The healing power of touch

Mum and Bub

After my recent hospital surgery I am thinking a lot about the healing power of touch.  A kindly touch from someone who cares has the ability has to soothe us when we are in distress.  How healing it can feel to have a hand held or receive a hug when we are feeling upset, provided that we feel like being touched at this time.

Failure to thrive syndrome was recognised after a study that took place in orphanages.  It was discovered that babies at the end of the line in being fed withered and died more frequently than those at the start of the line.  These were the babies that were not picked up or held.  I would also add that that the quality of the touch would be important in this situation.

If in childhood we were not touched we may develop a very difficult relationship with our body.  Certainly if we were physically abused or invaded we may come to fear touch.  Lack of caring healing touch may mean our nervous systems were not so easily calmed.

The untouched child may be alienated from his or her own body and experience feelings of unreality.

This feeling of unreality in severe cases may lead to a form of dissociation, a retreat from contact and connection into the mind and away from the body.

A sense of reality comes from being grounded in our body and touch is part of what accomplishes this.

In the course of my therapy the most healing times have been when the therapist broke out of the traditional mode of objective distance and reached across the void to touch and comfort me in my darkest moments.  One of my loveliest therapists has actually held me while I cried.  Its sad to say this kind of approach may be viewed askance, but the truth is that touch was what helped me to open the flood gates of my repressed trauma for the very first time during my first Jungian therapy in Cambridge in 1999.

Part of the reason I left my therapist earlier this year was that I began to realise she had a very dissociated intellectual style.  I now have come to the understanding that she was replaying her own trauma through our therapy in establishing a relationship in which she could keep emotional distance and remain in control.  There was never any touch.  We shared a lot of poetry but when it came to touch there was a huge void.   A realisation came one day when some baby magpies were squawking outside her window.  “Those babies must be driving the mother mad she said to me.”  Warning bells.

I am coming to the realisation that for many of us the deepest wound to our feminine body comes from not being comforted, held and touched.  Also if as a baby or child we have had surgeries, accidents and other traumas to our body after which we were not held or comforted that trauma remains buried in the body.

For parents who wish to help their children through this kind of therapy I would recommend Peter Levine’s book Trauma Proofing Your Child.

My first husband was separated and confined from his mother at one year of age.  He also developed asthma and a skin condition that required him to be bandaged from head to toe.  This had a profound affect on him and when he met and married me I was not at all comfortable in my own body and carried my own body trauma.  This early lack of connection and rupture with his mother led him to become very shut down emotionally.  When my emotions began to open up 6 years into our marriage it made him very uncomfortable.

It is through our body that we connect to our deepest self.  I am not too sure now about religious philosophies that say “you are not your body” most certainly there is a spiritual aspect to us and when someone dies if we see the body it is obvious that the animating spirit has departed.  But I still feel like Carl Jung and others that the body is the temple of the soul and its through the body and the openness of our senses that we attune to all that is most beautiful, precious, sacred and enliving in life.

Early trauma and pain or lack of touch may lead us to want to shut the body down but in order to feel a sense of wholeness and safety we need to develop the capacity to fully inhabit our bodies and be in touch with our emotions and desire to connect with others in healthy ways which nourish us.