60

I have a problem that I haven't been able to find an amicable solution to so far. I really don't like being touched, to the point where if someone is touching me unexpectedly I get confusion rising to panic if they won't stop. Over the years I've learned to keep myself under control somewhat, and to stop myself from reflexively shoving people away or hitting them. It still causes intense discomfort and is thoroughly unpleasant if people touch me. Most people that know me well know this and avoid excessive touching due to that.

The problem is, many acquaintances (friends of friends or colleagues) don't take this seriously at all even after repeated explainations.

In fact, some of them make a joke of it "Heh he doesn't like to be touched lets group hug him from behind" needless to say, it always makes me uncomfortable and it's really stressful and tiring and also sometimes I can't help myself and shove people away forcefully.

I've tried explaining several times that I don't like to be touched and that it causes me great discomfort, but to very little effect. Many of my acquaintances just don't take it seriously.

Short of throwing them across the room or having a mental breakdown in front of them, how do I convince them it's serious and I actually really don't want to be touched and am not just saying that? Is there any specific way I can phrase that request to convey I'm dead serious?

  • I understand that the sexual context makes it very different from this (your) situation, but there may be some useful stuff from this post if you are interested interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/2435/… – Jesse Jan 11 '18 at 10:21
  • 7
    Do people often not take you seriously in general? – paparazzo Jan 11 '18 at 14:14
  • How old are you? – Azor Ahai Jan 11 '18 at 17:33
  • @Azor-Ahai from the text, young adult or older. – Mindwin Jan 11 '18 at 17:37
  • 1
    wouldn't the boundaries tag be convenient here? – Mindwin Jan 11 '18 at 17:37

15 Answers 15

56

I had similar problems for a long time. In college some of my friends thought my reactions were hilarious and would do the same "time for a group hug!!" things.

The last major incident I recall was at lunch one day. I was sitting between two friends (which already made me slightly uncomfortable) and they decided it would be funny to slowly inch closer to me, boxing me in. I made my discomfort clear (I mean vocally, I could hardly help the body language). But they didn't stop until I started to wriggle down in my seat to escape under the table -- at which point I think they realized I was seriously not in on the joke. They apologized and left me personal space because they'd rather have my company at lunch than see my "funny" reactions to being poked.

So I think your best option here is to escalate your reactions. This doesn't mean being physically violent or shouting at them, but setting a clear boundary and enforcing consequences when it is crossed.

Since you have already explained your boundary, now you need to put action behind it.

When they try to group hug you, for instance:

  1. Get out of the hug
  2. Restate your boundary ("I told you not to hug me.")
  3. Leave

Put physical distance and barriers between you and the offenders until (if) you are ready to give them another chance. Repeat as necessary. And if you are tired of repeating, don't hang out with them any more! Don't give them the opportunity to violate your boundaries.

If you can't avoid them, such as coworkers, protect yourself with barriers. Place a chair between you, keep your back to a wall, carry something so you won't be expected to hug, etc. Don't be afraid to enlist people who understand and respect your boundaries as well, who may be able to intervene and keep the other person in line. In a workplace, you could also consider involving your boss or HR to talk to repeat offenders.

29

I don't particularly like it when other people touch me, especially in the head. My wife and kids (family I guess) are one thing but for any others it is uncomfortable and sparks a bit of irritation in me. I actually have dealt with this using the following tactics:

  • I wear long sleeves or a jacket except when the temperature is too warm, so that I minimize the effect on me. I know it does not solve the issue, but it does help me deal with it mentally.
  • Attempt to dodge/avoid the contact and let the person see that you are trying to dodge the contact.
  • Each and every time someone touches me outside the norm (hand shake for example) I immediately look them in the eye and say please do not touch me. The look is as important as the words. You have to impress upon them you are serious. This is achieved by the tone of your voice and the look in your eye when you convey the message. This needs to be done in a one on one scenario to have the most impact.
  • Beyond that, if people do not get the point, you may have to start making your statement in a way that really get's their attention. I am not suggesting you out right yell, but you could use an even more stern look and a harsher tone in your voice.

If you do these things, and your at work, this is one of the rare cases where I would go to HR and ask them to help you. Hands off at the workplace should be the norm.

If this occurs in your personal life, then you may need to ditch the people who are too dense to get the impact of physical contact on you. Of course I would expect close friends and family to understand.

