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Monday, April 14, 2014

Human Touch: The Fingerprint Expression of the Palpitation of a Soul

From "Human Touch" by Bruce Springsteen 

We all hunger for the same thing. We crave the embrace, the tender and soft assurance of human love, the human touch. From birth to death, we need the feel of skin upon skin. It is the first sense to develop in the womb and the last sense to leave in old age. Nothing suffices for this innate need deeply rooted both in our physiology and in our psyche.

Attempts to define human touch with simple physical actions such as hugging, cuddling, and caressing that induce oxytocin, the “bonding hormone” seem too nondescript. We can extol the health benefits of  touch as gracious, loving actions that reduce stress, lower cortisol levels, and increase the senses of trust and security, but that too is not enough to define its true character. 

Human touch can best be envisioned as a "fingerprint" expression of the true palpitation of a soul. Each lover understands unique contact as a loving juncture of pure spiritual energy. Human touch is a conduit to a coalition in which two people transmitting love become one. Whether the connection occurs between friends, spouses, significant others, parents and children, or complete strangers, the meaning is understood without as much as an accompanying word, sound, or gesture.

“To touch can be to give life.” 

We often deny human touch. The difficulty of expression hinders the value of sharing this energy. Many times, we are afraid to reach out to others for fear of being too forward and for fear of being misunderstood. In fact, many of us automatically equate touch with sexuality. Without a doubt, unwanted physical contact can be creepy and threatening. On the other hand, those who never touch others give the impression of being "cold fish."

At times we simply do not want to touch skin that is unattractive -- bodies that are old or unappealing in their conditions. Instead of reaching out to elderly or unsightly individuals, we keep our hands to ourselves, preferring not to shake their hands or touch their bodies with actions of approval and warmth. From our own prejudices, we simply refuse to offer them the benefit of our touch.

During other occasions, we feel the risk of being too "touchy-feely" by displaying our "silly" emotions when we touch. Men, especially, experience this dilemma when considering touching another guy. To many men, touching another male conjures up negative thoughts of someone acting out-of-control and ineffectual. These men think sharing touch is synonymous with emoting simply for show, certainly not something most see as displaying appropriate manhood. Although drunk men typically let down their guards and buddy hug, they employ alcohol as the social lubricant and the excuse that permits them to show same-sex public affection.

And, naturally, we are taught to value emotional awareness and cold control. We have been raised to "suck up our pain" and expect others to do the same. Neither do we want to inflict our issues upon others nor do we want to sympathize with those we perceive as weaklings. To touch would amount to acknowledging weakness, and that, we believe, is not beneficial to keeping order. Instead of touching our family and friends, we then verbalize our affection and assume that words suffice for needed warmth and kindness.

The fact is some of us just do not want to touch because we don't know how. It is true, no one can judge what is in another person's heart or exactly why it is there. Perhaps the aorta has been bashed and betrayed by untrue lovers. Perhaps living in an environment barren of tactile contact has frozen the emotion. And, maybe no one ever offered some of us unconditional gifts of mutual, loving embrace. How could anyone living without constant benefits of touch, the most primitive of all sensations, voluntarily offer others that sensual contact?

Then, a small minority of us actually resist all touch because it hurts. It actually pains, like a hot or cold sensation. Bearing the suffering, the unfortunate few actually have to force themselves to touch other people or be touched by them by "going somewhere else" mentally and detaching themselves from their bodies. Because of traumatic abuse or psychological cross wiring, aversion becomes encoded. It is believed a very small percentage of us who resist touch may be born with tactile hypersensitivity even to the point of having certain foods feel strange in their mouths.

The Complexity of the Sense of Touch

Touch is the only one of the five senses that involves the entire body? It's a simple fact really, but it also reveals the innate complexity of human touch. Only now is touch being better understood by the human race.

In a study conducted in 2009, DePauw University psychologist Matthew Hertenstein, demonstrated that we have an innate ability to decode emotions via touch alone. In a series of studies, Hertenstein had volunteers attempt to communicate a list of emotions to a blindfolded stranger solely through touch. Many participants were apprehensive about the experiment. "This is a touch-phobic society," he says. "We're not used to touching strangers, or even our friends, necessarily."

Hertenstein's results suggest that for all our caution about touching, we come equipped with an ability to send and receive emotional signals solely by doing so. Participants communicated eight distinct emotions -- anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, sympathy, happiness, and sadness -- with accuracy rates as high as 78 percent. "I was surprised," Hertenstein admits. "I thought the accuracy would be at chance level, about 25 percent."

(Rick Chillot, "The Power of Touch." Psychology Today. March 11, 2013)

We appear to be wired to interpret the touch of our fellow humans. This ability relates the awesome potential of touch in all its sensual connotations. It is complex spiritual energy, indeed.

The irony of touch as a language is that we know how to use it; however, we take it for granted and
consistently underestimate our ability to communicate through it. Perhaps practice would make the expression more perfect. Face it, we tend to believe an abundance of touch is strictly taboo.

There is much to be gained by embracing our tactile sense but no fail-proof instruction book containing exacting knowledge of its transmission or its translation. In other words, we assume we understand the employment of our touch, but that assumption is foolish. Experts are just beginning to understand touch and all of its meanings.

At this juncture, many researchers believe the true indicator of a healthy long-term bond is not how often a person touches us but how often he or she touches us in response to our touch. "The stronger the reciprocity, the more likely someone is to report emotional intimacy and satisfaction with the relationship," says Laura Guerrero, coauthor of Close Encounters: Communication in Relationships, who researches nonverbal and emotional communication at Arizona State University.

Touch? An abundance may be loving or it may be threatening. In certain environments and in many interactions with people, the advice about touching is simply "Don't do it." Just consider inappropriate actions in the workplace or in first meetings. People want their personal space. Yet, during times of intense grief or fear, and in ecstatic moments of joy or love, only human touch can fully express the caring fingerprint of our soul. To deny that is to deprive ourselves of some of life’s greatest joys and deepest comforts.

"Tis the human touch in the world that counts -- the touch 
of your hand and mine -- which means far more to the sinking heart than shelter or bread or wine, for shelter is gone when the night is o'er, and bread lasts only a day, but the touch of the hand and the sound of the voice live on in the soul always."

 - Spencer M. Free.

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