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Haphephobia

Fear of Touch

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Updated April 01, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Haphephobia, or the fear of touch, is a rare but often devastating phobia. Most people with haphephobia fear being touched by anyone, although some people are afraid only of being touched by those of the opposite gender. Haphephobia is sometimes triggered by sexual assault or another trauma, but more often, it seems to develop without any known cause.

Most people who cannot trace their haphephobia to a specific event develop the fear in early childhood, although it can occur at any time. The fear is highly unusual in that it is not particularly linked to other fears such as social phobia or fears of vulnerability or intimacy. Many people with haphephobia are able to form warm, tight bonds with other people, 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 people are able to tolerate touch that they initiate or give express permission for the other person to initiate. Some are able, over a long period of time, to build enough trust to overcome their reactions with one or two specific people. Others are uncomfortable with any form of touch at all.

If you have haphephobia, your reactions may be similar to those of people with any other phobia. You might freeze up, cry, shake, sweat or even run away when someone tries to touch you. You may go out of your way to always keep your hands full in an effort to avoid handshakes and hugs. You might avoid dates and other social interactions for fear that some form of physical interaction might be expected.

Battling Haphephobia

The need for touch and human contact is innate, and the inability to enjoy that contact can cause feelings of isolation and loneliness. Haphephobia is extremely difficult for most people to understand, and the rejection of touch may be interpreted as a rejection of the person offering the touch.

Like all phobias, 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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