A colleague and I were discussing the importance of touch recently and we both agreed that touch is powerful. To my way of thinking it is one of life’s fundamental skills. Western civilizations are particularly touched deprived, almost to the extent of being touch phobic. This lack of touch is detrimental to our individual wellbeing as well as the collective which is society.
Touch is healing at many levels. It often leaves a subtle but profound response where changes are stimulated in the body which then spread through to the mind. Hugging, a gentle well intended caress, a loving rub on the back can and does make a difference in people’s lives. There is a lot of research which speaks to these points (see references). Some of the positive benefits of touching are:
The touch of someone’s hand, the closeness of an embrace, and the connection of personal contact signify caring and comforting.
Feelings of security, safety, and easiness are amplified.
Touching builds closeness, fosters communication, and nurtures intimacy.
Touching gives a person sense of being cared about and cared for.
Being touched or held makes a person psychologically feel worthy and physically feel soothed.
Promotion and growth of the nervous system
Stimulating immune system
Greater non-sexual intimacy
Engenders trust between people
We also know from different studies what happens when we do not receive enough touch. For example, there was a 13th century historian named Salimbene who described what happens when babies were raised in isolation. Every baby died. Salimbene wrote in 1248, “They could not live without petting.” Touch is really that important – literally human beings can die from a lack of touching.
Tiffany Field a pioneer on touch discovered that those premature babies who received three fifteen minute sessions of touch therapy gained 47% more weight than those premature babies under standard medical care over a ten-day period. The message being if we are not touched, it makes it very difficult to thrive. It is a well-documented phenomenon.
It is not just the physical which can be affected by a lack of touch. There often are major psychological effects later in life from being touch deprived in childhood. We sometimes see a background of neglect and touch deprivation in children who physically fight a lot. In a sense, they are unconsciously trying to make up for the lack of touch they never received.
The same phenomena can sometimes also be seen in people who are promiscuous. Promiscuity is about making up for a lack of touch. Lots of sex and by default lots of touching, then becomes a medium to address unmet childhood needs.
Touch denotes care, it’s a medium where we can express love, tenderness, connection to another human being. It is also a way of allowing the other person to know they exist and that they are there. The importance of this may not dawn on a lot of people, but it is important to let other people know that they are seen and acknowledged. Touch does that and a whole lot more for people.
Rather than shy away from being touched we should look towards incorporating more touch in our lives. It just makes sense to do so for many reasons. Some of which were outlined above. We can look to towards some European and Latin countries which touch at a far greater rate than America, Britain, Australia etc. for safe ways to incorporate more touch at a societal level.
At an individual go and have a massage! Hug a friend, embrace loved ones, find a safe and appropriate way to touch more in life.
Auvray, M., Myin, E., & Spence, C. (2010). The sensory-discriminative and affective-motivational aspects of pain. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 34, 214-223.
Paladino, M.P., Mazzurega, M., Pavani, F., & Schubert, T. (2010). Synchronous multisensory stimulation blurs self-other boundaries. Psychological Science, 21, 1202-1207
Wilhelm, F. H., Kochar, A. S., Roth, W. T., & Gross, J. J. (2001). Social anxiety and response to touch: Incongruence between self-evaluative and physiological reactions. Biological Psychology, 58, 181-202.