The Right Touch

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?


Darlene Corbett
Darlene Corbett
Darlene Corbett views herself as a life-long learner, a pursuer of excellence, a work-in-progress, and a seeker-of-the-truth. She is also referred to as the "Unstuck Expert" in her many roles. Why? Because for over thirty years, she has been assisting people to get unstuck. Darlene's primary roles are now Therapist, Hypnotherapist, and Author/Writer. Although she loves speaking, it is now secondary and done mainly through her podcast, "Get Unstuck Now. Because of her wealth of experience, Darlene began putting her thoughts on paper.  Many of her blogs can also be found on Medium, Sixty and Me, and Penning these articles set the stage for her first book, "Stop Depriving The World of You," traditionally published by Sound Wisdom. Being a believer in pushing oneself as long as one has life, Darlene has tried her hand at fiction, hoping to have something completed in the no-so-distant future. Over the years, Darlene has been described as animated or effervescent which contradicts the perception of a psychotherapist. She firmly believes in the importance of being authentic and discusses platinum-style authenticity in her book.

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  1. Great article Darlene. When I think of the experiments done on little babies who are isolated, never touched and seeing how they “DO NOT” thrive, by those who think its a great way to test whether touching or holding are needed, it’s sad. I can tell you from personal experience that lack of touch in a person’s life results always in a negative outcome. But when they begin to feel the security of someone who cares enough through a hug or a smile, or touch, the transformation is incredible.

    • Thank you so much, Lynn, for your thoughtful comments! You are so right on. The right touch can be transformative! Thank you for reading and commenting.💖

  2. I absolutely love this essay about the five senses and especially focusing on touch, Darlene! Gary Chapman describes the five love languages and Touch is one of the five. For me Touch comes in a three way tie with Quality Time and Words (which we can hear with an open heart-and speak from a loving heart-as you’ve so beautifully described.) I believe many people and children remain touch deprived-that this contributes to that feeling of loneliness that also seems to be a challenge in our culture right now. I love tender touch (hold someone’s hand, a touch on the arm) and use this frequently as a way to communicate my care, my love, my presence-I also have learned to be mindful of another individuals way of relating to touch. For instance, my favorite way of hugging a person is to hug/hold them for a bit-open heart-close. I also know I have a client who hugs very lightly-barely touching-so I’ve modified my way to honor what feels safe to her. No bear hugs for her. I also know well the sideways hugs or the handshake or fist bump or high fives with colleagues. I believe women have an opportunity to teach men ways to touch them that are respectful, kind, and meaningful.

    I recently learned that I can actually let others know with words how I like to be touched. That was such a revelation!

    Tender words remain essential-spoken as gentle wrapped packages of softness from the heart can heal. This makes me think of how Mr. Fred Rogers’ spoken words through the camera-on the TV-his words, his very presence-touched the core of me that hungered for these words from significant adults in my life as a child. The adults in my childhood world struggled to say them, but Mr. Fred Rogers said them seemingly directly to me. I felt seen, loved, special in his eyes even though I knew he couldn’t hug me. His spoken words about being uniquely you- finally, now all these years later, managed to be excavated like rich treasure from my heart that I’m savoring. I’m forever grateful. His words, his presence, his magical kingdom all served as lifelines to my heart, soul, and being. Tender words spoken with much love matter greatly to both children and adults. Kind words can save another person’s life.

    May we all learn to touch and talk to one another from a core of compassion, love, kindness, and caring.

    Thank you very much for this beautiful article, Darlene!

    • Laura, you weave magic when you write whether it be an article or a comment. I am pleased and honored you read my article and took the time to respond so thoughtfully and elegantly. Truly, your prose sparkles. Thank you for sharing your reminders of the language of love. Touch is so important to our thriving beyond just surviving. Your touching comment touches me. Thank you again!💖

  3. I grew up with lots of touch and passed that on to my children, who, as they grew older became touch-me-nots. My husband left and divorced me which took 5 years. I found someone who wanted to touch me and pursued me intensively. We married and after 19 months divorced because of him pursuing others while we were married. I divorced him and have been alone for 4 years now. I seem to have become more distant and isolated as I have been working and going to college. In the process I have not had much touch except through handshakes at work and church, and an occasional hug. I have become depressed through this time of isolation as I am quite an extrovert. I am learning that the power of touch is necessary for me to remain tender hearted to the needs of others. You definitely have struck a truth I am learning a hard way. I will continue to find appropriate ways to touch and come back to the tender hearted person I have always been. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you so much for reading my article and sharing your story. You sound lovely and I hope you continue pursuing ways to get hugged and touched not just with the right touch but the right person. Thank you again!💖

  4. Dear Darlene, I try with my mother living with dementia in her 70’s to massage her gently when I visit her (and when she feels okay with it). Just that connection to physical touch seems to really calm her. There is a lighter sense with her for even a short time. How could that not be good? The other senses have been changed and heighted with her as well. Beyond that your article is so well-done in mentioning how our senses can alert us to other dangers as well in our world. I can definitely be a hugger with people too. Something in that connection with another just for that short moment of energy exchange and can be such a true sign of caring in a moment between two people. A moment of true connection and love for another human being, really. Delightful, Darlene. Hugs!

