We can live without many things, but we can’t live without touch. When we are not touched we become irritable, sad, and aggressive. Touch is what creates a sense of safety, connection and trust in our lives; touch is soothing and pleasurable, and cultivates inner peace. Think of how calm we feel, and how re-connected we feel, when we share a tight long hug with another. It is healing.
Touch is not just what we share with another person; it is a sense we share with ourselves.
As we transformed into a world of separation and online connections, it’s become much harder to nurture our insatiable need for touch. Of course, nothing can ever replace the touch of a loved one’s hand, an embrace from a friend, a kiss from our partner or even sitting next to a stranger. A lack of touch amplifies feelings of disconnections and loneliness, which can adversely affect mental wellbeing. We need and creave human contact; this is natural as this is both an emotional and physical need based on our psychology and biology. This current period that we are facing, in a global state of distance and/or isolation, can allow us to reconnect to ourselves and learn to share the sense of touch with ourselves. So that we feel better. Because we rarely focus on the intimacy that lives inside of us. We can do this through massage or even feeling how parts of our skins feel as they touch water in the shower or a fabric (I discuss ways on how, below). In fact, this is a great part of self-care which has long-lasting benefits that will flow through our interconnections with other people.
The Human Need for Touch.
Touch is the first sense that we develop. As babies, we hold onto our blankets and our stuffed animals, we suck on our thumbs, we touch our feet and we are held in cuddles. In fact, being held in our family’s cuddles is one of the most important indicators of a healthy self-esteem later on in life. We seek softness because it makes us feel safe and secure, and because skin-to-skin contact is increadibly soothing. This is how we also learn we calm ourselves as it releases oxytocin and lowers cortisol levels, thereby reducing our stress levels and making us feel good. This dynamic continues into adulthood; we know what we like even if we don’t have the words, or science, to explain why. Often times, we look to satisfy our need for touch unconsciously; we hold our own hands, we cuddle in bed or comforting wraps, we look for a kiss or hug from a loved one, we hold our tea cups while warm, we walk closer to other people on the street, or sit next to strangers in the train.
Touch itself is a language; it gives us intimate insights into what is pain versus pleasure.
When someone touches us and we move away, it is because we feel uncomfortable; it signals a feeling of uneasiness or unsafety. On the other hand, if our muscles relax and we settle into the comfort of the touch, we are ultimately saying, “I feel good. I feel safe.” This same language translates to our self-touch and it corresponds to our compassion response. When we touch ourselves gently, we are communicating tenderness. And if it is not gently, we are saying something like, “I am wrong, I messed up.”
And let’s take this even further. Scientific research shows that physical touch correlates to decreased violence; a child whose been deprived of sufficient physical touch and cuddles, and of mother-child bonding, experiences more aggression, emotional disturbances and even violence in adulthood. The research also correlates physical touch to other important areas of life such as: greater trust between individuals, economic gain, decreased illness and stronger immune systems, more emotional intimacy, increased confidence, greater learning engagement, and overall wellbeing.
Touch has a powerful impact on our emotions. Studies show that just a gentle brush of a woman’s hand on her partner’s shoulder can boost his ability to love, and expression of affection, in addition to his self-confidence. One of the best ways for couples to reconnect is to hug and embrace each other, because this also creates a sense of trust and emotional intimacy between them.
Think about this: when someone is sad, we hug them long and tight, and they feel better; when we feel stressed or just want to calm ourselves, we caress ourselves or rub our hands across our arms, which is a great soothing technique; in trust building exercises, people are guided to hold hands; and when couples need to reconnect or rekindle their bond, they are guided to hug one another more often and/or dance together.
George Kroustallis Photography
Ways to Nurture Self-Touch.
Like I already mentioned, there is nothing that can replace a loved one’s touch of hand, a hug from a friend, a kiss from our partner or just sitting beside another person. But here are ways to nurture our sense of touch, no matter what physical circumstances we find ourselves in.
To begin, start by focusing on skin contacts and which qualities of touch do you enjoy. For example, where do you like to be touched; hands, feet, neck, back, face, genitals, hair? If you are not sure, you can explore your body running down your fingers across your parts, applying different kinds of touch: firm pressure and then soft, nails and then fingertips, delicate circular motions and then linear, as well as experimenting with different temperatures and texures. This is called body mapping and cultivates intimacy with self, while also, building trust within yourself and new ways to explore what you enjoy (and will later experiment with your intimate partners to rekindle the connection).
For example, find a few objects that you love to touch. It can be a nice fabric like silk, cotton or cashmere, or a book, or a fruit, or anything you like around the house. How does it feel on your skin; what makes this sensation comforting or pleasurable? Explore fast versus slow touch on your hand, circular versus linear, back of palm versus front of palm.
Take a long shower or a hot bath; how does water feel on your skin? Showers and baths are great for relieving stress also and inspiring a sense of calmness because they release our mental defenses and are also very cleansing energetically.
Give yourself a massage. For example, gently rub your feet and apply lotion on them before bedtime – this is also a great ancient way of grounding and reconnecting you back to your physical body.
Additional ways: stretch different areas of your body and notice which parts feel the most relief; walk with bare feet, especially outside on grass; brush your hair and massage the scalp with fingers; experiment with self-pleasure; sleep naked in bed or try different fabrics against your skin; place your hands on your belly and focus on its movements as you breathe.
As you engage in all these exercises, notice the places of your face and body that we rarely (or never) touch. Notice how you give and receive of yourself at the same time. Notice the feelings arising within you; how does physical contact with yourself make you feel? Remember to be compassionate with your feelings and your needs. We are all human and it is our sense of touch that we can’t live without; that we need to nurture and cultivate for our overall wellbeing.
Reclaiming our sense of touch may be somewhat of a revolutionary act. Throughout history, a lot of shame and guilt has been associated with it; and the body itself has been used as a vessel for both cultural and social control. The internalization of these negative messages and feelings about our bodies, leads to negative affects on our overall wellbeing. The way to reclaim our sense of touch is to cultivate and nurture an environment within us based on acceptance, value, care and pleasure, dependent on our own selves. Often times, we are perpetuated with ideas that these can only come from external forces, which ultimately makes us dependent on others for touch. This is unhealthy. When we take pleasure into our hands and learn to satisfy our own needs, we expand within our bodies, minds and emotional experiences; and we reclaim our full Self. This also makes us less dependent on others for our intimate connections, and in turn, we become more discerning about choosing our partners; leading us towards happier, healthier and more emotionally and spiritually fulfilling personal relationships.
Cover Art: Sotiris Bougas Photography