Peace and Healing

A Perspective of Traditional and Non-Traditional Methods of Healing

Human Need for Touch

What are the benefits of touch?

As a child my father would frequently rub the back of my neck and head. His slow methodical caress and firm touch would put me to sleep within minutes. When I suture children I often rub their forehead and hum a few old children songs, and watch them slowly relax before the procedure. I am sure it is not my humming, which is often out of key. Touch has been studied for years. In the the 19th century orphanages noticed infants failed to thrive if they were not cuddled and held as much as the other children. Touch has long been noted to benefit not just humans but all living mammals. Apes, dogs, and even rats have been shown in and out of the laboratory setting to benefit from touch. It not only feels good, but lowers cholesterol, decreases blood pressure, and calms angry outbursts. When one has had a stressful day there is nothing more soothing than cuddling up with your loved one, being held with a warm timely embrace.

We cannot address the benefit of touch without addressing the absence of touch and it’s effects. As children we may be fortunate to grow up in an affectionate environment. We learn that hugs, touching, and appropriate embraces display an openness of warmth. When that does not occur we see these individuals as adults with clear emotional issues. In fact many of the signs and symptoms we observe are similar to those that have been physical, sexually, or emotionally abused. These individuals grow up with emotional distance, are reluctant to hug, and struggle with showing genuine affection. The term genuine affection is important here, for any one of us can give the pseudo-side-hug that lasts about one second. It is the genuine approach and want to hug and touch the one you care for or love that has the impact.

To be in a relationship where there is a minimal display of affection, and lack of touch leads to resentment, anger, and a feeling of not being wanted. As communication is a solid foundation to any relationship, affection runs a close second, if not go hand in hand (pun intended.) When relationships go through their tiffs and battles over the benign as well as the more intense issues touching decreases. Appropriate and expedient resolution is not only important but crucial to the survival of the relationship and each individual in the relationship. Physical and emotional health can be harmed without touching by a loved one. Depression, insomnia, anxiety, ulcers and high blood pressure are all possible concerns with lack of touching. This absence of touching in relationships is usually the fallout from lack of communication, harboring anger, as well as not knowing how to resolve arguments and disagreements. When one holds onto conflict in a relationship it can be fairly sadistic or not knowing how to resolve the conflict. This author has seen situations where one spouse will actually consciously “punish” the other by not talking and not communicating. This type of behavior is not only hurtful and vindictive but does not lead to peaceful resolution. Behaviorally each reacts to past unhealthy forms of behavior, never learning new resolution. Resolution may lead to hugs, touching and even the stereotypical “make-up intimacy.”

Touching in children is not only healthy but necessary to establish a bond, and secure an emotional peace. Even the colicky baby benefits from a methodical belly rub and a sustained rock, to and fro. There are specific areas that have more nerve endings than others and individuals can be more susceptible to these areas. Of course if one is ticklish then the soothing part would not be the goal but laughter would ensue. The soothing areas are fairly common place. The forehead, head, neck, back and belly. As we age, and one works standing all day, who would refuse the leg massage? Not many to my knowledge.

If you are one of those that does not like to be touched by loved ones, ask yourself, why? Do you suffer from high blood pressure, ulcers, insomnia, high cholesterol or any other ailments? Not that touching will cure these maladies but it will definitely help. Go back to your past, remember your role models and your parents. Does that play a role in how you interact now? It is never too late to change behavior. You might find a wonderful world of affection and closeness and at the same time not only role model to your children healthy touching, but lower your blood pressure at the same time.