The power of touch

I’ve been thinking about this recently, and I’m convinced that this is one area of life that I’m just never going to be normal about. I know that a touch is a very powerful, emotional connection. I touch and am touched by my wife all the time, for that very reason. I also know, in theory, that it’s truly a powerful connection even outside of a romantic setting. A comforting hug, a pat on the back, an empathetic touch of the arm, etc. is a much more affective way to communicate with someone in any circumstance.

But, for me, the act of touching someone, or being touched by someone is completely messed up. I consider myself normal in two situations. I love sharing a touch with my wife, and I’m not really comfortable with people I don’t know very well touching me. I don’t think those are unique to me, or in any way tied to being a survivor. But it’s the in-between situations that are a mess for me. I cringe at the touch of any male, and while I don’t cringe at the touch of any female who I’m friends with, it makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable, as if it was somehow inappropriate for them to touch me, even though I know, logically, that it really isn’t. Of course, I take that same level of uncomfort into touching people as well. There have been numerous times when I’ve really struggled to be a source of support to someone, to find the right words to say, when an empathetic touch could have communicated what I didn’t have words to say. I couldn’t find it within me to do that, though.  

And here, we’re not talking about truly inappropriate touching either, we’re talking about the kinds of touching that people have been doing to their friends and loved one’s for centuries. I can’t seem to bring my logical thoughts on the subject to match the realities of what a touch makes me feel. I’m saddened by that.

I can’t help but feel like I’m missing something. Moreover, I can’t help but feel like I should get over this and see a simple touch as just that, simple. But a touch is never simple to a sexual abuse survivor, is it?


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  1. I Read this and could only think about how much it hurts. Ever since the age of birth to 13 I went through the 4 abuses. There are things that a survivor will always be stuck with. I appreciate you writing this. write back if you need anything.

  2. Triggers can be a frightening thing. But having a patrtner who is sensitive to your needs is equally as important.

    I found a way to conquer my triggers was to grow confident in the knowledge that I was stronger than they were, that I wasn’t going to let them rule my life, because I wanted to live my life to the fullest and they were hindering that. It took years. And not every day is sucessful, but it is possible.

    I wish you all the luck, strength and love in the world.

  3. Mike: Thanks for the strong and honest post. I’ve found, over the years, that what helps me (and maybe others, too) a lot is to simply ask, “Can I give you a hug?” I still don’t like unsolicited hugs and such. I still struggle with this, too. I’m sure many survivors do, that’s why I’m glad you let me post this in the 5th edition of the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse. It’s up now at http://survivorscanthrive.blogspot.com. You still up for hosting November? I’d be excited to have you host it.

  4. I read this post this morning before going to work and have been thinking about it all day. I was not a victim of sexual abuse but I have trouble with the sense of touch. It’s supposed to be therapeutic and represent intimacy. Touch is also supposed to be comforting. But it’s hard when you’re not used to it… or have been victimized in some way to let your guard down and allow someone to be that close to you.

  5. Right now my friend’s father is dying and it is sooo hard for me to offer her a hug, to hold her hand, to offer to hold her while she cries. I see myself pulling away. I have to force myself to do these things. I hope she can’t feel that vibe coming off of me. I worry about it.

    sometimes the thought of touch is so unsettling for me. sometimes I dont’ want my best pal (my dog) to touch me. I have him go lay down because I just can’t stand to be touched sometimes. That doesn’t happen a lot anymore but for me human touch is something that might always be feared and make my skin crawl when ever the subject comes up. human touch seems to take forever to see as anything but something to shrink away from.

    I say I hope my thoughts on touch change but truthfully its just that I don’t want to look so odd anymore. touch is supposed to be normal and I don’t want to always look so odd being the one to deny another my hand when all they want to do is shake it. I dont want to have to shake a hand but I don’t want to look odd or cold either.


  6. Dear Mike,

    I’ve never been sexually abused; however I have people in my life that has been sexually abused. Each person that I’ve grown close to has opened up about their experiences and how it has affected their lives. Though I cannot relate to their pasts, I have immense emotional compassion towards them.

    By reading this post about the subject of touch, it reminded me of my recent thoughts that have been on my mind. I am very curious to know if my fiancé has been sexually abused in the past.
    Last week I found my fiancé sleeping on our couch with his back facing towards me. To show my affection through touch, I moved my hand from his neck down to his lower back. Immediately he woke up disturbed. He informed me he didn’t want me to touch him their. But he changed the subject right before I could ask him why. Since I have friends that have been sexually abused, I didn’t want to offend him by forcing out an explanation. This is the first time he has ever done this, so if you feel like you may have some kind of input on this situation, please share. I wish to know how I may talk to my fiancé about what has been on my mind.

    Please respond if you have time…

    Thank you very much for sharing this post.


  7. Char,

    The first thing that pops in to my head concering your fiance, is that I wouldn’t read too much into one sign of being an abuse victim. He may simply not like to be touched in certain ways, and that may be nothing more than a personal preference. People all have their own comfort levels with personal space and it may be nothing more than that. The other thing, even if he is a survivor, you did the right thing by not pressing the issue. If he is, and he wants to tell you, he will. There is nothing that you can do that will make him ready to talk about it, trying will only make it less likely. Personally, I’m very suspicious of people who pressure me to talk about my childhood, and I’m pretty open about it to begin with.

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