"It's your touch that makes all the difference Polyxeni," my client said. "When you talk to people, you touch them; it is your touch that heals us and not your words."
That statement intrigued me. The truth is that I grew up in a family that gave me lots of physical contact and I had to share this abundance.
When I get together with my mom, I always look for that special moment when she will turn to me and say, "come, come, I will caress your back." This is part of our secret language, which I also share with my daughter when she returns from London to see me.
Does this make us big babies? Perhaps; but we always enjoy it and it has helped us be more confident, responsible, strong, and giving!
Every time I speak with someone, I touch them unconsciously. For me, it's a gesture of communication and friendship, my attempt to sense a person's inner quality. I never realized that this gesture could be perceived in so many different ways before coming to the U.S. My lawyer thought that I was making passes at him! Eventually, he realized that I did this with others and then he confessed his previous confusion.
Something that to me is an instant identification exchange can be received by others differently, depending on their culture, their experiences or their character.
My homeopathy teacher used to say that "Your therapy will be incomplete unless you incorporate direct physical contact."
You see, touch gives us a unique ability to decode emotions spontaneously and can be more versatile and sophisticated than verbal communication. It is actually the first language that we learn and use. Most importantly, we cannot touch someone else without being touched ourselves. A warm touch is absolutely necessary not only to communicate with others, but also with ourselves.
When I was South Africa and my baby experienced colic pain, the pediatrician told me that the only solution was to leave my crying baby alone in a room, otherwise I would go crazy. I couldn't do it, but followed the suggestion of a native woman who worked at our house and placed the baby on my back while I did my daily tasks. Guess what? The baby calmed down!
Many studies have demonstrated the power of the human touch. For example, research has found that a loving touch manifested by slow caresses or gentle stroking increases the brain's ability to construct a sense of body ownership and plays an important role in creating and sustaining a healthy sense of self; it also reduces anxiety, and other emotional symptoms.
Here in L.A., people often say "sorry" when they walk near you, even when they are nowhere close to touching you. It's as if they are afraid of offending you or that you might invade their personal space.
So where does this fear of touching come from?
I do realize that different cultures have varying habits and traditions related to human contact. It may take a while for touch to become welcomed and natural in a society where many people have been abused and harassed or where deep-rooted prejudices, some religious, exist.
Some people associate touch with feelings of invasion and non-respect of privacy. Also, the word "touch" itself often has a negative connotation and is associated with things such as sexual harassment or abuse. Instead of being linked to an immensely rewarding and wonderful feeling of connection and unity, the word takes a perverse and negative meaning.
Is this due to a lack of trust and a lack of a sense of community? Due to loose family ties? Is it because of fear, abuse, or violence? Perhaps; these points are all understood and respected. There is a fine line in everything and in the end it all has to do with the healthy boundaries that we set for ourselves.
Nevertheless, we need to make an effort to change that; the benefits of touching far exceed the risks! We cannot live the rest of our life in fear that someone will misunderstand our need for human contact, or will touch us in an inappropriate way. The only way to be whole and complete as a person is through feeling, loving and touching.
Look at how kids crawl into our arms and constantly touch us. Some people say to them, "Stop touching and cuddling, you are a big boy/girl now."
What are they talking about? It's like asking the child to stop breathing.
I get the impression that our society is becoming "touch-phobic," full of people not familiar with physical contact! We can treat this deprivation as if we were freeing ourselves from a bad habit like an addiction. We can re-educate ourselves to give and to receive. In fact, I would strongly recommend that this "emotional rehabilitation" be taught in schools!
Let's take this a step further. Imagine if we could find a way to incorporate touch into the everyday business world, without invading someone's personal space or being misinterpreted! The benefits would be no less than positive. Perhaps this is something for management scientists to consider.
It took me some time to realize that the highlight of my therapies was my spontaneous incorporation of touching, which in turn inspired my clients to practice touching in their own life. "My life improved when I learned how to give and to receive a hug," one client said to me. "My spouse and I communicate with more trust when we add the element of touch."
Touch transfers life giving warmth literally and metaphorically. When we say "I love you," the other person might not respond to it because it takes a while before the message reaches your heart. But when we touch, even without words, we feel the care, the warmth and the love flow immediately. "Actions speak louder than words."
Everything in life has two sides, it is better to look at the positives and to embrace the advantages. Regardless of events, we need to have the courage to accept, to connect, and to share. Touching reflects directly back to us like a mirror and this instant give-and-take translates into love.
Each language has many of its own words to describe touching (for example, feel, hug, embrace, cuddle, snuggle, kiss, hold, etc.). Which one you choose has to do with your personal preference. I choose them all!