20

Let's recap

  1. They touch you
  2. You explain to them, that you don't want to be touched
  3. They touch you nonetheless, even thinking it was funny

So they are

  1. ignoring your wishes, although you made them explicit
  2. violate your boundaries
  3. invade your personal space

They are disrespecting you

I suggest the following way of escalating your reactions, as you may not always want to leave or are able to:

Make explicit what they are doing and ask them, why they are doing it and why they are doing it to you.

In a nutshell: Take them to task

You have to adjust your tone of voice accordingly - be stern, no need to yell. On the contrary, no need to become loud at all.

  1. Reiterate that you already told them. Didn't I already ask you politely to stop touching me?

  2. Ask them, why they are still doing it. Why are you still ignoring my wish?

  3. Ask them why you are their target.

  4. Ask them, why they believe it's acceptable to violate your boundaries. (You can additionally ask if they would appreciate people violating their boundaries).

The purpose

  • By asking questions, they do not remain passive recipients of your reaction. They are being challenged to explain themselves. The outcome may actually be positive and it gives them a chance to apologize.
  • Now they have to come up with an explanation. Every explanation can very well present you further targets for subsequent questioning. After all, what they are doing is unacceptable and so it is hard to give a satisfactory answer. For sure, no answer can then be met by a question about why they can't explain or give you an explanation.
  • They are already singling you out by their behavior. Stressing how they are doing it to you makes it explicit and opens up possibilities of asking why they disrespect you. They may think it was funny, but now you two are the center of attention and they have to explain what makes you their preferred target. Make clear that it is not about some abstract situation where person A ignores person B's boundaries - it's about you and, I don't know, "Heinrich" (?). You are no children anymore, so having to explain in public why you are disrespecting someone is probably not a funny experience for anybody (even someone who doesn't sympathize with you could probably imagine becoming their target, too.).
  • The situation is not yet out of control, but people become aware that the chocolate ice cream may hit the fan any time. This makes the situation uncomfortable for everyone around and encourages them to intevene. It's not yet too late to return to normalcy, although maybe not for Heinrich. They are also encouraged to stop that behavior to not let the situation escalate again. If the situation calms down afterwards, do so, too. They will then learn their lesson - if the ytreat you with respect, everything is fine, if not, you will interrogate them.
  • You keep other possibilities to deal with them open, so the approach is flexible.
  • The questions can be phrased more pointedly by directly asking them whether they assume this or that about you. From something like "So you think I deserve no respect?" up to something worse ("Do you think I'm a Weisswurst?"). This way, you are flexible about the aggressivity of your message. If they try to deflect, they are seen as agreeing, i. e. insultig you. You are not insulting them.

Now, you may wonder what to do, if Heinrich actually answers your question why they target you specifically. If the reason they give is "not nice", this would be such a social faux-pas, that a decent person should see who the culprit is and who isn't.

6

For people reading this with similar issues, if it's a new person (you just met), one way to handle this from the beginning:

Me: Great meeting you. I'm not a big fan of physical contact, so that's why I don't shake hands/hug/ect. I use [alternative - like a big smile] instead and it was great meeting you.

It's polite and honest and can be done as early as you meet someone, even if you initiated the conversation. The person also won't feel hurt, as you're upfront in the beginning. Some people won't care, as they wouldn't initiate contact anyway.

But what about people who know you a little or more? The OP wrote:

I've tried explaining several times that I don't like to be touched and that it causes me great discomfort, but to very little effect. Many of my acquaintances just don't take it seriously.

Short of throwing them across the room or having a mental breakdown in front of them, how do I convince them it's serious and I actually really don't want to be touched and am not just saying that? Is there any specific way I can phrase that request to convey I'm dead serious?

It depends on the context. In a work environment, this might be construed as harassment. As a warning to readers, not respecting someone's physical boundaries at work is very inappropriate! You can try to gently remind them of this - if it's a work environment:

Me: I'm not one to run to HR, but I just want to remind you that I dislike physical contact. I'm not going to go to HR, as I know you forgot this time.

That's a friendly warning. In some contexts, this would work in school too - though replace HR with the appropriate dean. Especially if there are medical reasons for this, a person violating your personal boundaries is a big issue.

