“To understand the sensory life of a society one must look at the cultural values that inform its ways of sensing the world. The history of the touch involves not just a search for experience, but for meaning.” -Constance Classen, The Deepest Sense.
Where Did We Start?
In the Middle Ages, touch was not only natural; it was an integral part of daily family and community life. Families slept in the same bed for the simple necessity of space and warmth. Soldiers, when eating, ate with their hands out of bowls set in the center of the table. It was believed this demonstrated equality and strong bonds between the men, especially as their superior officers would participate. Unaware of germs, viruses, and bacteria, individuals found community and camaraderie in this primitive yet meaningful connection. When eating utensils were first devised, they were used only by the ruling class, who were often made fun of for their delicate ways.
Hugs & Touch in A Divided Culture
In the last two years, I’ve observed a lack of clear communication and conversation regarding people’s wants and needs for personal touch and contact in many arenas, but especially in the family dynamic. Older or at-risk individuals asking for in-person contact with their loved ones, grandchildren, and friends, and being denied—the latter group being too fearful of getting the at-risk person ill. Of course, the strongest boundaries win. Always.
Yet I question: Is this the healthiest choice? Are we letting fear separate us from powerful relationships? Are we weighing the possibility that the person we are trying so hard to protect could die anyway from a stroke or heart attack tomorrow? What if that touch and connection might have supported their mental and emotional well-being and immune system?
Research Shows…Hugs Boost Immunity
I ask these questions, of course, because of how much research I’ve done on the power of touch to keep us physically and emotionally healthy. In a Carnegie Mellon University study, 404 people were measured on their perceived social support and number of hugs received per day. They were then exposed to a flu virus and put in quarantine for observation. People were less likely to be symptomatic if they had good social support. Plus, “among infected participants, greater perceived support and more-frequent hugs each predicted less-severe illness signs.” I write more about this in my book, but when the fight/flight part of the brain is less active, our immune system is more able to respond to stress and illness.
How Important is Touch in Any Relationship?
Amazingly important for our brains, our immunity, our sense of comfort and connection. For calm and nurturing and teamwork.
Of course, it also depends on the relationship. It must be consensual. Some people are more sensitive to touch and energy than others. When in doubt, ask. “Would you like a hug?” Touch isn’t limited to hugs, of course. Fist bumps, a pat on the shoulder, a comforting hand. As long as it is pleasing for both people.
We Are Mammals and Need Connection
We are all mammals and, as such, we want to be part of the herd because being part of a herd is a central point for our survival. Mammals stick together because they become easy prey when they get separated, and because we have deep biological needs to be loved, nurtured, and accepted. That’s why there are groups everywhere for everything imaginable: politics, religion, hobbies, value systems, belief systems, and so on.
Ready to Have More Touch & Connection In Your Life?
- Sign up for free Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT Tapping) classes
- Listen to them or watch them (even if you are multitasking!)
- Practice asking for what you want! It’s that easy!
You get to thrive in your relationships. Have the care and attention you’ve always wanted!