Certain clothes give my boyfriend anxiety

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker


My boyfriend suffers from anxiety when he has to wear certain clothes and we do not understand this condition whatsoever. It’s affecting his ability to work because certain uniforms bother him and even having them tailored has not given him any relief. He does this from head to toe: he wears his socks inside out because he feels more comfortable that way, and he will buy several pairs of the same pants if they are comfortable to him. Furthermore, he would rather sleep with no pillow than a pillow that isn’t his own. His pillow is a pathetic lump of material but he is very particular about using it. He has told me to never bother trying to buy him clothes because only he knows what will be received as comfortable or agonizing. Do these symptoms sound characteristic of any medical condition? He claims to have suffered from this since he was a baby. Thank you for your help!

A: One possibility is that your boyfriend has Sensory Processing Disorder. His nervous system can’t organize certain sensory signals so that he is comfortable. He finds particular textures, pressure on his skin, or contact with unfamiliar things as highly distressing. As many as one in six children has this disorder. When, as in the case of your boyfriend, it is untreated during childhood, the issue is carried into adulthood. As you and your boyfriend are finding, if left untreated Sensory Processing Disorder can limit someone’s life and lead to depression. I suggest he look for an occupational therapist to help him learn to manage at least some of the things that make him uncomfortable. You can find further information here.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Oct 2011

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2011). Certain clothes give my boyfriend anxiety. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/10/21/certain-clothes-give-my-boyfriend-anxiety/