One of the personal notes I wanted to share about the book review I posted last week, is that there was a quick blurb in the book about how Susan likes to bring in the significant other of someone she is seeing, especially when they are in therapy for a sexual-related trauma. She wants to give them some precautions, and notes that ” the precautions center around making sure your lover knows it’s you”.
I found that to be interesting, because most of the time when I see advice for significant others, it revolves around actions. The advice is usually about figuring out what actions make your lover uncomfortable, and avoiding those actions. However, in my own experience, it’s never been quite that easy. The amount of “touch”, for example, that I am comfortable with varies from person to person. My wife can touch me pretty much at will. Some friends I share a hug with most times we see each other, other friends I’m not that comfortable with, while strangers and those I don’t know very well I’m highly uncomfortable with touch. I’m more likely to hug a female friend than a male, but not exclusively. The deciding factor really is not in how any of these people touch me, it’s entirely about who they are. People I trust, I tend to be more able to connect with through touch. I’ve written before about the powerful sense of connection a slight touch, or hug, can give. I love being able to connect that way with my wife, and with the people closest to me.
However, I’m not at all comfortable connecting that way with people who have not gained that trust.
Let me give you an example. I have a regular massage therapist that I see every 6 weeks or so. Obviously, getting a massage is a high-touch sort of activity, not something every survivor would be comfortable with. In my case, I was willing to try this out to try and avoid migraines, and it’s been very successful. As it turns out, given the vulnerability of this activity, I did actually seek out a therapist who is female, and also one that is somewhat petite. Not because I care about her looks, but because I know that, for me, the knowledge that the person touching me isn’t large enough to physically overwhelm me is important. Typically, a session will start with me going into an empty room (which I always look around to verify is empty), getting undressed and under the sheet, and laying on my back. This allows me to see A enter the room, verify to myself that this is someone I have grown to trust implicitly, and then I can relax and enjoy the massage. Even when I am eventually flipped over on my stomach, I can hear whether anyone enters or leaves the room, so again, I’m aware of who is touching me, and that I trust her.
Obviously, A and my wife are really the only people I would trust to touch me that much without a second thought. I’ve had massage therapy by other providers, but that usually means I’m a bit more on edge, not as relaxed, because it’s not the same level of trust, but there’s enough of a professional trust to still benefit from it. If anyone else tried to touch me like that, it would be pretty inappropriate for one, and I would not be comfortable with it at all. Again though, it’s not the touch itself that makes me uncomfortable, it’s who is doing the touching. The same holds true for all different kinds of touch, and really all different sorts of behaviors that might trigger flashbacks or just a feeling of uncomfortableness.
The old saying about there being “no such thing as non-sexual touch” for sexual abuse survivors is actually only partially accurate in my case. There is such a thing when I trust that the person doing the touching is being non-sexual (or is my wife, someone who I have permitted to actually touch me in that way), but you have to gain that trust first. Like Susan said in the book, I have to know who you are.