Are you touch deprived?
If you are like millions of Americans, and hundred of millions of people worldwide - the answer is probably yes.
Whether you are married, happily married even, or single; younger, older, it doesn't matter. And it is nothing to be ashamed to admit.
The impersonal nature of modern life in the western world, accelerated by technology, has become such that we have produced a race of the isolated and untouched. In some sense, we are more connected than ever, yet we live in isolation, not only avoiding, but even warding off all forms of 'unnecessary' physical contact, faceless figures in a crowded landscape, lonely and afraid of intimacy.
TECHNOLOGY AND TABOO = A RACE OF UNTOUCHABLES
There are a couple of factors that have conspired to bring this about. Principally Technology & Taboos.
Technology has taken over our lives. It has brought us many great advances, it allows us to interact with people all over the world and to access information at the click of a button, but it also has dehumanized our daily lives.
Urbanization, long working hours, increased crime levels and fear of harassment have plunged us into isolation and made us suspicious of strangers and guard our personal space. We’ve become disconnected from our communities and, as a result, many of us have become touch-deprived.
Compounding the problem, is a second issue - that intentional touch between strangers is becoming or has become taboo.
Throughout the centuries touch has been used in spiritual healing. Research has demonstrated that touch is essential for psychological development and well being and that it is vital to physical development and the maintenance of life. Now, however, touch as a helping intervention frequently is viewed as taboo.
Americans in particular are among the world’s least tactile people. In a culture that has, in the opinion of Montagu, “confounded love, sex, affection and touch,” people are so afraid of sexual abuse, that any touch becomes taboo. “No touch” policies abound. Children and older people may suffer the most. Teachers are no longer allowed to hug grade schoolers if they do well in class or pick up preschoolers when they fall on the playground. Yet, despite all these mandates, experts acknowledge that the incidence of sexual abuse has not decreased and child abuse by daycare workers is on the rise. So, children experience less loving, nurturing and comforting touch while the problem of inappropriate touch continues and is rooted elsewhere. I liken this to the fact that none of us can bring toothpaste on a plane or must endure humiliating and time consuming removal of clothes as a broad approach cure to a more targeted specific problem.
In many ways, technological advances, and increased awareness and disproportionate weight placed upon the instances of inappropriate touch have created a society that now avoids physical contact and places little value on the pleasures and value of human touch.
All of this this translates into a disconnected, numb and isolated humanity. At a minimum, it adds to your stress, makes you cranky; but can also leave you depressed and affect your brain in other ways.
When people are touch-deprived, they become numb to the fundamental need to touch and be touched. They become touch-phobic, holding a hyper vigilant tension in their bodies, keeping others at an emotional distance, operating from the head for protection while disconnected from the body and heart.
I have observed that even if they are not conscious or aware of the term, many of my clients today suffer from some degree of touch deprivation. And again, this cuts across all segments. You would be amazed at what I hear.
Touch plays a vital role in human survival from the in utero state to old age. The skin has physiological significance in the development and maintenance of life. The areas through which most touch is received - the skin, tongue, lips, and hands - all have a disproportionately large representation in the brain, which demonstrates the importance of physical contact for survival. Furthermore, the two central nervous system tracts myelinated early in fetal development are touch and pain. Tactile sensibility is the first of the human senses to appear.
Touch, or the lack of it, affects us all. Healthy touch slows our heart rates and reduces anxiety. It makes us feel safe and nurtured. A lack of touch, though, can make us feel very lonely, depressed, ill and even aggressive and angry at the world.
There is a wonderfully descriptive term for touch deprivation, called “skin hunger” - your skin literally hungers for the touch of another human being, to feel connected, accepted and whole. Yes, there is such a thing as inappropriate touching and we should protect ourselves and our children from that, but when was the last have you given your friend, parent or child a good, generous hug? When last have you touched someone, who is in pain, to show your compassion and care?
There is a reason that massage has become so popular in our modern world – it is not only a wonderful way to relax and ease muscle tension, it is also a safe way to enjoy the warmth and love of another person’s touch – it releases so much positive energy in your body, that you feel on top of the world.
The Market for Hugs
The latest and newest entry into this field is the gaining popularity of "cuddle shops" and "cuddle services". Not to be confused with sexual services, these services recognize the need for people simply to be held.
I have no hard data on this, but I suspect that the explosive rise in internet pornography is doing huge damage to the younger generations. First it consumes vast amounts of time. Like all things internet, texting, face book, it is a lonely singular activity. Secondly, it creates unrealistic expectations. And I am by no means an expert but I think it puts the focus on the sex act itself and variations, thus depriving couples of the simple pleasure of a prolonged experience. I liken this to the absence of daydreaming in child's play, having been completely replaced by the instant gratification of video games, cell phones....children have lost the ability to let their mind wander and just enjoy "nothing"
Could you or someone close to you be touch-deprived? Reach out to someone today and share the healing power of touch. For yourself, consider regular bodywork as part of an overall wellness regimen, not just a "once a year' treat. Think of it less like a "birthday present" and more like "a morning meal"
I write about things that I myself need to be mindful of. ways in which I would like to improve. It is not from the perspective of preaching - but rather writing helps me work out what I myself need to do - we are all in this together.