This past week, I was reminded of the importance of touch. This mighty, but understated sense has been controversial for the last several years because of its misuse, manipulation, and abuse. Yes, there is a wrong touch of which children must be made aware, but what about the right touch? Because of the need for caution, have we become so distrustful that we are reluctant to display affection physically and verbally that once upon a time was accepted and actually invited? Before we return to this question, let us briefly discuss the other senses.
If you ask most people, vision would probably be considered the most important and dominant of the five senses.
To see all that the universe has to offer including the majesty of uniqueness displayed by species and formations mixed with colors, cannot be overstated. Yet, often this magical gift is taken for granted. In addition, communication frequently encompasses much more than the spoken word. Facial expressions and gestures may reveal the true meaning of that which is not stated. A written note may be more defining than anything orally conveyed.
Our hearing would probably be reported as the second most valuable sense. To miss out on the glory of music, the soothing or intimate musings of a loving voice, the pleasure, and connection of laughter, the expression of sorrow, sounds of warning, and the bustle of everyday life, is inconceivable to most. Again, unless one suffers from a hearing loss, this invaluable ability is not given a second thought. With regards to communication, inflections, tone, and pitch also may give forth to the true meaning of what may not be verbalized but what really is.
My hunch is that taste and smell would probably rank lower. Yes, we can adjust to the loss of both, but again, it is a loss. To not smell the beautiful scent of a flower or greenery or glorious scents that propel more people to seek out a perfect cologne or aromatherapy is not given much thought. What about the importance of smelling the signs of smoke, gasoline or other odors that remind us of danger. Finally, can we conceptualize not inhaling the aromas of an about-to-be served meal? Speaking of food, can we imagine not being able to taste our favorites? In addition, how about tasting something which can caution us not to continue?
Yes, smell and taste may be on the lower end of the totem pole when it comes to our senses. Nevertheless, their significance should not be minimized. According to the Mayo Clinic, although normal aging may impact these senses along with the others, loss of taste and smell can be the precursors of certain diseases.
What about touch? How important is it? Can we live without it? Well, as an adult, maybe, but over time, we will wither being deprived of it. Let us now touch upon the importance of touch. Although it is not recommended in the field of psychotherapy, selectively, I hug my female clients, and on occasion, when they may say goodbye for good, I do the same with some of my males. As they reach adulthood, many people are not touched. They may be divorced or single. Their presence around children may have diminished, or those children may now be adults and only offer the perfunctory kiss. Sadly, I have learned as a therapist that many of my lovely clients stopped being hugged or touched prematurely. Included in that loss of touch is the act of saying tender, touching words such as ”I love you, ” or ”You are beautiful.”
I am third-generation half Lebanese/Syrian (depending on who you ask). Touch and hugs are a part of that culture as well as tender offerings which continued for me throughout my adult life. Although my family was not perfect, (tell me one that is), safety and love were ever-present. I use what was given to me in a way to offer others. I compliment my clients, and knowing me, they recognize it is authentic. I have a number of female clients with narcissistic, withholding mothers. As they depart, I hug them. One wears a delicious-smelling perfume so I say to her, ”You smell beautiful. You look beautiful because you are beautiful.” Another client has a close relationship with her almost-adult daughter, and I remind her how delightful that is and an example of the past not repeating itself.
Recently, a lovely sexagenarian returned to see me. Of no fault of her own and an example of the unfairness of life, this giving human being is somewhat isolated. She told me about her thirst for touch which drove her to engage in a what-would-be unhealthy relationship. I told her I understood and would do my best to help her. On her way out, I offered her touch with a firm hug and tried to touch her heart and soul with words of hope. Sometimes words can be cheap, but other times, they pierce a human being like fine surgery as one of my supervisors stressed long ago.
Touch is a delicate sense and must be fed throughout our lifetime. If genuinely and safely extended, the recipient may experience something you may never know. As the giver, whether you touch someone with words, a smile or a physical gesture, notice how it may make you feel. You may be more touched than you can envision. Give it a try, pay attention and notice the power of touch.
What are your thoughts? How important is touch to you? How much do you offer others words of tenderness and touch? How does it feel when physical gestures and tender words as offered to you?