Loving touch comforts and heals. Many seniors who live alone or in residential settings can go long periods of time without being hugged or touched. Children are happier with generous amounts of it. Couples can't thrive without it. Even our pets crave it. We never outgrow our need for it.
Ashley Montagu was a British anthropologist who wrote a book about the importance of touch. Skin to skin contact is essential for optimal happiness and well-being. Here are some of the things we know from studies about touch:
1. We feel more connected to someone if they touch us.
2.We can communicate many different emotions through touch.
3.The situation, or context for the touch modifies the meaning of it. Does it occur at a bar? With friends? At home?
4.Touch is an essential channel of communication between parents and children.
5. A mother's touch deepens the attachment between mother and child.
6. Even babies like to be touched. The University of Miami's School of Medicine studied infants, and demonstrated that babies who are massaged by parents sleep better, are less irritable, are more social with other babies, and preemies even grow better when lovingly touched.
7. Generally, we are touched more often when we are little. However, we all need positive touch.
Sometimes when counseling young couples with small children, I find they both touch the babies or children, but the adults may forget (or are too tired) to remember to touch each other.
8.Touch is learned. It varies by culture. I have several young couples in premarital counseling where the differences in how each family uses touch is causing some discomfort and is having to be negotiated. You can also talk with your partner and teach each other how you like to be touched. I like couples to be intentional with each other, and kiss and hug goodbye and hello when they part in the morning and when they reconnect at the end of their day.
9.Touch has reciprocal benefits for both people, the person who is doing the touching, as well as the person being touched. Studies of stress hormones before and after massages confirm the benefit for giver and receiver.
10. Children usually respond beautifully to a little massage of their arms, backs ,
and/or legs before bedtime. It tends to help them transition to sleep better. I encourage parents to consider adding some loving touch into the bedtime routine with babies and children. I often recommend increased loving parent-child touch with anxious children.
11. Touch fosters and communicates intimacy in romantic relationships. I often notice the distance at which couples sit from each other on the couch in my counseling office and whether or not they touch each other during the counseling session. It gives me a little window in to how they probably treat each other at home.
12. Inappropriate touch is threatening, and touch that feels too personal from strangers can scare people. Generally from the shoulder to the hand would be a less threatening location to touch someone you are not close to.
13.The gender of the sender and receiver of the touch also modify the way the touch is interpreted.
14. At work, a handshake is the best choice for touch. Honoring boundaries and personal space at work is key to being professional, as well as avoiding sexual harassment concerns.
15. In certain situations, like when someone is grieving, or celebrating wonderful news with you,
touch may be better than any words you could find to express support.
How many times have you been touched this week? Have you reached out to connect with loved ones recently withhugs, and other ways to touch to comfort, connect or reassure? Have you talked with those you are closest to about how they feel about touch? Do you know a child or a senior who might need your loving touch? Think of touch as another tool for connecting you to the people you love, on a skin to skin, visceral level.