The importance of touch does not get a great deal of attention in society and is only now beginning to gain some traction within published, academic research. As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, an opportunity that we do not want to miss is the positive outcomes that result from touch that can build, strengthen, and heal relationships.
We are all well aware of the physical bonding that happens between a loving parent and a young child. There is a strong body of evidence to suggest that loving, physical contact at the early stages of a child’s life are critical to his or her physical, mental, and emotional health. There is a great deal of documentation on the steep rise in infant morbidity and mortality when there is a lack of loving, physical contact during the early development years that has been seen in orphanages around the world.
The reality is that beyond our infant years, we have a tendency to disregard the emotional and physical benefits that result from touch despite the growing body of research that suggests touch is fundamental to communication, relationships, and overall health. Michelangelo said, “To touch is to give life” and there is growing recognition that touch is our primary means for communicating compassion.
This message is not some weird call to start grabbing each other. However, there are many of us who have grown up in western culture where consistent, supportive touch has been so confined to early childhood that we are missing a key element to build, strengthen, and heal our most important relationships. There are studies that show touch signals safety and trust which are foundational to healthy relationships. When we take an honest assessment of the relationships we value the most, whether they are struggling or not, we will most likely find we are missing the benefits of a warm, supportive touch on a consistent basis.
This message is not just for the home. Even if we were fortunate to grow up in a home where touch was reinforced throughout our lives in support of healthy relationships, chances are that societal pressures probably got the best of us in school and work where a supportive pat on the shoulder is sometimes considered out of line. Studies have shown that teachers who provide a friendly tap on the shoulder increase student engagement and learning. In my professional journey, I have seen the benefits that a supportive touch on the shoulder can communicate straight to the heart of an individual that they “belong on the team” and that we will work together to deliver results. It is unfortunate that some foolish, out of hand behavior makes the headlines in work and school which increases our collective resistance to providing the benefits of a supportive, helpful touch.
I would like to leave you with two considerations with regards to the importance of touch and our character:
(1) “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” (thanks to Ben Franklin). Many of us maybe talking and acting in a very supportive and encouraging way in our close relationships. However, statistics will show that for most of us, a consistent, supportive touch is not part of the equation. Given the well-documented benefits to our physical, mental, and emotional health and to the health of the relationship, start being intentional about adding a supportive touch to the mix as it will build relationship strength to help overcome the inevitable challenges that relationships bring throughout life. Start in the home and then build your courage to take it elsewhere.
(2) When relationships are struggling, there is most definitely an absence of touch. Whether it is the struggles of a parent-child relationship, the routine friction between spouses, or ‘the big mistake’ that created a fracture between close friends, a warm, loving touch should be part of our tool box to bring healing and health back to the relationship. An authentic, genuine embrace can open the door to health more effectively than words and time. Also, if you happen to be on the receiving end of an embrace to heal a troubled relationship, don’t resist, reciprocate the embrace and you will both be better off for the touch.
As we demonstrate the courage to incorporate touch in our most valued relationships, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to improve the health of our relationships and set a great example for those around us.