“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a
listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all
of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Leo F. Buscaglia
Touching is out of fashion. It is seen as predatory. No-one seems to know what is acceptable so there is a blanket ban.
And I understand. I’ve had lots of times when men (especially older men) have felt it’s OK to kiss or touch me and it has felt creepy.
Friends of mine who are in the last phase of becoming foster parents have been told that they should not cuddle any child in their care in bed. And we can see why the rule has come about. But it means they have decided they can’t cuddle their own children in bed because they don’t want to make anyone feel left out. The weekend ritual of hugs in mum and dad’s bed is abandoned.
Teachers and carers are also scared to touch.
Can’t we redeem tender touch as a wonderfully positive experience? There is a big difference between inappropriate touching and touching that is caring and comforting. And by rejecting the latter because of some destructive actions, we are missing out.
Sometimes touch ‘speaks’ human kindness more than any words. Tender touch creates emotional empathy and closeness. Studies show that those who are physically touched on a regular basis experience higher levels of the hormone oxytocin. According to the National Institutes of Health, oxytocin lowers stress hormone levels and, by doing so, plays a part in lowering blood pressure, maintaining good moods and increasing pain tolerances. Maybe doctors should prescribe hugs instead of pills.
Old people suffer from touch deprivation. They may be ‘handled’ by carers – prodded, propped and wiped – but touches of affection are rare. Hugs, holding hands and back rubs have the potential to ease their minds and make them feel less isolated.
Disabled people need touch. They may not be confident about expressing affection with words and we may feel awkward, but stroking, hand-holding, dancing can all decrease stress and increase our physical health too.
Children, especially hurting, vulnerable or angry children need touch. It is such an obvious point – baby massages, tickles, strokes, cuddles all mean love.
Researchers in Sweden have identified c-tactile (CT) afferents which apparently register more than just the physical / sensory aspect of touch – they register the emotion as well. Our forearms and back are especially sensitive to CT and they are 2 places where it is natural to give a caring caress. It seems God made us for intimacy on all levels.
Sometimes touch is a little flirtatious and that can be OK too. If it’s healthy and mutual it can be fun. If the person receiving the attention thinks it’s unwanted or is uncomfortable then the behaviour should stop, but it does not necessarily mean that it is predatory behaviour.
Does that make me sound somehow accepting of harassment? No. But I hope we can all use common sense when we decide what is good or evil.
I need touch and here are some of my favourite touching moments:
* a little child’s hand nestles into mine when we cross the road or he is balancing along a wall
* my grown children give me a generous long hug
* my husband gently kisses the back of my neck
* family ‘group hugs’ (it’s a line from Aladdin)
* the sensuous relaxation of a head massage when I have my hair cut
* holding my mum’s elbow to give a little bit of extra support tells her she is loved
* kissing away children’s tears, tasting the saltiness and feeling the heaving heart grow quiet.
They are all touch moments that make me smile and let me know I am connected to the people in my world.
So this Christmas caress, stroke, dance, hold hands, wrestle and enjoy an oxytocin moment!
Amanda Jackson is WEA's Associate Secretary General for Church in Community and also serves as Executive Director of WEA's Women's Commission. You can read her latest blog at amandaadvocates.blog