This is something many of us in the child abuse survivor community have known about for awhile. Society as a whole seems to be having a similar problem.
“Of course we are moving away from touch!” exclaims Francis McGlone, a professor in neuroscience at Liverpool John Moores university and a leader in the field of affective touch. He is worried. “We have demonised touch to a level at which it sparks off hysterical responses, it sparks off legislative processes, and this lack of touch is not good for mental health.” He has heard of teachers asking children to stick on a plaster themselves, rather than touch them and risk a complaint. “We seem to have been creating a touch-averse world,” he says. “It’s time to recover the social power of touch.”
We know that there are huge mental and physical health benefits to touch. I know for myself, as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I’ve had to navigate this difficulty and find ways to engage is safe touching. As a society, we will need to do likewise. We’re going to need to figure out when it’s appropriate to touch or hug someone, and when it’s not, and learn to respect the way each of navigates that for ourselves as individuals.
Think of it this way, this week I’ve been out attending a conference related to my job in legal technology. I’ve attended this conference many times before, and have run into quite a few old friends and coworkers. Some I don’t even hesitate to hug. Others, I wouldn’t even think about hugging, that’s not the kind of relationship we have, and lots of others fall outside of the “hug” category, but who I may give a back-slap or touch on the arm to. It just depends on the person, and my relationship with them. It may not always work 100% of the time, but it’s also not that complicated.
And if someone asks to not be hugged, or touched, then I simply respect that and act accordingly. It’s not rocket science, but eliminating all touch except for our intimate relationships is doing everyone a disservice. We need that connection to other people. We have to find a way to keep that, even as we act more respectful toward one another.