Touch Me, Please Touch Me!

Sage ReddyHappiness, Health, Love

“If you’re not going to be there for me when I need you the most, how can I really count on you?” she informs me, tears welling up in her soft eyes. Boy, I didn’t see that coming. But touché!

Guilty as charged! Even so, her pain is now my pain. I want to touch her face, hold her close and comfort her. After all, she’s my beloved wife, the love of my life. Interesting though, how pain makes some women look even more beautiful.

My lovely wife wants me to touch her. And this fool, he won’t. In fact, I have kept my distance from her for more than 48 hours now. And I have no intentions of changing my conduct for another 48. What’s wrong with me? Oh, plenty. But more to the point, I won’t touch my wife or get too close to her, not because I’ve stopped loving her, but because of the flu bug she’s caught on this trip to India.

I don’t want to catch her bug.

While misery loves company, my view is two people miserable does not make for a better home. Besides, I’d be of more use to her if I don’t fall sick as well. So I’ve kept my distance. My physical aloofness has been very hard on my wife. This has never happened before. She feels quarantined.

You see, Becca, is the tactile and touchy-feely type. Tactile means “perceptible by touch.” When someone is “tactile,” it means they relate to their world primarily through their sense of touch. Becca’s always touching folks and hugging them. It doesn’t take much for her to hug someone, even a total stranger. My wife doesn’t care for superficial hugs, and loves to give and receive good solid hugs.

Naturally, if you’re tactile and touchy-feely, your need for touch gets even more pronounced in an intimate relationship. Depriving someone like that of touch is like depriving them of oxygen. My wife is one of those people who’ll die from lack of touch before she’ll die of hunger. Thats how important touch is for this beautiful woman.

My wife has what I call “touch hunger.”

All this makes it look as if I don’t care for touch, doesn’t it? If only. Guess what? Like Becca, I too am the tactile type. I feel things out. I feel situations out. I feel people out. I touch people all the time and I love to be touched back. I too harbor this touch hunger.

Difference is, I, being a male, can do a better job of hiding my need for touch than a woman can. Hey, I’m a man. Men are supposed to be tough, right? When a man has a need to be touched, it could be construed as a weakness, especially in America. You’d be thought of less than a man. So I could put on a tough front, which I don’t. And it wouldn’t fool my wife anyway.

Ok, so both Becca and I have this thing called “touch hunger.” Are we strange and unusual?

Yes! But guess what? You have it too.

As does everyone else on this planet, whether they know it or not.

Your brain on drugs, I mean “touch”

Of all the five senses, touch is the most interesting. Not to mention necessary. Any physical movement on your part requires an internal awareness of your body that calls for proprioception, which is an internal form of tactile sense. The sense of touch is the first to develop in the embryo, which is how infants figure out their environment and bond with others. Your sense of touch is always on; it never takes a break. Even when all other senses quit on you in old age, your tactile sense will continue to function.

Throughout your life you’ll use your sense of touch to learn, protect yourself from harm, relate to others and experience pleasure. Even so, unlike your other senses, touch is very hard to isolate and study. That’s because tactile sensory information is delivered to your nervous system from every single part of your body.

There is a direct connection between the touch you receive (or don’t) and the stress you experience (or don’t). Affectionate and attentive touch reduces your anxiety, which in turn reduces your systemic stress. Deprive yourself of touch and it’ll have the opposite effect: it will increase the levels of stress hormones in your blood, most notably cortisol and norepinephrine.

Chronic stress will also mess with your immune system, which translates to poor health, be it mental, emotional or physical. In children, this can be dangerous. Chronically high levels of cortisol prevents normal brain development in a child and even damage it, especially the hippocampus. The hippocampus, as you may know, is the part of the brain that has to do with memory and learning. This might explain why children robbed of affectionate touch have learning difficulties.

Affectionate touch is necessary for the physical, mental, and emotional development of a child. Ever heard of “failure to thrive syndrome?”

Its a phenomenon that puzzled many a doctor in the first half of last century. Despite good food, clean environment and proper medical care, the majority of infants and children in hospitals and orphanages did not develop normally. Many died. It breaks your heart, but it happened. Why?

It’s because these infants received everything… except touch.

Next, let’s do an experiment.

What would happen if we were to take infant monkeys, separate them from their mothers and siblings, and put them in cages with two “surrogate” mothers. Food is what infants are really after, right? So let’s have each of these surrogate mothers hold a milk bottle. We’ll make one of these mothers a wire monkey and the other, a wooden monkey wrapped in cloth. How do you think the infant monkeys will respond?

If you knew the outcome, you’d jump all over me and call me “cruel.” However, in the interests of science and health, this is precisely what psychologist Harry Harlow did back in the 1950s. Wanna know the result?

The infant monkeys desperately clung to the wooden surrogate monkeys that were wrapped in soft cloth for hours, forgoing their desire for food in favor of the soft comfort of the cloth. What does that tell you?

As mammals, our need for touch is greater than out need for food. Or for that matter, money, sex or anything else. While it’s true that food is a big part of infant-mother bonding, what the infant is really after is affectionate touch. Food is just an excuse to obtain this live-giving touch.

As if I haven’t tormented you enough already, wait till you hear the rest of monkey experiment story.

Infant monkeys isolated from their mothers and robbed of touch exhibited stereotypical abnormalities. They engaged in self-clasping and rocking behaviors, were aloof, avoided socializing with other monkeys, disliked being touched and were very timid. When they did socialize with other monkeys they were too aggressive, violent even. They had difficulty finding sexual partners, difficulty mating and abused their mates and offspring.

After Harlow’s experiments, many others have conducted studies to see the effects of touch deprivation on human development. And they all came to similar conclusions. No one doubts anymore that affectionate touch is key to a human being’s proper development. The lack of it can cause depression, neurotic behavior, memory deficits and even illness.

And you thought it was just “touch!”

You deserve a daily touch bath

Let’s get back to my wife. As of this writing, she’s over her flu bug and back to her bubbly self. As a couple, we’re now back to being our usual silly, touchy-feely selves.

Sometimes I think I’m the luckiest man alive. If you’re a man or a woman and your partner doesn’t just love you to pieces, but demonstrates this love through affectionate touch, you’re home to riches no money can buy. If you don’t see that, you don’t know how good you have it.

My wife gets as much from giving the gift of touch as she does by receiving it. Not a day goes by when she doesn’t stand behind me and stroke my head with her gentle hands. Be jealous. 🙂 If you use your head a lot, like I do, you’ll really appreciate a good head rub.

Does that mean you need to be married to a touchaholic partner to enjoy the gift of touch? Not at all. Get massages. Actually, it’s cheaper to be single and pay for a massage. 🙂 Jokes aside, I have yet to meet someone who does not like massage.

Can’t afford massage therapy, you say? No problem. Who says you can’t give yourself the gift of touch? You can (and should) touch yourself on a regular basis. If that sounds dirty, get your mind out of the gutter. 🙂

Anytime I feel a little stress, I pull back from whatever I’m doing and give myself a touch bath. My body tells me where I need it. Usually, it’s my face and head and arms and torso.

But why wait for stress to go get a full body massage? Smart people will go get it on a regular basis. Even smarter people do both: get massages from therapists (and/or lovers) AND give self-massages.

You deserve the gift of touch. You deserve a massage everyday. And you can give it yourself!

Speaking of Becca, she has a lovely post on the nuts and bolts of daily self-administered oil massage called Abhyanga: Self Massage. Read it, enjoy it, put it into practice. You can thank me later.

Here’s wishing you a lifetime of loving and affectionate touch!

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