Touched Or Touching?

An old AT&T commercial urged people to “reach out, reach out and touch someone.”  While a thoughtful phone call might be touching for the recipient, actual touching is a touchier subject.  An unwanted touch may give rise to claims of having been inappropriately touched.   Unfortunately, our society seems to be focused on negative touch and out of touch with the value of positive touch.

Touch is the first sense that a human acquires.  Don’t believe it?  Well, then you have never been around a wailing baby who miraculously quiets as soon as his mother picks him up.  Her touch is soothing and comforting. Nevertheless, the reaction to touch changes as the baby grows up.  Parents of small children often hear a squabbling offspring demand of a sibling, “Don’t touch me!”  At this point the exasperated parent is likely to threaten an unwanted touching of the child’s posterior if the discord does not immediately cease.

Parents today are forced to educate their children about inappropriate touching starting at a young age.  Such training is as essential to a child’s safety and well-being as learning not to cross a street without first looking both ways.  That such training is required is consistently reinforced by regular news items about inappropriate touching.  And the saddest part is that the toucher is usually someone who is in a position where such behavior would not be anticipated, i.e., a sports team coach, a teacher, a relative.

Because of all the negativity about improper touching, the accepted mantra for social interaction these days is the title of a song by the Georgia Satellites–“Keep Your Hands To Yourself.”  We have become touch phobic and shrink from physical contact.  Our resulting physical standoffishness from others precludes some very positive benefits from occurring.

Research has established that we feel more connected to a person if he physically touches us.  That’s one reason you may feel close to immediate family members.  Hugging or putting a hand on someone adds a physical dimension to the emotional bond, and people are typically more comfortable in touching a relative.  And what a difference physical touching adds to a romantic relationship.  There’s definitely a connection with someone whose touch makes your stomach turn flips, your heart beat faster, and your legs feel wobbly.

According to researchers, touch is the best way to comfort someone.  This conclusion is certainly borne out by a crying baby who quiets upon by being picked up.  In times of sorrow or grief, words may fail.  A hug, a pat on the shoulder or a squeeze of one’s hand is much more effective and often more desired in such circumstances.  In my work as an adoption attorney, I freely dispense hugs to those in emotional distress or pain.  Often I am able to detect a lessening of tension from the recipient in reaction to my touch.

The power of a loving touch is incredible as was clearly evidenced in a recent case I handled.  My clients had agreed to adopt a baby who was going through drug withdrawal after birth.  The baby was in severe pain, receiving morphine, and being fed through a tube.  Try as they might, the NICU nurses couldn’t get the baby to take a bottle.  When the adoptive mother first had access to the baby, she lovingly held him.  And, to the surprise of the NICU nurses, the new mother was able to get the baby to take a bottle on her initial visit to the NICU.

Just like anything else, touch can be used in a good way or a bad way.  Humans are social creatures and physical interaction with others has benefits such as connectivity and comfort.  In an effort to avoid being touched in a negative way, many today are depriving themselves of the positive effects of a touching touch.  While inappropriate touching is to be avoided, we should make an effort to reach out and touch someone–literally–in a caring way.

Just Wondering–When has a physical touch had a positive impact on you?