Haphephobia is an intense, irrational fear of being touched. It is different from hypersensitivity, which is physical pain associated with being touched. People with haphephobia feel extreme distress over the thought of being touched. This anxiety can lead to physical symptoms like nausea, vomiting or panic attacks.
Haphephobia (haf-uh-FOE-bee-uh) is an intense, overwhelming fear of being touched. Many people don’t like being touched by strangers. But haphephobia is significant distress over being touched by anyone, even family or friends. For some people, the fear is specific to touch by people of one gender.
Haphephobia is a type of anxiety disorder. Other names for haphephobia include:
Haphephobia isn’t a physical sensation. It is not the same as allodynia, which is hypersensitivity to touch. People with haphephobia do not feel pain when touched. Rather, the fear of being touched is so strong that it is often paralyzing. It causes physical symptoms like hives, hyperventilation or fainting.
Anyone can develop haphephobia. You are more likely to have haphephobia if one of your parents or other family members has the condition.
For some people, haphephobia is the only mental health issue they experience. For others, haphephobia is related to another condition, such as:
Researchers don’t know exactly how many people have haphephobia. But phobias are fairly common. About 10 million adults in the United States have a phobia diagnosis.
Haphephobia doesn’t have one clear cause. Some people may never know the exact cause of haphephobia.
Some people have a higher risk of developing a phobia. For example, women are twice as likely as men to develop a situational phobia. Situational phobias are fears of specific situations or interactions. You may also be more likely to develop haphephobia if you have:
The main symptom of haphephobia is intense distress over being touched. This distress might cause physical symptoms such as:
Children who fear being touched may also:
In many people, being touched can lead to panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden, intense rushes of distress that cause physical symptoms.
Many people who have haphephobia know the intensity of the fear is not proportional to the actual threat of being touched. Still, it can be difficult to manage symptoms. The fear of being touched becomes a phobia when symptoms:
To diagnose haphephobia, your healthcare provider may ask you about:
Treatment for haphephobia aims to help you manage symptoms so they do not interfere with your life. Common haphephobia treatment options include:
You should also learn coping strategies to manage anxiety or panic attack symptoms. You can:
There is no one way to prevent haphephobia. But many people can reduce the frequency and intensity of phobia symptoms with healthy lifestyle habits. You may:
You may also want to ask your healthcare provider:
Many people with autism don’t like to be touched. Some research has found that the brain of a person with autism responds to physical touch the same way a person with haphephobia does.
Not everyone with autism has haphephobia, and having haphephobia doesn’t necessarily mean you have autism. However, studies show that about half of all people with autism also have an anxiety disorder. Of that half, up to two in three have a specific phobia, which could include haphephobia. People with autism also commonly experience bullying or abuse, which can lead to haphephobia.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Haphephobia is the fear of being touched. For some people, the fear is specific to being touched by people of one gender. For others, the fear extends to all people. People with haphephobia often experience physical symptoms of intense distress when they are touched. They may feel nauseated, flushed or like their heart is racing. Treatment such as therapy or medication helps many people manage haphephobia symptoms and live a more comfortable life.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/22/2021.
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