Touching the Isolated and Touch-Deprived

Social isolation lockdown comes with touch-deprivation and highlights the need we all have of touch, but perhaps we can reach out and hold each other safely.

She walked up and gave me the biggest hug. Her husband shook my hand.

I’m missing touch. Are you?

I know some people who are huggy people and love to have big open arms that embrace others. It feels like you are being swallowed up by them.

Whereas others don’t like the physical touch.

But I wonder what will the world be like once this COVID19 crisis is over.

Questions bubble in the brain.

    1. Will we be more paranoid about physical touch?
    2. Could the habits of social distancing continue as matter of course?
    3. Will the fear of physical touch feed into an even greater fear of being open and vulnerable on a soul level with others?

We need to touch

Something happens when we touch. It’s a physical awareness that we’re not alone.

There is pressure on the nerve endings of your skin. Someone has moved from their existence into yours. You are not alone.

And it’s not just the COVID crisis that’s changing our touch habits. It could be the device your reading this post on.

Tiffany Field is a researcher of touch at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. She traveled to different airports in Florida to watch people interacting.

She made a shocking discovery: Nobody was touching each other. Everyone was on their phone.

Read an article about her research here. Why Physical Touch Matters for Your Well-Being

Entering the world of the unclean

Everyone passed him by. Nobody stopped to talk, touch, or even have eye contact.

It felt like he wasn’t there, even though he certainly was.

He thought of getting a little bell and ring it in time with the syrup worship songs they sang.

Perhaps he needed to sing ‘Unclean, unclean’ in this place of worship.

It was a kind of social isolation he knew. No one knew how to handle him. He was on the outside.

You see, he could no longer play the cosmetic mask games they were playing. He hurt on the inside, and it flowed outwards. There was no ability to contain his depression and make out like everything was ok.

He needed presence.

That was until a little old lady of 92 came and sat next to him, held his hand, and told him without words that he wasn’t alone. Her old wrinkled and crinkled hands entwined for a good half hour.

He was in love.

A God Hug

Back in 2009, I wrote my final essay for my Bachelor of Applied Theology.

My essay was entitled The Dehumanising Effects of Sexual Abuse.

In my research, I came across the work of theologian Miroslav Volv.

Volv writes

On the cross the circle of self-giving and mutually indwelling divine persons opens up for the enemy; in the agony of the passion the movement stops for a brief moment and a fissure appears so that sinful humanity can join in.

We, the others – we the enemies – are embraced by the divine persons who love us with the same love with which they love each other and therefore make space for us within their own eternal embrace.

An embrace involves always a double movement of opening and closing. I open my arms to create space in myself for the other. The open arms are a sign of discontent at being myself only and of desire to include the other.

They are an invitation to the others to come in and feel at home with me, to belong to me. In an embrace I also close my arms around the others – not tightly, so as to crush and assimilate them forcefully into myself, for that would not be an embrace but a concealed power-act of exclusion; but gently, so as to tell them that I do not want to be without them in their otherness.

I want them in their openness. I want them to remain independent and true to their genuine selves, to maintain their identity and as such become part of me so that they can enrich me with what they have and I do not’. Miroslav Volv

To the isolated and touch-deprived

Actually there wasn’t a 92-year-old lady, and that was the day he left the church that had deluded him.

Instead, he went to the others on the street. He found others in the gutter, and they shared war stories.

They all had wounds and bruises. Some of which had turned into scars.

For some, they were still bleeding, and hugs were mingled with the anger and the hurt of a fresh wound.

Then there were others for whom the wound had turned into a scar.

There was a confidence in them of a well-walked traveler. They had walked the walk, and they could silent the talk.

I have this thing about being a preacher who reveals things about herself,
and it’s that I always try to preach from my scars and not my wounds.
So, talking about depression is not in any way, a wound for me.
Nadia Bolz-Weber

Please, be that 92-year-old woman or man who knows how to hold someone else’s hand, soul, life safely. Let them speak their wounds and see the scars take shape. It’s a beautiful thing.

You may just look a lot like Jesus.

Mental Health is ... learning to give and receive touch. In an ever-increasing isolated world, we all need to learn how to touch wellClick To Tweet

Quotes to consider

  • Remember that touch-hungry children become touch-hungry adolescents. Don’t miss the opportunity to provide the remedy, before they start looking to others. D. Riddell
  • Hug your loved one soon. Love and affection do not truly exist until they are given expression, and many suffer from ‘touch hunger’. D. Riddell
  • I think not touching a child for decades at a time is a form of injury.  I think withholding any expression of love until a young boy is a grown man is a form of emotional violence.  And I believe that the violence men level against themselves and others is bred from just such circumstances. Terrence Real
  • Spiritual friends see a facet of Christ in us and bring it out as no one else can. And they delight to do so. When they see what is unique about us, it causes them great delight; and then, giving away to the powers of daring imagination, they envision what we could become. The vision excites them – with Paul, they see us where we are and feel the pains of labor till Christ is formed in us (Gal. 4:19). Larry Crabb. The Safest Place on Earth, 172

Questions to answer

  1. What do you think might be the long term effects of social isolation?
  2. How has touch played a role in your life?
  3. Have you been injured in some way by lack of touch?

Further reading

What is the Gift Your Wound Has Given You?

What Turns Your Stomach Maybe A Prompt To Turn Your Heart.

Are you Strong Enough to be my … Friend

Barry Pearman

Photo by Elia Pellegrini on Unsplash