I recently found out about a thing called “Skin Hunger”. Somehow I have always known that human touch is important and perhaps that is because I know how good it feels to give and receive something as simple as a hug. Skin hunger is more common than we realize or like to acknowledge. We get busy, are too tired, too hot, or fearful that it may be taken in the wrong context and break some imaginary boundary.
It can be lonely or distant and can add to feelings of depression, low mood and anxiety and can also inhibit the ability to express or interpret emotions effectively. Dr Dean Ornish wrote in his book Love and Survival, “Anything that promotes feelings of love and intimacy is healing: Anything that promotes isolation, separation, loneliness, loss, hostility, anger, cynicism, depression, alienation, and related feelings often leads to suffering, disease and premature death from all causes”
Ken Wilbur wrote in The Spectrum of Consciousness, “For every mental ‘problem’ or ‘knot,’ there is a corresponding bodily ‘knot;’ and vice versa since, in fact, the body and the mind are not two. That is, psychic conflict, guilt, shame, unresolved grief all can be lodged in the body as body memories, and when the site of the psychic difficulty is deeply touched through massage or other manipulation, it can not only release the physical pain but may make the psychic pain accessible.
The magic of a simple touch signals the brain to produce oxytocin (the cuddle hormone), which is soothing and comforting signifying safety and trust, which intern lowers stress and anxiety. It can validate that someone cares or that we matter. Skin hunger can happen at any stage in life but is more common in the elderly, especially single older persons, which often adds to their feelings of isolation and loneliness, as their social activities and groups become smaller the older they get. It has been scientifically proven that children need positive touch for mental and social development.
My mother had very fair and dry skin that would flake to the point that there was a white sprinkle of dead skin on the carpet where she sat. She was embarrassed about it and would lather up with moisturizer daily. When she was placed into a full-time care facility, the air conditioning would dry her skin out so much more and quicker, so I went on a search for something to help her with that. I found that emu oil seemed to help. As I lived 3 hours away from her, I was only able to visit her once a week and would apply it then. I am sure my sister was helping with this as well but the air con was not good for her skin type. It is only now as I study more, research and look for answers, that I realize that what she really loved was the touch. Yes, her skin felt better and was not so dry, but it was the touch of a loved one that soothed her soul and was comforting to her. My father had passed away over a decade before and she had been by herself since his passing. We were there, so she knew that we loved her and we cared. We hugged hello and goodbye, but it was the gentle strokes of us applying the creams and lotions, was what left a lasting effect of affection and love.
We have 5 senses and all are important. Sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. These senses are to protect us from the enemies. We can see and hear the lion coming for us. We can smell and taste that the food is off and touch stops us from getting burnt or cut. Our senses are also there for us to enjoy all the magic that life and our world has to offer. Seeing an eagle in his majestic flight, hearing a child laugh, the divine smell of rain after a long hot summer, to taste the most scrumptious meal after feeling famished. To hold a baby animal in your hands and feel its softness, so soft you hardly feel it so you lift it to your cheek or lips where there is heightened sensitivity.
There are many types of touch and it can be interpreted in many different ways. There can be negative touch of an aggressive and threatening nature, of authority and deprivation, but on the flip side of that there is positive touch of a caring and loving kind. To simply hold the hand of a child or parent to let them know you are with them and will protect them. A shake of a hand shows respect, shaking a hand and placing the other on their arm shows that you are present and that you hear them, a hand to the shoulder shows you care, and the best one is big squeezy hug where you feel the exchange of positive and loving energy from one person to another. Some folks are simply touchy feely in their personality type, which some don’t like, but it is a form of affection. There are so many more forms and interpretations of touch and these are just a few. Touch is something we can feel physically and the by product is that we also feel it emotionally and spiritually. Touch has emotional healing powers that nothing else can provide.
As a massage therapist, I touch with purpose and with intent to help release and to help heal. I have seen firsthand the power of a simple touch and the positive benefits it provides to those who I work with. The magic behind giving someone that caring and compassionate touch, is the positive effect it has on us all.
Never underestimate the power of a simple touch. Next time you see someone a little bit stressed or overwhelmed, reach out and just simply touch their shoulder and ask them if they are ok or need help. When the kids are being relentless, try to sit on the floor with them for just 1 whole minute and give them hugs. See how their mood and your mood changes. Visit the elderly in your life or community and hold a hand. Hug someone you love with intention and purpose. Hold that hug for 30 seconds and let all the problems melt away in that moment. As humans we flourish under the influence of love and without it? Well I don’t want to ever have to find out.