The Importance of Touch
Why is Touch so Important?
Touch is critical to life itself. Why? The deep limbic system not only is involved in emotional bonding, it is also involved in physical bonding. Actual physical touching is essential to good health. It would probably surprise some people to know that there are couples who can go for ten years and longer without touching each other. Couples invariably show such deep limbic system problems as irritability and depression. It is only after we help them correct this nontouching behavior that these depressive symptoms improve.
The Limbic Connectedness
Physical connection is also a critical element in the parent-infant bonding process. The caressing, kissing, sweet words, and eye contact from the mother and father give the baby the pleasure, love, trust, and security it needs to develop healthy deep limbic pathways. Then a bond or connectedness between the parents and the baby can begin to grow. Without love and affection, the baby does not develop appropriate deep limbic connectedness and thus never learns to trust or connect. He feels lonely and insecure, and becomes irritable and unresponsive.
A Thirteenth-Century Experiment
In a barbaric thirteenth-century experiment, German Emperor Frederick II wanted to know what language and words children would speak if they were raised without hearing any words at all. He took a number of infants from their homes and put them with people who fed them but had strict instructions not to touch, cuddle, or talk to them. The babies never spoke a word. They all died before they could speak.
Even though the language experiment was a failure, it resulted in an important discovery: Touch is essential to life. Salimbene, a historian of the time, wrote of the experiment in 1248,
“They could not live without petting.”
This powerful finding has been rediscovered over and over, most recently in the early 1990s in Romania, where thousands of warehoused infants went without touch for sometimes years at a time. PET studies (similar to SPECT studies) of a number of these deprived infants have shown marked overall decreased activity across the whole brain.
Bonding and Autistic Children
Bonding is a two-way street. A naturally unresponsive baby may inadvertently receive less love from its parents. The mother and father, misreading their baby’s naturally reserved behavior, may feel hurt and rejected and therefore less encouraged to lavish care and affection on their child. A classic example of this problem is illustrated by autistic children. Psychiatrists used to label the mothers of autistic children “cold” they believed the mother’s lack of responsiveness caused the autism.
In recent times, however, it has been shown in numerous research studies that autism is biological and preceded any relationship. The mothers of autistic children in their studies started out warm, but actually became more reserved when they did not get positive feedback from their children. The kind of love that is critical to making the parent-infant bond work is reciprocal.
Touch in Intimate Relationships
Love between adults is similar. For proper bonding to occur, couples need to hold and kiss each other, say sweet words, and make affectionate eye contact. It is not enough for one side to give and the other to passively receive. Physical manifestations of love need to be reciprocated or the other partner feels hurt and rejected, which ultimately causes the bond to erode.
Intimate relationships require physical love in order to flourish. The entire relationship cannot consist of two people sitting in their respective corners having a lively conversation about the stock market (even if they both adore the stock market). An intimate relationship is missing something essential for human beings if there is not enough physical contact. Without that element, eventually love will sour, causing one person to withdraw and perhaps look for love elsewhere.
Studies of the Healing Power of Touch
Reporting in a Life magazine cover story on touch, writers George Howe Colt and Anne Hollister cite numerous incidents of the healing power of touch: “Studies have shown massage to have positive effects on conditions from colic to hyperactivity to diabetes to migraines, in fact, every malady TRI [Touch Research Institute, in Miami, Florida] has studied thus far.”
They report that “Massage, it seems, helps asthmatics breathe easier, boosts immune function in HIV-positive patients, improves autistic children’s ability to concentrate, lowers anxiety in depressed adolescents, and reduces apprehension in burn victims about to undergo debridement….Even in the elderly, elders exhibited less depression, lower stress hormones, and less loneliness. They had fewer doctor visits, drank less coffee, and made more social phone calls.”
Touch is critical to life itself
Touch is essential to our humanity. Yet, in our standoffish, litigious society, touch is becoming less and less frequent. Touch your children, your spouse, your loved ones regularly. Giving and receiving massages on a regular basis will enhance limbic health and limbic bonding.