What Is the Fear of Being Touched (Haphephobia)?

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An irrational and excessive fear of being touched is called haphephobia. It can cause a range of symptoms of anxiety or panic when you are in a situation where you might be touched and often leads to avoiding these situations.

Haphephobia is a type of anxiety disorder called a specific phobia. It can be diagnosed and treated by a mental health professional. This article will discuss the diagnosis, causes, and treatment options of haphephobia.

Woman signals man not to touch her

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Symptoms

Haphephobia can create a large impact on your life. The symptoms of this condition depend on the severity and type of touch. It can be a deep feeling of fear or an extreme response that can cause disruptions in life.

Haphephobia is not the same as a sensitivity to touch that may be present in certain conditions (called allodynia) or a sensory processing disorder in which a person does not respond normally to stimuli.

People with this condition typically avoid any situation where they might be touched. This can cause extreme cases of isolation and fear, leading to conditions such as other anxiety and depressive disorders. When someone has an extreme feeling of anxiety or paralysis due to haphephobia, other physical symptoms may include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Panic attacks
  • Screaming
  • Crying
  • Running away
  • Feeling lightheaded or fainting
  • Heart palpitations

Contact your healthcare provider if you have any of these symptoms or believe you have a phobia of any kind. They can help you with the next steps in getting treatment.

Diagnosis

There is no exact number of how many people have haphephobia. Over 12% of adults in the United States have had a phobia at some point in their lives. Haphephobia would be diagnosed as a specific phobia or a phobia of a specific object or situation. This is a type of anxiety disorder.

You may first see your medical healthcare professional, who will ask about your overall health, any additional conditions, and family health history. They will also ask questions about your specific phobia symptoms. They may refer you to a mental health professional for diagnosis.

A mental health professional will assess you and apply criteria from the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-5). The following criteria must be met before a person can be diagnosed with a phobia:

  • The phobia creates a level of excessive fear.
  • The reaction occurs immediately within the presence of fear.
  • The fear causes significant distress or impairment.

Along with the criteria, the symptoms must be present for a minimum of six months and can't be caused by another mental health condition.

Causes

The specific cause of haphephobia is not known. When phobias occur, it can be due to a number of factors such as genetics, past experiences, trauma, or a medical condition. It's common for people with a phobia to have more than one phobia.

Treatments

Different treatment options can help patients cope with haphephobia. Your mental health professional will help you develop a plan that will help you with your condition. Some available treatments include the following:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: This talk therapy challenges maladaptive thoughts and behaviors. This type of treatment can be done on its own or with other therapies.
  • Exposure therapy: This treatment exposes a person to situations that may trigger the symptoms of a specific phobia. Depending on the intensity of haphephobia, your mental health professional can use different methods, including imagined exposure, real-life exposure, and virtual reality exposure.
  • Medication: Certain medications may help with some of the anxiety symptoms associated with a phobia.

Depending on the specific nature of the phobia, more patient-specific treatment options may take place.

Summary

Haphephobia is a fear of being touched. This may be due to a negative experience with being touched or witnessing others go through a traumatic experience. Treatment options, including talk therapy and exposure therapy, can help people with haphephobia overcome the fear of being touched.

A Word From Verywell

If you have a fear of being touched, know that you are not alone. There is help. Having a conversation with your healthcare professional is a great first step. They can help you with referrals and a plan to get the proper help you need. You deserve to live your best life.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders5th edition. Washington DC; 2013.​​

  2. National Institute of Mental Health. Specific phobia.

  3. Kaczkurkin AN, Foa EB. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders: an update on the empirical evidenceDialogues Clin Neurosci. 2015;17(3):337-346. doi:10.31887/DCNS.2015.17.3/akaczkurkin