July 20, 2024

Litum Health

Health Blog

What is haphephobia, its causes and symptoms?

4 min read

“The term haphephobia comes from the Greek and means ‘fear of being touched ‘. Other names used to refer to the same thing are aphephobia, homophobia, homophobia, haptephobia, homophobia, homophobia, and chiraptophobia.

“It is about the marked, persistent and irrational fear of being physically touched by other people. Patients suffer a strong, intense and immediate reaction of anxiety.

To talk about haphephobia, the first thing, and very important, is to define a phobia as a psychological disorder. “According to the manuals handled by mental health specialists -psychiatrists and clinical psychologists-, a specific phobia is an intense fear or anxiety for a specific object or situation that is actively avoided or resisted, is persistent and lasts six months or more, in addition, is disproportionate to the actual danger or sociocultural context. The fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in the person’s social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. Ultimately, this anxiety cannot be better explained by the existence of another mental disorder with which the person is related”.

Causes

The causes of haphephobia “can be due to trauma if you have seen someone die or suffered rape. But it doesn’t have to be that extreme. If you’ve never been hugged or caressed in your family, having someone invade your personal space by hugging or kissing you can cause extreme fear or disproportionate anxiety.” 

There would be some risk factors for developing specific phobias, such as family history, suffering from other phobias and other mental health problems.”

Symptoms

Mae Wood lists the following symptoms related to haphephobia:

At the cognitive level: fear of losing control, falling ill, or dying; constant worry; negative anticipations; obsessions. And lack of concentration.

On a physical level: palpitations, increased heart rate, chest tightness, sweating, dizziness, stomach discomfort, paresthesia (numbness in the extremities), difficulty swallowing, hot flashes, chills or tremors.

At the motor level: crying, repetitive movements without a specific purpose, eating or drinking excessively, biting nails, bruxism, flight and avoidance (leaving the house, for example).  

Prevention

Types

It is not described whether there are different types of haphephobia, but all mental health problems must be understood in each individual’s uniqueness and circumstances.”

Diagnosis

To diagnose haphephobia, “there has to be an intense fear or anxiety of being touched or the thought of being touched. It almost always has to provoke immediate fear, and the person actively resists leaving the house, for example. The person has to recognise that her anxiety about real danger is disproportionate. This fear or anxiety must last at least six months. It must cause clinically significant discomfort in several areas of life, not only at work but also socially, with family or in the couple. And all this cannot be explained by another type of disorder or by taking any medication.

Treatments

“The psychological treatments that have shown the greatest efficacy are exposure therapy and cognitive and defusion therapy to work on certain irrational thoughts that are usually present. Relaxation techniques, such as Jacobson’s muscle relaxation, help a lot.

“There is scientific evidence favouring cognitive-behavioural treatment in patients with specific phobias. This treatment teaches the patient to modify the processing of information and to focus their attention on other stimuli that are not a threat to favour coping while helping them to be distracted. Physical exercise also helps to relax, and that thoughts are not so negative.

How can your family and social environment help a patient? 

“Showing emotional support in the form of validation of their discomfort. For example, suppose the family or the environment identify a significant deterioration, limiting changes in the person’s life. In that case, they should be encouraged to go to public mental health services to receive a specialist assessment. If you have already received it, follow the recommendations of the therapists in charge. 

“If we don’t understand the person, we can simply show them our support and respect and reinforce every step they take. Therefore, family members and the immediate environment must encourage the patient to go outside, for example.

Epidemiology

So far, there are no epidemiological studies on haphephobia. “The annual prevalence of specific phobias is 13% in women and 4% in men. Some affect one of the two groups more, but no data was collected for having a phobia. 

“Generally speaking, women have between two and three times more anxiety than men, and there is an important hormonal component, as well as educational. Generally, a girl is allowed to express her anxiety and sadness, while a boy is quickly cut off from that emotion, and that becomes difficult to ask for help when she becomes an adult man”.