Getting touched by a stranger or without consent would make you feel uncomfortable. However, if the fear is intense and appears even when you are touched by family members or friends, which may cause significant distress then you might be suffering from haphephobia. In this article, we will discuss the signs and symptoms of this disorder and how to get rid of it. Haphephobia is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by a fear of being touched by others. There are various other names for haphephobia which include chiraptophobia, aphenphosmphobia, and thixophobia. This condition is quite different from a hypersensitivity to touch which is known as allodynia. An individual suffering from allodynia may also avoid being touched but they do so because it causes them to feel severe pain rather than fear. The fear of being touched is considered as a phobia when the fear arises almost every time when the individual is touched, and this condition persists for over 6 months which starts impairing relationships or work life of the person suffering from it.
What Causes Haphephobia?
Sometimes, haphephobia may be related to another anxiety disorder called ochlophobia, which is a fear of crowds. In most cases, haphephobia is caused by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event that involved being touched. The affected individuals may not remember that event which triggered the phobia, especially if they were very young at the time, but that fear of being touched starts haunting them for the rest of their lives. Research studies have also stated that phobias can run in the family. An individual can learn a fear of being touched if he or she observes a loved one expressing the fear or avoidance of being touched. In few cases, it was reported that haphephobia can occur on its own. Such haphephobia can be related to other conditions which include a fear of germs also known as mysophobia. In this condition, person may avoid being touched due to a fear of contamination or uncleanliness. A person suffering from ochlophobia can feel anxious about being touched by strangers in crowds. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is another cause of haphephobia. An individual suffering from OCD may fear certain situations outside of their control, such as being touched by other people. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also initiate haphephobia in some individuals. This fear of being touched can come from a previous traumatic experience such as witnessing or experiencing an assault or sexual abuse.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Haphephobia?
As we discussed earlier that haphephobia is an intense fear of being touched. The main symptom that may indicate you are suffering from haphephobia is the immediate fear or anxiety when touched, or when thinking about being touched resulting in panic attacks which can include an increased heart rate, hot flushes, sweating, chills and tingling. The affected person may start avoiding situation where he could be touched by others. Awareness of this fear is irrational and disproportionate thus resulting in general anxiety, depression, and low quality of life. When children suffering from haphephobia are touched, they show symptoms like crying, getting freeze in a position, throwing temper tantrums and clinging to their caregiver etc. Doctors refer to the symptoms listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to diagnose phobias, which are anxiety disorders related to certain objects or situations.
What Could Be the Risk Factors of Haphephobia?
Phobias are quite common. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) estimate that 12.5 percent of adults in the United States suffer from a phobia at some point in their lives. The factors that could make haphephobia more severe include adverse past events including being touched or a haphephobia in a family history or other anxiety illnesses. Many research studies have claimed that fears can be learned through observation. Genetic factors are another reason that make people more likely to develop anxiety or phobic disorders. According to the DSM-5, approximately 75% of individuals suffering from a specific phobic disorder will have more than one phobia. It has been proved that situational phobias such as haphephobia are twice as likely to occur in women than men. Having a neurotic personality or a tendency towards behavioral inhibition can also become a risk factor for developing anxiety and phobic disorders.
When to Consult A Doctor?
Specific fears can be quite extreme, especially in children, but they often go away without medical treatment. Haphephobia is a particularly difficult fear to cope with because of the cultural and social expectations around touch. If the fear of touch persists for more than 6 months, then it leads to an intense avoidance of everyday situations and gets in the way of personal or work life. To save yourself from severe problems, a person should contact their doctor immediately. Specific phobias such as haphephobia respond very well to treatment. Using daily coping mechanisms can reduce the impact of haphephobia on a person’s life and help them overcome their fear in the long-term.
How to Treat Haphephobia?
One of the biggest obstacles in getting over a phobia is avoiding the situation that creates the sense of fear in the individual. Treatments aim to help a person cope with the anxiety related to their fear and to overcome it slowly with the passage of time. The most effective treatment for phobias is consulting a psychotherapist. Those suffering from haphephobia may find CBT helpful in addressing their anxiety. There are numerous types of therapy available to help an individual manage or overcome phobias. These include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy and virtual reality exposure therapy. Medications such as beta-blockers or antidepressants can help in alleviating immediate anxiety and panic symptoms. These drugs are mostly used in combination with psychotherapies. Breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques are useful for managing symptoms of haphephobia.
In conclusion, if you are suffering from any trauma share it with your closed family members and friends because they will be the one to help you get out of your fear. Practice mindfulness. It will help you in understanding your thought processes and behaviors and in developing better ways to deal with your anxiety.