200 years ago, French scientists spotted a creature resembling a human running through the forests. Once captured, it was determined that this was an 11-year old boy left in the wild since childhood. Physicians and psychiatrists concluded that the boy’s developmental and social capacities had retarded from being deprived of human physical touch…
Sadly, Phyllis Davis states that we have come to relegate touch to 5 main areas:
- Rituals- greetings, dancing, etc
- Hostility- fighting, discipline, contact sports, etc
- Vicarious Activities- watching movies and sports
- Professional- massage, checkups, tailor, training, etc
- Grooming- hairdressers, correcting someone’s clothes or tie, etc
Touch though has such a greater power than what is seen in these task oriented areas above. Davis also explains in her book, The Power of Touch, that there are 4 Primary Values of Touch:
- Biological- infants die and lack development without it; coma and heart patients experience dramatic improvement with it.
- Psychological- we learn security and well-being through it; establishes self identity and an adequate sense of body image.
- Social- Gives ability to trust others and be sensitive to others’ needs; helps develop interpersonal relationships.
Skin is the largest organ of our body, so why do we often neglect it through lack of touch?
This is an area that I often struggle with fulfilling with men. There is already a difficulty built in for men to generally not be open to touch with other guys. I admit that I have a nagging fear on the inside often such as: “if I hug too long will he feel awkward and withdraw from me? or will he assume a long hug means I’m attracted to him? or will our friendship always consist of 5 second side hugs or just the quick pat on the back rather than deep, affirming, heart-to-heart frontal ones?” Unfortunately, I have experienced friendships with straight guys that dissolved because they thought I was attracted to them because of this or that this level of intimacy is only acceptable in a marriage context. This perceived communication of rejection and sense that I’m not lovable or accepted can be challenging to overcome at times.
Did you know that behavioral scientists have given the deprivation of touch the term skin hunger? If you needed someone to touch you now, to hold you, to affirm you without words, with a soothing, comforting, loving touch, whom would you turn? Davis believes that “the only thing worse than not having someone to turn to would be asking for touch and it being refused. Either way the touch need would go unsatisfied, but if refused, then you bear the added burden of rejection.” (Thank you Miss Davis for this painful reminder!)
So I encourage all to hug and hug some more! In case you’re still not convinced, here are just some of the positive healing benefits that scientific research reveals about hugging:
Instantly boosts oxytocin levels, which heals feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger.
Holding a hug for an extended time lifts one’s serotonin levels, elevating mood and creates happiness.
- Strengthens the immune system. The gentle pressure on the sternum and the emotional charge that this creates, stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the body’s production of white blood cells.
- Boosts our self-esteem by reminding us we’re loved and special. The associations of self-worth and tactile sensations from our early years are still imbedded in our nervous system as adults. The cuddles we received from our Mom and Dad while growing up remain imprinted at a cellular level, and hugs remind us at a somatic level of that. Hugs, therefore, connect us to our ability to self love.
- Relaxes muscles by releasing tension in the body. Hugs can take away pain; they soothe aches by increasing circulation into the soft tissues.
Balances out the nervous system. The galvanic skin response of someone receiving and giving a hug shows a change in skin conductance. The effect in moisture and electricity in the skin suggests a more balanced state in the nervous system – parasympathetic.
- Teaches us to let go and be present in the moment. They encourage us to flow with the energy of life. Hugs get you out of your circular thinking patterns and connects you with your heart and your feelings and your breath.
- Encourages empathy and understanding. The energy exchange between the people hugging is an investment in the relationship.
“We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” Virginia Satir- therapist
Jesus didn’t have to, but He healed many by touching them. We have no idea how many around us are crippled physically, mentally, and emotionally that could be healed by just choosing to touch and hug them in a meaningful way! And some won’t be healed instantly, but only through consistent touch and hugs.
The little boy mentioned earlier did eventually develop and grow(heal) but it took a man committing to him, loving him, investing into him, having him live with him for 5 years. This man ended up naming him Victor, meaning conqueror. So let’s not be catalysts to create others like Victor’s original state around us by withholding touch and hugs. Instead, let’s promote healing and wholeness to empower others to overcome!
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