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The Importance of Physical Touch

April 9th, 2012

Blog Format

Many of you have probably seen the picture below.
In 1995, a news article spread around the world, telling the story of a "Rescuing Hug."

rescuing-hug

The article detailed the first week of life of a set of twins who were born 7 weeks early. Apparently each were in their respective incubators, one of them was doing better than the other and on day 4 after their birth, the weaker twin's vital signs were fading rapidly. The nurse in charge of the NICU that day had tried everything she could to save the weaker twin but nothing was working, she then decided to bring both twins together as a last resort. She fought against the hospital rules but finally placed both babies in the same incubator. When they were together, the stronger one of the two threw an arm over her sister in an endearing embrace. The weaker baby’s heart stabilized and her temperature rose to normal right away.

This is a very touching story that gives a testimony, not only to the strong bond between twins, but also to the incredible power of love and physical touch.

One of the first and most primary ways we communicate with others is through physical touch, it is innate in every human being. There are now a multitude of studies that show that mothers and babies should be together, skin to skin, right after birth. The studies show incredible benefits in the health and well being of the child, and although there is no question about the importance of "touch" for babies and children, we should not underestimate its importance on adults too.

In the Mediterranean, South American, and Arabic cultures, touching is an important component of communication and social harmony. However, in other cultures, touch is not so encouraged as it can be seen by some as an unwanted intrusion of their personal space or it can be misconstrued as a sexual advance.

As a latin american who has lived in Europe and in the US, I have had many cultural shocks involving the issue of "touching." I have a dear friend who, like myself, is an Ecuadorian immigrant living in the US. One day we were talking about the things we missed the most from our country, and he said: "the hugs." I could totally relate to it and realized how much I had been missing them too. I have found that America in general is a low touch culture and people often frown upon public displays of affection, this to me was a total shock when I first moved here!.

"Within large portions of American culture, there is a propensity
to either infantilize or sexualize physical contact"
- Zur Institute

However, there is more and more evidence that touch is a crucial part of human connection and it plays a very important role in our emotional well being, so we should not underestimate its importance and we should revalue the beliefs we have around it. Extensive research by the University of Miami's Touch Research Institute has revealed that human touch has wide-ranging physical and emotional benefits for people of all age groups. However, as Americans grow into adulthood they get less and less of it.

Some people may crave physical touch more than others, I know that in my personal experience, I feel emotionally deprived when I don't have enough of it, but no matter what your upbringing, your culture, your beliefs and your ideas on this topic, by the sole fact that you are human, you need it, whether you are aware of it or not!

Mental Health and Psychology experts have been exploring the role of physical touch on our emotional well being, as they have seen the ill effects of its lack in certain cultures, such as the US. If you would like to read more on this topic, below are some articles I recommend:

There is also a very interesting book (The 5 Languages of Love) that I mentioned on my posting: Understanding Love Communication, it talks about physical touch as being one main language of love for many people (I include myself in this group for sure!). But even if you communicate love in different "languages," it is important to give physical touch its own place in all your relationships to other human beings.

Even though cultural conditioning can make it difficult for some people to freely give and receive physical touches, it is important that we help young generations see it as a more natural and healthy way of relating to other human beings.

With that, I send you a virtual hug and hope your life is filled with loving touches!

Have a great week!

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