Haphephobia is an intense and often irrational fear of being touched or of coming into physical contact with other people, regardless of who that other person may be. Like other types of phobias, this is a psychological disorder that manifests through a number of physiological responses. This is a relatively rare and uncommon disorder, though it can be exceptionally debilitating for someone suffering from it due to the nature of the fear. Haphephobia is typically treated like other phobias through behavioral and cognitive therapies, which often involve trying to determine any root cause and then dealing with such causes.
Also called aphephobia and haptephobia, haphephobia is a fear typically caused either by irrational stimuli or due to trauma a person experiences. This phobia manifests as intense fear and panic caused by being touched, and this usually occurs regardless of who touches the person suffering from this condition. Someone may be unable to hug his or her own parents or spouse without dealing with intense feelings of fear or anxiety from the physical interaction. The fear caused by haphephobia can manifest in physical ways for a person, such as increased perspiration, rapid breathing and heart beat, and reflex actions such as physically recoiling from a person’s touch.
There are typically two root causes of haphephobia, though these general causes often manifest due to a vast number of different reasons. One of the main causes of haphephobia is a traumatic incident a person experiences, such as physical violence or sexual abuse. Many young people who are sexually abused will manifest a fear of being touched and recoil with feelings of panic or revulsion when physically touched by anyone.
This disorder can also be caused by a purely irrational fear that has no basis in events in a person’s life, but instead acts as a flight or fight response to an inappropriate stimulus. In many people, there is a response to physical contact with someone unknown based on a need for private space to ensure personal security. This distrust or protectiveness, however, is typically relaxed around people that someone knows or trusts, but someone suffering from haphephobia is not able to control this response.
Haphephobia is typically treated in ways similar to other phobias. Cognitive therapy is often used to try to determine the root of this fear, especially when there is a real cause such as abuse or violence. Behavioral therapy is also typically used to help a person learn to control his or her behavior and to learn to connect stimuli with an appropriate response.