteria –

  • The phobia reaches such a level that it causes excess fear.
  • The reaction takes place instantly while the fear is present.
  • This fear results in a great level of distress or impairs their life.

On top of these criteria, the symptoms experienced by a sufferer must be present for a minimum period of six months. Moreover, it is important to note that another health condition must not lead to this problem of Haphephobia.

Treatment for Haphephobia

The good thing is that specific phobias are treatable. The rate of success that health professionals attain while treating specific phobias is around 80-90%.

There are different options for treating Haphephobia, which can help them cope with this problem. A mental health professional will help their patient chalk out a plan that will assist them in dealing with the condition.

The treatment options are as follows –

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

o   Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT is a procedure frequently used for the treatment of patients suffering from Haphephobia.

o   While undertaking this therapy, the healthcare professional will allow the sufferer to speak out. They will encourage them to express their thoughts and behavioral patterns. These details will allow the expert to understand how they lead to the occurrence of this problem.

o   Once the professional get a clear picture, they will work with the patient to regulate those patterns. Gradually, they will play their part in helping them overcome the phobia.

o   This therapy also includes learning various techniques for relaxation along with several other coping mechanisms to manage fear, panic attack, and anxiety.

o   It comes to immense help for enneagram 6s when they come close to a group of people, where there is a chance for physical touch.

2. Exposure Therapy

 Exposure therapy refers to a mode of psychological treatment that helps people to face their phobias, hence developing their courage and confidence.

o   One can consider it the best therapy available for taking complete care of this fear of getting touched.

o   As part of the treatment procedure, the therapist can modify an individual’s response to fear. They can do so by constantly exposing themselves to physical touches, which provokes their reaction to this phobia.

o   The mental healthcare provider makes their patient undergo this therapy across several sittings. In each sitting, the professional will gradually expose the patient to their source of fear over escalating phases.

o   The professional will carry out this therapy in a safe and controlled environment. In each sitting, they will keep a record. Then, they will analyze the person’s thought process, feelings, reactions, and sensations.

o   A few elements of this therapy include imagining getting touched and moving forward to physical touch or standing amongst the crowd.

3. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

o  The treatment procedure of EMDR often turns out to be effective for individuals who have undergone anxiety and trauma. Hence, it will be ideally suited for treating the problem of Haphephobia.

o   During the therapy, the mental health professional asks the patient to concentrate on the traumatic experience, while receiving stimulation through specific movements in a rhythmic manner.

o   Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing can help the sufferer process their thoughts and move on in life, leaving behind the traumatic event.

How to Overcome Haphephobia?

In addition to the treatment options for Haphephobia that we have discussed earlier in this article, there are various steps that a person suffering from this specific phobia can adopt on their own that can make things easier for them to cope.

They are as follows –

1. Breathing Exercises

People with Haphephobia must invest sufficient time into doing breathing exercises regularly.

They can also master some relaxation techniques. Those techniques are useful for keeping anxiety and panic attacks under control.

The sufferer must focus on taking long, deep breaths. They can help reduce the immediate symptoms of anxiety, as and when a person is touched.

2. Practice the Art of Mindfulness

Another effective way through which one can easily cope and overcome the fear of being touched is by practicing mindfulness.

It can help these people understand their behaviors and thought patterns. Then, they would gradually develop better methods of dealing with their anxious moments.

3. Lifestyle Modifications

It is important to bring forth necessary modifications in your lifestyle to deal with Haphephobia. Those modifications and changes can help them come out of the problem. One must take good care of their mental and physical health.

They can do so by getting sufficient rest, following a healthy diet, doing regular exercises, and cultivating positive thoughts inside their minds.

Books on Haphephobia

There are several books on Haphephobia available across different platforms. They can help people gain extensive knowledge on how the problem occurs, symptoms that they must look out for causes behind its occurrence, treatment options, and coping mechanisms.

Some of the books are as follows –

Summing Up From ‘ThePleasantMind’ 

Haphephobia is an aversion or an intense fear of being touched.  It is a specific phobia. The likelihood that an individual will develop Haphephobia increases if one of their parents or family members experiences this condition.

When this fear becomes severe, it can hamper personal relationships with friends and family members. Hence, it would hurt their lifestyle. All those who are unaware of this problem, but see someone staying away from them, will form a negative opinion about that individual.

The silver lining is that one can always learn to deal with Haphephobia, overcome this problem and lead a healthy life. They can consult with a mental health professional, who would make them undergo treatment procedures like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.

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