The lost art of touching, Part 1: Caring, Healing, and Sexual.
“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”
~ Virginia Satir, noted American author and psychotherapist.
What does the world revolve around? Love. Everyone knows this old saying, but nobody knows the true meaning and power behind it.
Everyone needs love. Every action, ranging from the most cynical to the most selfless, can be traced back to love or a lack of it. Everything is based around giving love, receiving love, a lack of love or a search for love.
Not the maligned, misunderstood, and oft-twisted romantic love (although romance and sex is a big part of this series), but love with a capital L – genuine caring, intimacy and warmth.
And touch is one of the most vital and basic facets of conveying it.
So: In this series we’ll discuss how to use touch to heighten the entire range of human interaction – from the most common social meeting and the cynical business meeting, to the most intimate lover’s embrace.
Touch is a basic need
In her book, The Power of Touch, Phyllis R. Davis describes how people are increasingly starved for touch in western culture. It is an actual need, just as vital as food and sleep for our emotional and physical health. Skin hunger is as real and as controlling as food hunger. But people do not recognise skin hunger, nor do they attribute certain social and mental ailments to it.
An example that I particularly like is a woman who gets her hair done every week even though she didn’t need it. She didn’t realise that her loveless marriage and dreary life meant a lack of touch that was driving her slowly insane. The soothing touch of the hairdresser as she got her scalp massaged kept her sane – and it was what she was really looking for, although she didn’t know it.
I recently read about experiments they did with baby monkeys. Researchers gave them two fake metal “mothers”. One was hard and cold, but dispensed milk. The other was soft and comforting, but provided no sustenance. Guess which one the babies preferred?
Phyllis’s book expands on this even further by stating that cultures in which infants were given lots of touch have lower incidences of theft, murder, and rape. Can you now begin to appreciate the power of touch?
Is this for real?
Are you thinking that this sounds a bit extreme? Surely she overstates the importance of touch? Think about your life. Have you received your 4 hugs for survival today, as Satir recommends? What about yesterday? The week before? If you have, was the contact genuine?
Most people I know – even those in a relationship don’t get their daily minimum. The problem is: how can you recognise what the lack of touch is doing to you? Unless you’ve had it before, you don’t know what you are missing. You don’t know how it’s been affecting you – just like a man that was born blind cannot appreciate how important sight truly is. On the other hand, a recently blind man will fell the pain of the loss acutely.
Time for another personal example, then! This time in a more “common” setting. I am a very physically affectionate person by nature. When I am in a relationship, my girlfriend gets the brunt of my kiss attacks. I’m always playing with her hair, stroking her cheeks or putting my arms around her. In the early stages of dating, they always protest – “Argh, are you treating me like a cat?” Then they submit. Then they can’t live without it.
The initial protest is to be expected, as current culture generally frowns upon PDA – Public Displays of Affection. As such, most people are not used to it. But after the initial familiarisation, they find it fulfils a need that they have never realised that they had (more on this in Part 2 of this series, when we discuss applying touch to others in detail).
Then they can’t get enough – they feel distinctly uncomfortable when I am not touching them. Ex-girlfriends I’ve kept in touch with also confirm that the lack of stroking (get your mind out of the gutter) and kisses actually make them upset. It’s like a hardcore smoker who’s trying to quit – it hurts.
What about me? In the past few months I have been single – and while I am not lonely (the ego makes aloneness into loneliness), I feel stiff and uncomfortable for no reason. I used to book in a massage with a trained professional once a fortnight. The unease returns a few days later and grows until my next appointment. It was only after I read this book that I realised what I was missing.
To prove my theory, I moved from my standard back and neck massages (the tightest areas of my body) to foot massages, also called reflexology. I felt just as relaxed and revitalised – all the upper body unease disappeared as well. I also tried electronic chairs for a back massage. It felt great, but the unease returned in a matter of hours and not days. It confirmed that all I really needed was human touch. (Hardly scientific, I know, but I don’t know how else I can do it .)
The three types of positive touch
OK, that’s the theory. On to the practical! There are many types of touch. The positive types can be split into:
– The caring touch
– The healing touch
– The sexual touch
We can discriminate between these forms of touch easily. Try this little experiment – which at the same time trains you to give out the different forms of touch.
1) Find someone, preferably a sexual partner if you can, otherwise testing the last type of touch might be a bit awkward . Tell them to close their eyes.
2) Fill yourself with the feeling and the thought of the type you want to give. To help the emotionless zombies amongst you, I’ll go into specifics.
a) Caring: Warmth, kindness, and caring. Think of a small baby or a loved one, a fragile little creature that you would give your life for, that you want to kiss and cuddle. If you’ve never seen a baby like that, imagine one.
b) Healing: Now think of that same baby. Imagine it is wounded in some way. Whatever works the best – physical wounds like cuts and bruises or emotional wounds like depression and tears. Think of wanting to heal it, pretend that the only way you can heal it is by touching it with the most tender touch you can.
c) Sexual: Think of the last time you had ravishing animal sex, or the most passionate loving sex. Anything that’s blown your mind and made you lose it. If you’ve never had good sex, imagine it. (I was wondering how to describe this to virgins, then I realised virgins won’t have anyone to practice this with anyway.)
3) Intensify that feeling into your fingers; intensify it into your eyes. Imagine electricity at those two areas.
4) Touch your partner. Imagine sending the electricity – whichever type you are using into them as you do so.
5) Ask them if they can identify which one you just used. Don’t expect some major reaction – but used correctly over a long period of time, it will set the proper mood and convey the right emotion without fail.
6) If you want, redo the experiment, this time with their eyes open. Imagine the energy in your eyes and look into their eyes, sending it as you touch them. This is actually quite important – the eyes are the other vital factor in social interaction.
In addition to the three positive types, there are also negative touches. These are detachment and anger. They are pretty self-explanatory, and not useful for us personal developers, so I won’t go into them further. I would also say there’s the creepy pervert touch, but that’s generally a sexual touch used in the wrong way.
Errors you can make
The most important thing is capturing the genuine feeling. If you don’t feel it, you can’t make others feel it. This could possibly take a bit of practice, so if you’re not getting results, treat it like a skill – with any skill you’ll always get more mistakes than successes in the beginning.
The other mistakes are wrong timing and wrong place. With a willing partner, though, these mistakes won’t come into play so we’ll discuss them in Part 2, when we get into the specifics.
In the next part of this series, we’ll discuss the specifics of applying touch. Social situations, parent and child relationships, to intimacy between lovers – they’ll all be heightened by correct and genuine application of touch. Sounds good? Stay tuned!