Have we lost the joy of a gentle touch in the fear of inappropriate touching? Perhaps it is time to reassess how our sense of touch can be used appropriately and effectively.
A simple touch of a hand can mean so much: comfort, empathy, encouragement, and more. Yet we live in a time when this is discouraged and even avoided in case it carries a message that was not intended. Because of the inappropriate use of touch, even the most pure intent can be misinterpreted.
The importance of touch starts in babyhood. A baby, newly ejected from the closeness of the mother’s womb, requires frequent touch for comfort and reassurance of safety and security. Research has proven that babies who are not touched and cuddled do not thrive. They need more than feeding and changing.
As children grow, the loving hands that support and guide them continue to be important to their well-being. When they are sent out into the world, whether to child-care or early schooling, they miss it, because often carers and teachers are precluded from touching them, even if they are in need of comfort. This is the dilemma of finding the balance between protecting children from predators and giving them necessary caring reassurance.
In the workplace, touch is outlawed. I can understand this after years of hearing of the inappropriate behaviour of bosses and managers towards younger staff members. Yet there are situations when a gentle hand on the arm can be reassuring and encouraging. It has been found that the upper arm, down to the elbow, is the most neutral and non-sexual part of the body, so may offer a way to touch without causing fear, providing the one being touched does not object. Learning to speak up when touching is unwelcome is essential.
Perhaps one of the saddest changes in the behaviour of marriage partners is the loss of the quick hug, the soft physical connection as partners pass each other, the cuddle in bed. Busy lives can mean less time together, differing schedules, and even separate bedtimes, and the importance of touching can be forgotten. Yet ask any widow or widower and I’m confident you will hear that one of the hardest things about losing their partner is the loss of their touch.
Older people need a caring touch, yet often ageing parents and grandparents can find their main contact with family is via a phone or computer, and even Skype cannot give a warm hug. Carers in nursing homes are too busy to take time to hold the hand of a lonely resident, and too afraid of being accused of breaking rules. Yet the touch of a hand can say much more than words; it can say, ‘I hear you’ and ‘you matter’.
Let’s get some balance back into our attitude to touching. It’s so good to see men learning it is ok to hug each other. Surely it is possible for us to act out the human desire to touch and be touched, gently and briefly, in a way that gives reassurance rather than fear. For without the gift of touch, we are little more than robots.
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