Have you heard about Victor who lived 200 years ago and was found in the forest at the age of 11, where he was running wild for most of his childhood? He was considered an “idiot”. But do you want to know the truth?
French physicians and psychologists eventually concluded, that the reason why his social and developmental capacities retarded is because he had been deprived of human physical touch. Can you imagine not being touched for a very long time, maybe for years? I mean, everybody has leave-me-alone moments or even longer periods, but to lack totally this vital way of connecting to the world through others…
Researches prove, that there are countless positive affects of human touch both physically and mentally. It lowers the blood pressure, boosts the immune system, produces feel-good hormones in the brain, like serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. Also helps combating depression a great deal. Psychologist Matthew Hertenstein (2009) came to an interesting conclusion through his experiment of touching blindfolded strangers. The participants could identify 8 different emotions with 78% accuracy (anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, sympathy, happiness and sadness). It is truly amazing how complex our skin is – also known as our largest organ-, and how simple human touch can communicate multiple positive emotions.
Here is a short video of Dacher Keltner about the latest findings:
Unfortunately, too many people suffer from skin-hunger nowadays. You can find them in all age groups, from very young children to abandoned old people. One of the most vulnerable groups of people in this sense are the homeless. We tend to label them as smelly, dirty, inferior and someone better to avoid from far. And yes, many of them are smelly and dirty to our sensitive eyes and noses. But aren’t they human as well? With the same needs as ours? The gap feels too big to cross and still, we cannot just turn our back on them.
The possible solution
Mary Ann Finch touches the untouchable every day. The founder of Care Through Touch Institute, a seminary professor turned into a massage therapist, brings the healing touch to many homeless people in the dangerous alleys of San Francisco. She tries to reach them and give them something that goes beyond words through physical touch by giving them a massage. She gives them dignity while communicating that they are also humans worth touching. By this simple act, she is not only touching their body but their hearts and lives as well.
“Many, many of these people have histories of trauma and violence, and they need to be touched. But the opportunities for that to occur in a nonthreatening, nonviolent, non-exploitive way are extremely limited. At the most superficial level, massage brings a sense of relaxation, a sense of feeling cared for that is very apparent and very real.” -Dr. Barry Zevin,Jones, R. 2008 . Touch for Homeless Clients. Massage Therapy. https://www.massagetherapy.com/articles/touch-homeless-clients
What I’m saying is not that stand up and go give a massage to the first homeless person you see, but what I’m asking is just to pause and think about it for a moment. But at least try to be more conscious giving a kind touch to the people around you. Because living in a technology-oriented world, where you can so easily connect with thousands of people throughout the globe, we seem to loose something quite rapidly, something very important that makes us truly human. This phenomenon only shows the early warning signs yet, but the long-term effect on societies is not yet foreseen. We can only imagine it…
I leave you with Michelangelo’s famous saying: “To touch is to give life.”
Thanks for reading!