Tuesday, October 7, 2008
I used to wonder if you could actually die from this: lack of touch. I have worked with people who live alone, or who have been hurt and are frightened by touch, and keep others at a safe distance, or who have no one in their life who can give them a good hug, and gentle hand squeeze, an arm around the shoulder. The effects of this body isolation are unknown, but my hunch is that it creates a deeper level of loneliness and a disconnect with the world in some way.
One woman I know who lives alone is older and does not have a lot of contact with peers or family. But she has a cat. She told me once that every morning the cat licks her until she wakes up. She thinks that this is keeping her alive in some way. Her physical self being gently tended to is spiritual. She says it's the closest thing she has to human touch, besides her weekly manicure. And she says that it helps in other ways. It gives her the feeling of being connected, belonging, and appealing. She likes being lick-able.
What's your TQ? Touch Quota. How much touch do you need? What kind of touch? When, why and where? I recently came across some new research from a Utah study that supports the idea the right kind of touch produces chemical changes that benefit our bodies as well as our minds and spirit. Massage, cuddling a baby, even a good handshake can give us a good vibe, and a kind of contact that reminds us that the body can be a conduit of easy simple pleasure and good feelings.
I know some couples who make it a point to hold hands each night as they fall asleep, or cuddle up closely together. I know parents who make it a point to give their kids a hug each day, or a gentle shoulder squeeze, or back rub at night before bedtime. Safe touch rituals can go a long way in communicating trust, love and acceptance.
Of course I know that for some of you touch has been abused, or misused, and does not convey the good feelings. And it is not invited even or especially when you need soothing. Some people prefer to be left alone when they are upset, or sad, while others want to be held, embraced and warmed. Of course it's so personal.
In the world of psychotherapy, it's pretty much the standard rule that clients and therapists don't touch each other. The idea is to use words in the therapy room, and touch is an action. For some it is intimate and not to be mixed into the work of therapy. The way should always be clear for the client to say anything and everything they might need or want to. Touching can get in the way of this.
Sometimes we have to create appropriate touch opportunities. Getting a massage or a manicure. One widow I know took up square dancing once a week so that she can get some fun and light touch, without too much contact. Just enough for her TQ to be satisfied.
I think just knowing what you need and finding safe "touchees" can help. A parent, a friend, a partner who is open to giving a hug when you need one. And to be willing to ask for what you need. It's not a cure-all or even a band-aid, but it helps.