Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Touch: the ultimate unsatisfied need

A friend wrote:> Each individual has a level of physical contact that satisfies their need for loving contact. Is this a built in trait or a result of environment?

I like your term 'touch quotient.' It's a tad too much toward jargon, but it works for me.

Each human life (each mammal life, for that matter) begins with 100 percent hugging in the womb before birth. The womb is the ultimate security blanket, which may explain why people have such great devotion to their mothers who tend to extend that period of total security for many years by embracing their children frequently.

A hug is a safe place where nothing costs anything, nothing else matters, there are no problems, no pains, no worries. It's like a drug high, only without the withdrawal later, which may explain why people are attracted to the temporary relief of drugs when they can't get socially acceptable forms of touch.

A person who loses the need for touch from a loved one or has that need greatly reduced is damaged somewhere in the brain. The brain controls the nervous system, which is the most important sense involved with hugging (though not the only one, to be sure--smell is very important, for example).

The truth is that we know very little about the brain. Though we are learning fast, it's a tough subject. We can't experiment on human brains, so we must take advantage of opportunities presented by people whose brains have been damaged by disease or misfortune or by studying identical twins.

When something gets turned off or changed in the brain, we may (if we are lucky) know the chemistry of what happened, but we have no idea how to reverse that chemistry. We can't reverse it because we don't know how the chemical reaction happened in the first place.

Returning to the original question, the answer must be that environmental factors must play a vital role as from birth we all want a security blanket wrapped around us constantly as our "built-in trait."

> While physical touch is important, it is also very susceptible to Modification by other factors.

The need does not change. Everyone needs lots of touch. However, it is possible that the satisfaction of that need may require changing by altering how the touch is expressed. For some, the intimacy of sex would be the ultimate expression of that need, whereas for others hand-holding, a head massage or simple touches on the shoulder while passing may be best. It may be that a loving pet (a kind that loves to be touched) could help still others to satisfy that need for touch in a compatible way.

There are no experts on this subject. The best anyone can do is to guess based on anecdotal evidence and personal experience. Allow me an example.

I knew that my first marriage was over a long time before my wife left. One night in bed, while "sleeping" I moved to touch her (back-to-back as I recall), she moved away. Maybe a coincidence? I moved to touch her again and she moved away again. The end had come, though the fat lady had not yet sung (as our saying goes).

My example is not intended to apply to any one situation situation, only to show that loss of touch from a spouse can be a crushing blow to a person.

> When the touch quotient of a couple gets out of whack it is a struggle to find a compromise that comes close to satisfying both parties.

I can only suggest that you keep searching for alternatives that might help both of you. Is a pet that loves to be touched, such as a dog or cat, a possibility?

> To little contact is hard on the more physical partner, while to much touching make the less physical partner feel used.

Where too much touch is a problem, the trouble is in the head, not in the nervous system. It's a problem that we simply do not know how to manage now.

> Factors that can change the touch quotients are religion, financial stress, physical tiredness to name a few. Without a constant and open verbal dialogue any drastic change will put any marriage at risk.

33 words that would require an encyclopedia's worth of words to reply to if the proper studies were done (which they have not been).Touch is, to a social scientist, the final frontier.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems' is available for order from book stores and online book sellers now. See http://billallin.com/cgi/index.pl for more information.

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