    • Dear Maureen,

      First of all, hugs back to you my ”soulful” friend. Your mother’s mind may have receded, but your touch gives her a reminder of the present no matter how fleeting the thought is. I have no doubt that your loving touch, touches her soul. What a gift you give her! Thank you for this.💖

  5. Touching another person means going beyond the space that is usually reserved for the people we know best, family members, children or partners. Touch is a universal code of communication but it is influenced by the cultural context and therefore in our multi-cultural society things can become even more complicated. Touch and reaction to it are part of a very primitive form of non-verbal communication. Touch is the most developed sense at birth, through it the baby develops thought, the brain, interpersonal bonds and through the presence and absence of contact develops the sense of time, space and the ability to communicate.
    Touch accompanies us until the end of our lives, it is in fact the last sense that is lost when we get older, while sight, hearing, taste and smell are significantly reduced.
    We can quite clearly distinguish the feelings transmitted through the touch: anger, fear, love, disgust or sympathy. The contact with another person somehow reveals aspects of our life of that moment that we do not express in words.
    Touching and being touched is such an important moment that we often neglect so much in everyday life, especially in today’s world where staying in touch very often involves only one type of virtual contact.
    We must not forget this sense of ours which is so fundamental to our development as human beings, therefore we welcome the meeting face to face with friends and family, handshakes, hugs, caresses.

    • Thank you, Aldo, for reading my article and offering an important and thoughtful comment. You remind us of the difference in cultures regarding touch. Thank you reminding us that it is the last sense to be experienced before we leave this world. I never thought about that, but it makes sense. A second thank you..💖

  6. Great article, Darlene! A gentle touch can mean so much. The sensation of holding hands binding one person to another is indescribable. All of our senses are important to our existence as are our emotions except for hate and anger. My 33-year-old son spent his birthday with us. Several times I shook his hand and patted him on the shoulder while complimenting him on the man he has become. Our children need to feel our touch even when they are babies. Thank you, Darlene, for this warm and gentle article.

    • Joel, thank you! I appreciate you sharing about these warm gestures toward your son. I gave no doubt they touch his soul in ways he doesn’t even recognize at this moment in time. What a lovely gift!💖

  7. Darlene – I married into a large southern family – saying goodbye means an hour of hugging – longer if you lose tract of who you hugged and who you didn’t. I am grateful for those hugs. So now, as a pastor, I offer hugs to those in my church because I learned the trust and comfort that can come from this simple gesture. Thank you sharing this.

    • Thank you Len for sharing this. I have no doubt your hugs have meaning beyond words. What a gift you are giving them.💖

  8. Interesting post Darlene. I think there are different forms of touch as you mentioned. At times it is necessary and loving, at times it is forbidden. I try to stay away from the idea of forbidden touching, as I’m all about respecting boundaries in both children and adults alike. I’d say that hugging my son and comforting him as he falls down is the one thing that actually nourishes my soul in return. It’s not really a topic I think about often, but I can’t imagine not being there for him. It is the most pure and innocent thing in my life. I only wish my own father had hugged me a little more when I was eight…

    • Aaron, you are correct. We must be selective and respect boundaries so judgment is tantamount. With that said, look how glorious it is that you can hug your son in a way that you did not receive. As I indicated to my client mentioned in the article and I say to others, the past does not have to predict what is to come.💖

  9. This is so true Darlene. I grew up without much in the way of touch…..hugs, words, whatever. I would learn later in life the importance and necessity of it….through God and a very loving wife. We (men especially) have to be extra cautious in today’s world…..otherwise, I’d be a lot more of a hugger than I am…..but I still hug at every opportunity, realizing the significance of touch. I love what your supervisor said about words piercing a human being like fine surgery – how impacting our words are! You use yours well. Thank you for sharing them.

    • Thank you Mike! I agree. Men must be more careful because if the climate but happy to see you that you are able to hug when it is the right situation. I appreciate you reading and commenting.💖