THE HUMAN TOUCH: WHO NEEDS IT
Every human being needs to touch and be touched. Each of us has thoughts and feelings so deep and personal that words will simply not bear their weight. And yet, we long to communicate them, to share them with another. Our most intense joy is amplified and given permanence by being shared. Our deepest fears and anxieties are made endurable and manageable by being shared. But they can only be truly shared in their full depth and significance when they are shared in the totality of who we are.
We need to touch. Perhaps in our artificial technologized culture, we need the closeness and intimacy of touch more than ever. We need to share ourselves with each other as surely as we need to breathe. But just as surely, that sharing cannot be accomplished on a merely verbal level. What we need to communicate is more primal, more basic, than language.
We are primarily animals who touch! Our deepest thoughts and feelings can only be communicated by touch . . . by physical intimacy.
When your child comes to you, frightened and hurt, TELL him/her you care, TELL her/him you love him/her, TELL him/her you are sorry. Then TOUCH him/her. Take him/her in your arms and cuddle him/her. Then he/she will believe you. Then he/she will know you care.
But to whom can you go when you are frightened or hurt? With whom can you share those deepest feelings, which can only be shared by touching?
We, adults, have limited touch to three areas. We allow the handshake and such similar symbolic, but safe, gestures. We may touch in sexual intercourse. And we may touch in hostility, where one feeling -- anger --
protects us from others that might burst out. That is just about it! So far as a language of touch is concerned, we have condemned ourselves to a sort of pig Latin where, when we touch at all, our meaning must always be veiled.
Let us examine there three areas of touch open to us.
A handshake. Why this symbol? I am told that this ritual derives from the days when men wore swords. They held out their unarmored hand as a gesture of peace and trust. But why is it still with us if it fills not need in our arsenal of communication.
The handshake is a ritualized caress. It is a symbolic re-establishment of communication. As a gesture of friendship, no symbol could be as powerful as that of touch. For there is power in touch. it demands and communicates a dimension of commitment and trust unlike any other form of communication. I may talk to you and remain hidden from you. But, if we touch, I am vulnerable. I may reveal more of myself to you than I can trust you with. There is a feeling of control in verbal discourse that is absent from physical intimacy.
This is precisely why we are wary of touching. It is a terribly risk-filled form of human relatedness. The more so because we need it so much and are starved for it. We are well aware that if the power of touch is loosed, those feelings that we keep carefully bottled up inside may come spilling out.
Touch has the power to burst the floodgates of our dammed up emotional lives.
The second area of touch we allow ourselves . . . sexual .intimacy . . . is really our only area of open intimacy. In bed, we finally allow ourselves to touch. There we may speak, as only touch can, of who we are and how we feel.
That the courtship-intercourse-situation is virtually our only allowable intimacy. And so we fill that one allowable intimacy with all of our needs to touch. We thrust all sorts of totally inappropriate feelings into that relationship. That one act must bear the weight of all our needs to communicate what cannot be said! Is it any wonder our culture is obsessed with sex, and yet plagued with problems and frustrations about it?
Is it any wonder our teenagers, like their parents, are hung up on sex?
The only vocabulary of feeling we have given them is that of seduction. in any given parked car with young people necking, there is involved FAR LESS sex than the need to be close to another -- to speak in touch the anxiety, the joy, the affirmation and the uncertainty of being alive; to give and to receive the comfort and security of being together that CANNOT be said.
There is, in the back of our so-called sexual revolution, more than simply new attitudes towards sex. The major problem is our culturally inherited inability to distinguish the need for an expression of sex, from the rest of our deepest feelings . . . the inability to distinguish physical intimacy from seduction.
The final area where we allow ourselves to touch is that of overt hostility. It is seen in contact sports; both those in which we engage and those we watch, touching vicariously. It is seen in the discipline of
children. It is seen in the various outbursts of physical violence, even in such antisocial behavior.
The need to touch can be expressed in hostility while minimizing the risk of the floodgates bursting. The expression of strong hostility keeps other feelings from being revealed. There is more love present but hidden, in most of our acts of anger than we are often aware. And, tragically, many a child is
only able to get physical intimacy from his parent by misbehaving.
The consequent emotional confusion, misunderstanding, and apparent irrationality that clutter our lives are quite understandable in light of our starvation for touch. This unfortunate state of affairs even infects that
one intimacy we allow ourselves. Misplaced and misused hostility is often responsible for our hang-ups in our sexual adjustment.
To whom Can YOU go when YOU are frightened, or hurt, or just need to
be WITH someone? To whom can you go for the human touch?
To a handshake?
To a fight?
Or, to bed?
We are alone with our deepest feelings, and we long to share them. But we have cut ourselves off from this most profound means of communication. If we would administer to the terrors and hurts of the world; if
we- would care, the only way caring can be heard; if we would be whole again, and bring wholeness to those we love; we must, perhaps, become as little children, and learn again the human touch.