Physical Touch

Physical Touch

One of the ways we know our family is close is because of physical touch. A hand on the shoulder, a leg over a leg when we are spread out on the couch watching a movie, sitting on a lap, holding a hand when we are walking in the mall-- these are things which have become a part of our family rhythm. 

Psychologists and people involved in grief counseling, or early childhood training, or who work among the elderly, all affirm that there is a power to touch. Through the appropriate and timely offering of a handshake, or a hug, we are able to strengthen or comfort the people around us. When this dynamic is a part of the interaction of parents to their children, or even among siblings, it can become a beautiful way to say I love you, I understand, or I care-- not as a substitute for words, but as a powerful means of confirming what we express with our lips. 

In past generations, and particularly in conservative cultures, people have been shy about touch, especially in public. But times have changed. It is no longer unusual to see young couples holding hands in the park or on the trains. For many, touch is no longer taboo. While there certainly needs to be boundaries in regards to touching, one thing is sure: people who care deeply about each other will show it in many ways, which includes touch. 

Although I realised that our family culture includes more physical contact than most families, it never really struck me until my daughter's fiancée mentioned just before their wedding that this was something he found special about his "new family". He would sit down and within seconds one or two of my younger children would be settling down right next to him, with a hand on a shoulder, or leaning upon his side. It may have been a bit uncomfortable at first, but he's grown to love it. 

The importance of physical touch is now a part of the curriculum taught to medical students. Here is an excerpt from an article of a Doctor who made this critical discovery:

"Sitting unnoticed on my office desk, and constantly growing in height, resides a stack of letters- distinguished by the repetitious theme constant in them all"...I was so very frightened when you were about to perform my surgery...until Mary Ellen (nurse) held my hand."

In the early years of the practice of medicine I assumed these frequent testimonials were simply accolades targeted towards a splendid and unique surgical nurse...whose talents and caring interaction with patients in my experience is equaled by none. Quite soon, however, I came to realise that the tactile courtesies my team religiously practiced with patients-those providing a soothing touch, a gentle grasp of the hand, or even a slight hug- were not only surprisingly effective in reducing patient anxiety, but gradually came to be a major expected factor in our doctor-patient relationships."

Spring Festival has drawn to a close. As the birds return to warming temperatures, let's make our homes a warmer place too. Squeeze a hand, rub a shoulder, hug a neck. Let's bring in the New Year with a boom, and a sweet kiss on the cheek for those we love.


Kevin Graves

(Article courtesy of Family First Global, Ltd)