One of the challenges of the pandemic, especially early on before vaccines became available, was the need to keep our distance from loved ones, out of abundant concern for their well-being. We came to realize how important human touch is to all ages, but especially for young children and the senior members of society. This is why Dr. Martin Seligman includes Relationships in his PERMA model for well-being. Today, let’s talk about the importance of affectionate touch to “kids” of every age.
Let’s be clear from the get-go. We are talking about affection and love here, directed at those close to us, not the unwanted advances from individuals who refuse to believe the word “NO” is meant for them. Those situations are not about affection, and definitely not about love. They are about power and its abuse, sometimes about anger, and the inner need to make everyone else smaller than these individuals know they are.
From what we know these days, a child’s experience with touch is crucial to his or her ability to relate affectionately later in life. Now, it’s certainly true that no one would expect a parent, for example, to indulge in as much physical behavior with an adolescent as they would with an infant. Our needs for affection change in degree and kind, at various times in our lives.
However, demonstrated honest and true love and affection is important to our mental, emotional and physical health at every age. Did you know that our actual body chemistry changes when we are physically close to another? It is true. Many studies have now conclusively demonstrated that touch, especially caring touch, can boost the strength of our immune system, increase the oxygen carrying hemoglobin in our blood, and in general, make us happier and healthier human beings. Combined this with a good belly laugh or two, and we are well on our way to a heightened sense of well-being.
If you’ve never felt comfortable affectionately touching those you love – and let’s face it, it’s a bit of a minefield lately – maybe you’d like to think about how you might go about gradually changing things and the benefits that might accrue.
Keep in mind that physical closeness is only one way of expressing love, but it is a vital element in most caring relationships.