Hunger for Touch
Touch is so much more than just a sense, or the contact of our skin with the world. Touch allows us to connect with others and to explore the world. It is also strongly linked to our emotions and mental functioning, and even crucial for our survival. I am a hugger and feel much happier when I have warm hugs in my life, which is why I wanted to include this article…
The benefits of touch
The importance of touch begins early in our lives – touch is one of the main communication systems between mother and child. For a newborn, touch is crucial for wellbeing, brain development, and cognitive and physical functioning.
The importance of touch does not end after infancy. Touch has been found to alleviate pain and increase immunity. Physical touch can also decrease stress and aggression, and increase oxytocin, the ‘love’ hormone that promotes bonding between people. One study measuring physical touch between partners over a week found that people who were touched more often had higher psychological wellbeing half a year later. Even a brief touch, without us noticing it, makes the giver of the touch more likeable to us.
It might come as a surprise to learn that we can identify another’s emotions from a simple touch without seeing or hearing the person – making touch an important channel of communication throughout our lives.
It matters who is touching you, and how
Studies show that the touch of your partner has a stronger effect than touch from someone you are not as close to. And the closer and more connected you feel to your partner, the more affection you will feel for him/her when touched. Even an imagined touch by a romantic partner has been shown to decrease stress and pain and to help us face difficult challenges – more so than when imagining verbal support.
On the other hand, touch can have a negative connotation based on where you are touched and who is touching you. For instance, being touched on the face by a co-worker may be seen as inappropriate or as harassment. There is also a range of age- and gender-specific perceptions of touch as well as cultural differences in the perception of touch.
What if you don’t get enough touch?
Psychologists have coined the term “touch hunger” or “skin hunger” to describe the need or longing for meaningful (other than sexual) physical contact. It is essentially a craving for touch. We may experience “touch hunger” when we feel isolated or lonely – whether we miss having a partner or feel lonely in our relationship, or have moved to a new country. (In the first months after I moved from Greece to Holland, there were two things I longed for and missed: the sun and a hug!) And touch may become ever more important today, as our work and interactions become increasingly virtual.
For some people, touch is their main language of love. (Take the quiz here to see what your love language is.) This means that they feel loved and connected through touches like hugs, holding hands or a pat on the back. Conversely, they might feel unloved or lonely without affection. Lack of touch might even result in stress and low mood.
How do you feel about touch?
Not everybody likes to touch or be touched. We are all different and our preference for touch – and how much or how often we need it – varies from person to person, or even from culture to culture. Do what feels right for you.
If you really enjoy touch – and even feel better, happier or more loved when touched – then be sure to include this element in your life. This may mean expressing your need for touch to your romantic partner, reaching out with physical affection to family or friends (within their personal boundaries), or seeking out “touch experiences” like a massage.
Sending you a virtual hug!
Many thanks to counsellor and health psychologist Kristýna Maulenová for her contribution to this article.
Did you learn anything surprising about touch in this article? How do you navigate touch in your circle of loved ones? Share your thoughts in the comments below. We love to hear from you!
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