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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: Touched

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.


SaddleBumRN said...

Hi Melissia,

I am back, actually never left. I have been reading your postings and have wanted to comment and will make a comment on the Grief posting (that one really hit home). Anyway, I think you should write a book, if you havent already! Your insights are awesome and very powerful.

As far as the touch factor, for me touching was not done in childhood that much for some reason.Even the thought of getting or giving a hug would cause much anxiety. Mom and dad didnt touch often. Although my mom and brother had a touching relationship. I never did have one with any of the three. Thinking it was due to the shyness and that it was not a taught behavior.

So now as an adult, its really hard. Feels very weird. I want to be touched but feels very unnatural. Even with my closest friends that I have known for 20-30yrs it still feels weird to given them a hug! Weird huh? lol Also to be added into this mixture was the fact that I had an eating disorder--way over eating. lol. I have that under control now and have lost 150 plus pounds. But growing up, That put me at a disadvantage due to low self esteem so no dates, ect so no touching and continues til this day. Good news is tho I am hopefully going for surgery to remove some of this skin but need a few more pounds to come off and then hopefully can get into some touching. Even if its just going for a massage which I have never had!

Thanks again for the great posting, Cant wait for the next one!

Melissa said...

Hi Saddlebumrn,

Glad to have you! Thanks for the feedback! Always much appreciated!

Yes, how we were or were not touched as children has a lot to do with our comfort and need levels. So does our body image, and size, and comfort in our own skin. Great points!