By LINDA J. STOCKTON
The St. Patrick’s Day tradition of pinching someone for not wearing green prompted me to think about touch and how it can be both positive and negative.
Touch is a powerful thing. We know that lack of tactile stimulation in infancy can lead to developmental issues like stunted growth as well as emotional disturbances such as personality disorders. Babies deprived of adequate physical and emotional stimulation often die.
Experts say touch has a number of health benefits. It reduces depression, anxiety, stress and physical pain. Touch increases our immune cells. It can be healing.
Like a poker player’s tell, touch can give us away.
For example, when a teenage girl touches herself by wrapping her arms around her waist, her self-consciousness is revealed. We can also pick up on deception in others because they often touch their face when spinning their web of lies.
Touch can be extremely harmful and cause pain.
Ask anyone with arthritis and they will tell you an intense handshake can cause them physical pain. A parent or partner who uses their touch to beat another into submission wounds them physically and emotionally. Inappropriate sexual touch is experienced as invasion by the victim.
Touch often communicates love without the use of words. A gentle caress, a celebratory high-five, a hug during a difficult time, the massage of weary feet, kisses and sexual intimacy all convey the message that someone cares about you and desires a connection.
Research shows that happy couples touch a lot.
Research also shows that humans are created with the ability to interpret the touch of other humans. In one study, eight distinct emotions (anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, sympathy, happiness and sadness) were communicated by touch only with up to 78 percent accuracy.
The meaning or value of touch is influenced by context. Sexual touch enjoyed within the privacy of the bedroom would likely be extremely uncomfortable if received in public.
Who’s doing the touching matters, too. Michael Spezio, a psychologist at Scripps College, says, “The entire experience is affected by your social evaluation of the person touching you.”
This is why sexual harassment or sexual abuse by family or friends is so profoundly damaging to its victims.
The benefits of healthy touch are numerous and can improve both physical and emotional health in addition to conveying nonverbal support and communication.
Touch is vital for our well-being. Just remember that touch needs to respect the boundaries of the personal space bubble of self and others.
Stockton is a professional clinical counselor and owner of Inner Peace Counseling, Findlay. If you have a mental health question, please write to: Mental Health Moment, The Courier, P.O. Box 609, Findlay, OH 45839.
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