UC Berkeley’s Greater Science Center has performed enough research and experiments on the effects of touch to have a pretty good handle on what it can mean for people. Their decision, as far as an accurate description: Touch is “the primary language of compassion.”
It might seem simple, and even obvious when we actually think about touch, just how impactful it can really be. It’s one of the most natural actions in all of human nature, from the moment we’re born. A newborn baby needs several basic ingredients to live, yes, but what they really want most of all is to be held, to be touched, and to feel the love and compassion radiating from the simple and delicate touch of their parents, and people who love them. That desperate need for touch and compassion doesn’t just disappear over time. If anything, as we get older, that need continues to grow and develop.
Unfortunately, we live in a society where touch itself has become somewhat of an awkward concept. Technology has done incredible things for our world, but where it has supposedly ‘connected’ us to so many people, it’s actually done us a disservice by disconnecting us from the relationships that really matter most, and the touch that is supposed to go along with those relationships. At the end of a bad day, what’s going to provide you with more comfort? A few hours of playing around on your phone, or a compassionate, real, emotional hug?
There is no substitute for touch, or what it can provide to us emotionally. But, there is also scientific evidence to show that compassion touch actually has a positive effect on our bodies as well. Being able to break this strange limbo that touch has found itself in over the past several years is important to the overall health and wellbeing of our society, but that can be easier said than done.
When we think of loving touch, our minds usually go to the romantic side of it, which is important, but absolutely not the only form of compassionate, loving touch. Siblings, parents and children, friends, and even complete strangers can all benefit from compassionate touch at any time. Research has been shown that the simple feel of holding someone’s hand, and feeling as though they are showing genuine compassion toward you, even if you can’t see their face, can do everything from calm nerves, slow down heart rate, and offer a feeling of peace and happiness.
There is some kind of strange stigma behind touch nowadays, because we’ve been ‘trained’ to desensitize ourselves from it. With so much happening in the world all the time, it’s much easier to talk about it, post our thoughts about it on social media, rant about it, or even try to deal with these heavy concepts on our own, but that can really only work for so long before our society implodes on itself thanks to all the pressure we’re putting on our own minds and bodies.
Touch has become awkward, in a sense. Maybe it’s because you’ve never had a compassionate relationship. Perhaps your parents were loving in a different way, but never showcased the importance of touch, never gave you hugs, etc. Maybe you’ve just drifted away from physical touch because it’s easier to remain in the safety of your own world. We back away from compassionate touch for many reasons, and while there is no concrete ‘evidence’ as to why touch has fallen out of ‘popularity’ in recent years, getting it back in the limelight is certainly important for the future.
A lack of touch can make us feel rejected, unwanted, and unloved. So, adversely, imagine the greatness that comes along with even the simplest of touches from someone we love. Happiness, comfort, peace, and of course – love!
Now more than ever, as our world faces uncertain times, and it seems as though a new tragedy is showing itself every single day, we need the comfort and compassion of touch from people we care about, and from people in general. So, the next time you’re feeling blue, or lonely, or even just ‘off’ somehow, consider trading in a few minutes on your phone for a hug from someone you love. You might be surprised at just how comfortable that hug can make you feel, and you can in turn pass it on to someone else. If we all just start with one hug, it won’t take long before compassion through touch starts to fill the world again, giving us exactly what we need.
Being able to understand the past and these old, pushed away feelings and memories will help you to effect positive change in your life and not repeat what has caused suffering in the past. As a couples therapist in Pasadena I understand the obstacles and challenges that face. Donna Shanahan, LMFT Couples Therapy Pasadena, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.