A Better Self Image? Touch

Have you ever gone for a while without a loving touch?  A gentle caress?  A hand on your shoulder?  Even in marriage sometimes this gets lost in the hustle and bustle of every day life.

I tend to be a toucher (ironically, I hate to be touched by people I don't know well).  But I find that a hand on the back of a child struggling to read, or do partial sum addition, can create a sense of peace and calm, much more conducive to learning.  I also like to touch the hands or arms of friends who may be sad or upset about something.

But now a new study says loving teach can actually heal us.  According to Medical News Today, a loving touch may be key to a healthy sense of self.

"Researchers say a loving touch may increase the brain's ability to construct a sense of body ownership and, in turn, play a part in creating and sustaining a healthy sense of self," the article states.

Touch has been previously correlated with "pleasant emotion and improving symptoms of anxiety, as well as other emotional symptoms in certain groups of adults and infants," Medical News Today relates. "So, what is often an instinctive gesture from a mother to a child or between partners in romantic relationships may have more lasting implications for a person's mental wellbeing."
I remember watching TV with my husband not that long ago and he reached out and touched my toe in affection and suddenly I forgot that he didn't take the garbage
out -- twice! --and  refused to help with the dishes, I just basked in the touch, and the feeling of love.
Touch may play a part in how the brain learns to construct a mental picture and an understanding of the body, "which ultimately helps to create a coherent sense of self," Medical News Today reports. Decreased sensitivity to touch has been associated with body image problems, unexplained pain, and such eating disorders as anorexia and bulimia.
 "The next step for our team is to examine whether being deprived of social signals, such as affective touch from a parent during early development, may also lead to abnormalities in the formation of a healthy body image and a healthy sense of self," said one of the study authors. 

But the type of touch is important.  A slow, light pat on someone's arm is much better than a fast, vigorous one, researchers say.

And how can you tell when someone does not want to be touched?  If you reach out a hand and they pull back, that's a clear signal.  I'm someone who always let people kiss her, even when she didn't want them to, because I was a "good girl."  But I'm learning now that I myself can turn away easily to give off the signal that I'm not interested in any kind of  contact.

It can be confusing, I know, to figure out if someone wants to be touched.  Probably the best answer is not to -- unless you know the person really well and that they don't mind it.  But the study showed that gentle touch is important for everyone -- and that going for a long time without it may actually even harm you.


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