I have haphephobia – the fear of being touched, There, I’ve said it. What does having this phobia entail? It means I don’t like to be touched by anyone. When my family reach out to hug me, I shrink back. Offering to shake hands with strangers takes a conscious effort on my part to offer out that part of my body. At the doctor’s office, it’s a strange feeling when the doctor uses the stethoscope. Even strangers who want to show affection rubbing the back of my head, especially the older Asian generation, makes like start listing the necessary element to sue them in civil court for battery.
The thing about haphephobia is that it is not tied to social phobias. I am perfectly fine interacting with people of both genders. It is not tied to abuse. I was never physically, verbally, or emotionally abused as a child. It is not always tied to Aspberger’s syndrome – generally the lack of ability to detect guile or sarcasm. Trust me, I have a very sarcastic wit when I put my mind to it. Degrees of haphephobia vary from person to person; for some, it is a very severe case. For others, it’s mild. I’m somewhere in the middle: initiating physical contact for a select few is fine but only after I gave them verbal permission.
The worse thing about having this phobia is accidentally conveying a rejection of a person simply because I don’t let them touch me. The thing is, I probably have nothing against that person. It was the worse when I was in India two years ago. I happened to be working with some orphans; in India, it’s common for those of the same gender to hold hands. There were some boys who wanted to hold my hand as we walked a mile and half to a nearby village. To make sure I didn’t have to hold hands, I made sure my hands were always full – a water bottle or gripping the straps of my ruck. This was a bad excuse because my ruck came with an integrated CamelBack(TM) water bladder. Yet, I was going to do whatever it takes to not hold hands, even if it meant denying an act of love to a young child. I know. That’s bad, but because phobias are generally defined as irrational, no amount of cajoling or reasoning could get me to do otherwise. Don’t get me wrong; those children are precious.
I did this Google search: “Effects of lack of physical touch” and I came across several forum threads as well as reputable articles from several psychology and medical journals. Touch is so important. It conveys emotions, it fosters communications and collaboration, and health benefits associated with it are numerous. I also searched for forum threads on “why I don’t like to be touched.” Rather than rant at the world, surprisingly, many threads were honest, supportive, and understanding of living in a world where touch is a fundamental of life. One woman who disliked touch and therefore sex still managed to have two children!
It hurts a bit to admit this but it might hurt my friends and associates more to see my avoiding touching unless it is absolutely necessary as a sign of rejection. I once thought that in time it would be better. It hasn’t.