In optional social contexts? These are optional. People may be physical even if you don't like it, and unless you're the host or owner in the situation, you may not be able to do much, other than reduce your time with the people. Also, if you really like spending time with people in an optional setting and they like being physical, do you see the problem? By fighting them with them on this, they may not want to spend time anymore. If you've already made your feelings clear, if it's not a context you can dispute, you can exit the situation.

6

It seems to me that there are 2 fundamental ways to approach a problem like this: Ask others to respect your boundaries, or work on improving your comfort level with these sorts of situations. Since the former already has some excellent answers, I will speak to the latter.

There is a concept called exposure therapy, in which a person voluntarily subjects themselves to uncomfortable situations. Studies (cited in the link) suggest that by doing so, they grow more accustomed to facing fear and anxiety, and the level of discomfort shrinks or disappears completely.

The key is in voluntarily exposing yourself to these situations. Talk to your closest friends and get them to help you. Start by just offering them a handshake or high-five. Get comfortable with that, and move on to larger, more overt forms of contact. Once you get to the point where you're comfortable hugging your best friends, you can then branch out to acquaintances or even strangers. Depending on your culture, it may be odd to just walk up to a stranger and just hug them, but if you've gotten to the point where you'd be willing to do that, you've already pretty much solved your issue, at least to a functional level.

Hope this helps.

  • While I'd find this answer useful in dealing with common phobias to unavoidable situations, I'm a little uncomfortable seeing this proposed as a solution to situations where relative strangers deliberately exploit the situation. – Sue D. O'Nym Jan 29 '18 at 10:55
  • That's a fair point, but it's also unrealistic to expect everyone to respect boundaries.Some people just won't. There are good ways to circumvent the issue, but in the cases where someone just won't take the hint, I feel like this is still a helpful technique. The only caveat I would give is this: OP may not want to get more comfortable being touched. If that's the case, don't use this answer. – kuips Jan 29 '18 at 19:01
5

There are conventional and social rules about personal space and touching that are very cultural specific. I also lived in several countries with different conventions. I do not enjoy having my personal space invaded and much less touched by unknown people.

The key is that. You usually have different personal space areas depending on wether it is family, friends, coworkers or unknown people. Certain cultures, namely Italians, and even my own people (rarely), also use a lot the habit of touching you to signal it is their time of talking, and I do not like that.

You have to establish borders yourself.

I do not let strangers touching me simply. If I am aware they are trying to touch me, I remove myself from their grasp in a very quick and evident way, and usually reasonable people do not try it again. If they simply still try to touch me without giving space for backing away, or touch me unaware, I confront them.

It already happened to me people invading my space, for example, an acquaintance in the xmas party got too near for my taste while we talked. I do however recognised it was part of his culture, and as we were having a friendly chat, while I tried to get away a couple of steps, I did let it go.

As again for the cultural aspect, in certain parts of Africa or Asia, culturally people enjoy touching your hands or giving you hands while talking with you. I learned to live with that, for instance last time having a friendly chat with an uncle of my wife, we were holding hands like for 15 minutes. No harm done.

It is natural people invading or touching you when out for fun, or in family settings, especially when giving greetings. If however for instance, I have a very talkative friend that is touching my arm every time he wants to talk, I ask him to stop doing that. A relative may get away with that with just a remark I find it strange.

TDLR There are cultural expectations and norms, and you have to learn to manage and negotiate somehow between your expectations and the expectations of the other side. It is a skill to learn and work on.

As for people joking with that, you have got to assert yourself. Everybody has a right to have their privacy, be different and that be respected. I would be quite firm asking people to respect me and my wishes.

Actually, as they say in other threads, "Your body, your rules". If you feel uncomfortable being touched or manhandled, man up and enforce you feel people are being rude to you.

3

I have the same exact touch issue, and am also conflict-averse. This is what I've been doing the last several years, and it has always worked.

  1. Stop them physically; this can be arms out, moving away, whatever you're most comfortable with. Don't let them engage in touch. "Please, stop."
  2. "Please respect my boundaries." (not emphasizing touch, but boundaries); if they don't get it, say "I don't want to be touched. Please respect my boundaries." Don't avoid saying it a second time due to redundancy; emphasize it.
  3. If countered, demand respect of your boundaries, noticeably escalated in tone and eye-contact. "I need you to respect my boundaries."
  4. If still countered, tell them they need to leave (or you need to) because of them, "...repeatedly disrespecting my boundaries". Don't make it about touch, but respect.

