Hand Holding

Recently, in conversation with my massage therapist, she mentioned to me that any time she is working on me and feels like I’m stressed, thinking about work, or just not allowing myself to relax, she knows that simply rubbing my palm will immediately help me relax my body and she can get back to work. I kind of joked about my need to have my hand held before I can relax, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that reaction is very childlike and probably very common as well.

Think about little children. When they get scared, or feel uncomfortable when they are out in a new environment, inevitably they reach out with their hand for a parent. How many times have you seen a child’s tension and stress completely go way once a parent is holding their hand? There’s something very instinctual about wanting to have your hand held, something comforting and calming. Perhaps this is why body language experts tell us that someone who is rubbing their hands together is often feeling very stressed, and trying to comfort themselves. Perhaps that is even why praying is typically represented by having your hands together. Isn’t prayer supposed to be where we find comfort and peace in our faith? Aren’t we suspicious of people in the business world who don’t shake our hand? Do they make us feel uncomfortable, when the simple act of touching hands would change that?

Adults rarely ever feel it appropriate to hold hands, with the obvious exception of romantic relationships, and with children. We see the act as being either too childish, or too intimate, for two adults to engage in. Even my massage therapist felt the need to explain why she went out of her way to touch my hand, and really, if anyone has fairly free range to touch someone, it would be a massage therapist. (Especially when a good one can prevent me from getting migraines, and help get over all the time I spend on airplanes!)

I’m not sure that is healthy for us. I wonder how much less stress we might feel if we didn’t spend so much time ignoring our need for connection through touch? A friendly hug, a held hand in the middle of a stressful situation, might just go a long way toward helping us be healthy, and for survivors, it might go a long way toward helping us reconnect with other people in a healthy way, assuming we could learn to accept that touch in a safe manner.

I’m reminded of something that happened at work a number of years ago. I was working in tech support and a woman who worked for the same organization, who I had come to be pretty good friends with, had come down to ask us to help her with something that didn’t appear to be working for her. As we examined the situation, we came to discover that she had made a mistake, one that had been made very public through a customer newsletter. As one of my peers was explaining to her what had happened, you could see that she was devastated by it, and in a very childlike and instinctual manner, she reached out and held my hand. I’m not even sure if she was fully aware that she had done that, but she simply needed someone to hold her hand, comfort her, and then she could get on with figuring out how to apologize for, and correct, the problem. At the time, I admit it felt strange to hold her hand, but as I thought about it later, that feeling was replaced by being very flattered and honored. Because in the midst of that situation, she trusted my friendship enough to know that she could reach out to me with her hand, and that I would take it.

How many people could you do the same for? Who would you reach out for in a stressful situation? If no one, then you are missing out on a very basic way to connect.

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