The Importance of A LOVING TOUCH: Your child’s earliest experience of touch can last a lifetime…
Touching one another may be our first and most primary means of bonding with one another. Along with eye contact, it is totally necessary for depth of communion, yet because it is so primal, we seldom are conscious of it as a language, or aware of ourselves in the act of communicating. Touch expert Ashley Montague, in his infamous book on touch called it the “mother of the senses.” And showed how little it is understood or revered in our culture. Decades later, it remains an almost invisible world. Yet the touch experiences we have as children still determine for most of us whether we will feel at home here on the earth, or not.
Do you like to be touched in a caring way? Are you touch-wary? What do you communicate to your children about touching? Giving and receiving accepting, non-judgmental touches appears to be vital to mental, emotional, physical, sexual and spiritual well-being. It is something we cannot do without, and if we are without, we are suffering tension because of it.
Everyone has a natural capacity to heal with a loving touch. Have you felt the easy release that comes when someone hugs you, pats you on the back, squeezes your hand or gives you a heartfelt kiss without expecting anything in return from you? This is touching just for the joy and pleasure of it. This gift of caring touch is nature’s own remedy, yet few of us grownups use it in a consistent, spontaneous manner. Instead, we may touch with a need to evoke a certain response from a child, to get attention for ourselves.
We touch to groom, fuss with hair or clothing, scrub off dirt, and to reprimand with a slap or spanking. Unfortunately, many touch deprived, intimately and sexually unfulfilled parents touch their children seductively, invasively, impairing those children’s abilities to relate intimately, often for their entire lifetimes.
If touch is so basic, such a natural way to bond and share love, why are we so touch-deprived and depraved? The reason stems from a cultural legacy of confusing touch and its innate sensual, sexual, pleasure-making and feeling, generating aspects with sinfulness and “animalistic, lower natures.” As a culture, we are touch-wary, even phobic, and definitely touch-starved. Parents and teachers worry that their touches to children will be misinterpreted as having sexual connotations, and that in itself is ‘bad.’ Conversely, children’s innocent explorative touches, or uninhibited loving touches are distrusted, even automatically punished, assuring another generation of cautious, hesitant, self-distrusting touchers.
It is a challenge to be a touch aware adult. It is a challenge, for instance, to direct a child to touch ‘appropriately’ in public (that is, in a socially approved manner), without directing the child to feel that his or her natural impulses are bad or wrong. Thus, again, and again, do we fail our children, teaching them shame and guilt instead of self-esteem?
A touch can last a lifetime. Being held and comforted, loved and appreciated allows a child room to grow, discover and develop into a happy, caring, responsible individual. Conversely, being touched often with anxiety, turmoil, confusion, shame or embarrassment disgust (as in changing a soiled diaper) also makes lasting impressions on young hearts and minds, little persons unable as yet to understand the personal conflicts of its parents and other adult touchers.
Touch deprivation is rampant in the USA. Well documented research, I recall as far back as the mid-80s, labeled the US, along with Great Britain, one of the most touch phobic societies on earth. As such, we are a population of alienated, isolated, frightened and despairing persons. Most live lives of quiet desperation, however, others play out their lack of feeling bonded and connected in a violent manner. Although most of us do not openly act out the potential rage within at feeling touch starved, our touch neediness is covertly acted out. We may withhold affectionate expression, or become sexually impotent or frigid. We may stiffen ourselves during hugs, or otherwise ‘leave our bodies.’ We may be chronically suspicious of each other’s motivations for touching, mirroring our own unmet needs and hesitations.
How ironic that our bodies and sensitivities should be so uniquely designed for pleasure and joy and creative expression, and yet we as humans consistently limit that expression along with the peacefulness, playfulness and vibrant health inherent in the touching.
Each touch you give your child conveys a message. It tells of love and safety to Be or of fear and danger. Our motivations are usually hidden from ourselves. It takes conscious intent to become touch aware. But in a world of worry over the spread of diseases through body contact, unwanted teen pregnancies, anguish over sexual abuse of youngsters, the physical and emotional battering of children, it is imperative to understand how lack of unconditionally loving touches tends to bend little humans into depraved, pained, angry adults who then attempt to make contact in ugly, hurtful and abusive ways.
Less dramatic, although equally important, are the everyday instances of shyness, irritability, workaholism, sexual dysfunction, eating disorders, substance abuse, bullying and other power issues that stem from a lack of early bonding. Be kind and patient with yourself and your child as you learn to be a more responsive, honest, caring toucher.Take responsibility for when, how, where and why you touch. Become conscious of your needs and those of your child for acceptance through touch. Be willing to explore the full, healthy range of touch, physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. It is our birthright. Let us claim it and change our families, our cities and our nations into more fulfilled places to be in relationship to one another.
A loving touch can save a life. That life might be yours, or mine, or that of an innocent child.