This allows you to:

  1. Potentially avoid being touched
  2. Politely ask them to stop
  3. If politeness fails, attempt respectful escalation
  4. And when all else fails, remove yourself from the scenario in a fashion that will be memorable but not "flipping out".

They'll think twice about going through this sequence of events all over again. It's not a "funny" conversation, and if you do it as-explained, not hostile either.

2

The important thing is getting other people to understand that you are not fine with people touching you.

If explaining your point of view isn't working, another approach is to make them feel uncomfortable when they do it.

I usually simply stare at them with a serious face for a while and then ask them not to do it again :

I'm not really keen on physical contact, please don't do this again.

However, there isn't a single way to get people to take you seriously on a specific point. This will depend a lot on who you are dealing with. If you don't really know how to react, a last resort could be to ask them:

Could please tell me what is it I should do, to have you take me seriously when I tell you that I don't enjoy you touching me ?

2

I feel you. It looks like nice talking and reasoning won't help here. Tell your friends very firmly that touching is a definite "no-go" for you, it is nothing to laugh about and that they don't respect you if they go against your requests multiple times. Honestly speaking, a little yelling at them could change the situation, even though it's harsh. With friends and loved ones quite often reasoning won't work, so you have to make it absolutely clear that it makes you very angry.

0

There are some really good answers already, I'd just like to address one point. Your final question is:

Is there any specific way I can phrase that request to convey I'm dead serious?

I would use some variation of

I cannot say this more clearly: stop it. I do not want to be touched.

A more pleading tone would be "I don't know how to say this more clearly".

I think this conveys both that they have not understood you correctly previously and therefore need to reevaluate your previous interactions, and that this is your last resort before taking other actions. In the case of colleagues that would be complaining to HR or your manager, but I would absolutely warn my colleagues explicitly that I would go to that extreme before actually doing so.

  • I love the other answers and I've upvoted those I like, maybe they will help @magisch solve the real underlying problem, but my answer attempts to provide a reply to the only question that was actually asked... so why the downvote? Please explain. – Law29 Jan 15 '18 at 15:20
0

Is there any specific way I can phrase that request to convey I'm dead serious?

(1) First, get comfortable. You might be able to step back or invite the person to take a seat somewhere in the vicinity. But you might need to excuse yourself to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water before saying anything about it, or you might need to wait and talk with them about it on another occasion.

Okay, now that you're comfortable, start with a prologue, for example:

You know how some people are very touchy-feely and some people are more reserved?

Pause to listen, in case the person wants to say something about this from their own experience. Continue:

I'm the opposite of the touchy-feely type. For me, physical contact with people I don't know well makes me excruciatingly uncomfortable. So, the best way to interact with me is through talking, listening, and looking. I'm like the museum piece that you tell your three-year-old, "This is for looking, not for touching."

The exact script is completely adjustable. I gave you a sample script just as an illustration of the general approach I'm suggesting.

(2) Enlist the help of an ally or some allies.

If I understood correctly, the problem arises mainly with people you don't know well, in public or semi-public environments. If so, there will probably be one or more people in the vicinity who know you well, and who understand how important this is to you. These people can run interference for you (help with communication with the pushy person) and provide moral support.

(3) Consider finding a therapist trained in Exposure and Response Prevention. The goal would not be to turn you into one of the touchy-feely people, but to make occasional unsought touching from acquaintances not be as impairing for you.

In case you're interested -- I wrote a bit about my son's experience with exposure treatment here.

0

I would consider this an expansion of Mister Positive's second dot point -

Attempt to dodge/avoid the contact and let the person see that you are trying to dodge the contact.

Sometimes, the sheer speed at which people will come in for unwanted physical contact can render impractical delivery of some of the longer scripts others have suggested; additionally, at times the greeting situation may be in a space where your options to step back away from the person in question to dodge the contact are just not possible. In these cases, using very expressive body language in the form of an "air-fend" is probably the quickest and most effective way to shut down an attempted hug.

