Author: Vasileios N. Kiosses
Psychologist – Person-Centred Counsellor
When no one wants to be alone, when each and every one of us feels the need to have a partner, anything that can bring us together may seem threatening from time to time.
Touch. That action of closeness and companionship, that silent statement of condescension, caring, and tenderness seems to be risky even for the most daring.
A young girl once told me that when she hugs her mother or her boyfriend she feels something going on inside her. It’s like something moves; undetermined, unattainable, yet dreamy.
The moment that we see that spoken words do not keep pace with the non verbal messages that we send, we understand that one touch aids in well-being, transmits messages, essentially influences communication and relationships.
Touching is the only chance we have to communicate and express ourselves since our birth. Surveys have currently proven that touching between the baby and the mother is not only a necessary convention in order for them to establish a safe bond, but it goes without saying that touching is by itself therapeutic (in the real sense of the word). Because what does “therapy” means? The word “therapy” comes from the Greek words thermos, which means warm, and apto, which means touch. So, the whole essence of the word is nothing more than a warm touch. As long as we relate therapy to medicine, we recall images of doctors wearing medical gloves, masks and anything that protects from the riskiness of touch. However, one might think that protection is a goal, but in the moment of grief, of pain, of solidarity what will provide alleviation?
Hands are tangled with one another, fingers are playing, and palms are trying to dominate each other. They are hiding in so personal a dimension that if you dare to feel it, you lost the game. Bodies that are craving touch, fleshes that beg to be tamed. Lips thirsty for another match, which will not be unfamiliar when you taste it. It will be recognized or it will allow you to introduce yourselves to a brand-new experience, that of total anticipation. Anticipation for the idea of freedom from anything that holds you back, setting limits that only mind controls.
Touching means to come closer. It means knowing something new, something from another dimension where fear stays in the background. Touching means to stop putting borders in what we become together; it means to give up on my worries and let myself go without any doubts. I not only let myself to you, but also I let myself to get to know me better; to understand that I am depriving myself from the power of closeness. I am surrendering myself to you, just for one moment, without remorse.
Besides, almost automatically appear the second thoughts, like demons ready to point their finger at you and scold you like an angry teacher at elementary school, just because you allowed yourself to feel how it is not to be alone.
Before browsing a book, I touch it and it feels like I have already read its preface. I close my eyes and touch a piece of cloth and it feels like it is ready to cover a need of mine that I have never thought before, but when I realized it, I comprehended that its void had been already there.
I touch a part of me that hurts to communicate my distress. I touch in order to show my support and my empathy. I touch in order to show that I am present. I touch as if there is no need to syllable not one word or I touch because I do not have a word to say. I touch because I am afraid to talk and in this way I am sure that you will get my message. I touch because I hesitate to look you in the eyes.
I touch you and the stronger my touch is, the mightier is what I feel for you. That is what I want you to understand.
Neither is touch there to substitute words, nor to imply what I want to tell you. It is not there to make my words sound. However, it makes a sound, a deafening, not sad, but loud noise; so loud that you cannot take your eyes from it. It makes me become precise, as precise as I think I am.
I touch you and your body magically pleads for the beneficial aspect of that moment. My heart rate lowers, oxytocin is secreted and stress hormones are decreased.
A hug is beneficial by itself. And the one being hugged experiences the exact same beneficiary properties from the one hugging him. As if the game is equal. You will not lose, because there will be no winner. And now that I think about it, there is not even a game. No. It is not a game. It is a chance.
And if we come to think that the younger we are the more we are touching one another, then something probably goes wrong when we grow up.
Yes, I know all about social conventions and good manners. But I also know that the cultural context might be quite discouraging when it comes to touching. But touching can become your partaker, that thing that will help you transmit empathy, sympathy, solace, courage, support, care, love. And just feeling them is not enough; you also have to communicate them.
Jones, T. & Glover, L. (2014). Exploring the Psychological Processes Underlying Touch: Lessons from the Alexander Technique. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy. V. 21 (2), p. 140–153.