  • Quickly raise either one or both hands, palm out signalling 'stop' (if fixed) or 'slow down, I'm uncomfortable here' (if your hands either track backwards a little or you pump them back and forwards a few times).
  • Additional emphasis is gained by leaning a little backwards away from the person
  • quickly say "whoah!" (an imperative to stop what they're doing) or "ahh..." (an expression of the awkwardness you're feeling in the situation)
  • this should cause them to pause long enough for you to elaborate with some of the other phrases suggested such as "I'm sorry, but I don't feel comfortable with physical contact" etc.
-1

1. Identify the root of the problem.

This is the most important step. If you don't know the reason this is a problem, how could you expect your friends to understand? If you've already figured this out, then you've already overcome the hardest part of this process. But if you're reading this and you're saying to yourself, "Because I just do," then it's time you took a serious look at why.

2. Figure out your next steps if the issue is not resolved.

You must consider your options if your attempts to get through to them don't work. How many times will you try? How many different methods will you employ? Should you still be friends? Decide what your limits are so that you know when enough is enough. If you don't do this from the start then you'll just corner yourself into a pit of despair when your attempts to resolve it don't work according to plan. The worst thing that can happen is that you sever a friendship with someone who doesn't respect you in the first place.

3. Talk to them individually.

Friendship dynamics change in a group setting. Addressing this issue to your group of friends will only perpetuate their behavior. Schedule time to see each person one-by-one. Make it formal, but not overly serious. Let them know you need to confide in them. Perhaps invite them for a walk, for coffee, or some other brief activity. Don't beat around the bush and get to the point. Make them aware of the reason you called them to meet.

Isn't this coffee great? I love their lattes too. Hey, so listen, thanks for meeting me today, I really appreciate it. The reason I wanted to meet with you is because I wanted to get your help with an issue I've been having.

Explain the problem.

Ever since I was a kid, I've always been uncomfortable with physical interactions.

Explain why.

The reason for this is because...

Identify their role in the matter.

I get a little freaked out when we're all hanging out together and you join in on the group hug. I'm OK with one or two of you guys, but when it's all seven of you I start to panic.

Ensure they understand.

Do you get where I'm coming from? Does that explain why I get upset after a huge group hug? (If they say no): What can I help clarify for you?

Ask for their help.

Anyway, could you help me? Next time when we're all hanging out together, could you not join in on the group hug? (or:) Could you refrain from physically interacting with me?

If they're truly your friend they'll respect you for talking to them one-on-one and likely apologize. If you're met with hesitation or resistance, then it's time to evaluate your options from step 2 and let them know what your actions will be if the issue isn't resolved.

  • 7
    I know why I don't like touching, and I'm looking for a way to get people to leave me alone without disclosing my entire medical history to them. – mag Jan 11 '18 at 15:24
  • 1
    That's great, I'm glad you've identified the root of it. If it's a medical issue, then you can let them know that. "It's a medical thing. I don't want to go into much detail because it's very challenging for me." This interaction is not about the reason why you feel this way, it's about showing them enough respect to discuss it with them one-on-one. If they don't return that respect, then you may be unlikely to resolve this issue with them. – Chris K Jan 11 '18 at 15:28
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    I don't think people need to know whether its a medical thing or not. People need to grow up and be respectful of others personal space. – Mister Positive Jan 11 '18 at 16:27
-1

If you've already repeated yourself, likely they will not "get it". As others have mentioned, it's quite disrespectful of them.

I'm not sure if you think this will help:

"I understand that most people show their affection and connection to others through touch, but I am not comfortable with it. You don't have to understand why, I just ask that you respect my feelings/request."

"Everyone has a different personal bubble, and you're in the danger zone."

"I know that you don't like spiders/heights/pools but I don't subject you to those fears/discomforts. What you are doing makes me uncomfortable and I find it upsetting that you don't respect that."

People gravitate to jokes because they think it will diffuse the tension brought on by their disrespect. They're trying to make themselves feel better and that's not the point.

-1

I'd like to add a technique that has never failed to get my attention whenever someone felt uncomfortable.

When you tell people that you are uncomfortable being touch and are not taking you seriously **anticipate them and recap a past experience **. Show that what they are thinking has been thought before and spell out the consequences.

You will need to tailor your exact wording to the situation but you could say something like

"Yeah, people never take this seriously. Last time I was group hugged I punched a guy/got a panic attack /couldn't breath. It's a phobia and I have a strong reaction I can't control, sorry. "

This is just an example off the top of my head, I'm sure you can draw from your personal experience to get the point across.

Also, note that the sorry is not meant to be apologetic and its just conventional to establish empathy.

protected by OldPadawan Mar 16 at 6:35

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