I don’t like to be touched.
This is something that I have struggled with all of my life, or so it seems. There are many reasons why this may be, and I leave it up to those with psychology degrees to figure out all of that mess in my head. But, I do know that there are a few reasons I’ve had this issue.
Growing up, I was an only child. Well, I was an only child until the age of 14, when I was given a little sister. For 14 years, I was given undivided attention from both of my parents.
My Dad, the hugger, showed his love and adoration for his baby girl through physical touch. We snuggled when I was little, he threw me in the air and had me land safely on their bed numerous times, and still to this day, he kisses me on the forehead after saying “I love you.” That’s Dad. He’s a human teddy bear.
My mom, was the talker. I didn’t receive many hugs from her, but she was the mother with the sage advice. Advice was the way she showed love. No physical, all intellectual. Sometimes, that form of love could be exhausting. Truthfully, both forms of love was exhausting at times, but the intellectual version? My elementary, pre-teen and teenage brain almost couldn’t take it at times. The easy way for me during that tumultuous era was to hug it out, and move along. But, that wasn’t the case with my Mom. In turn, I grew to err on the side of intellect. I grew out of hugs. I grew out of touching of any kind (shout out to my high school boyfriends for enduring this). And, even though I’ve been married for 12 years, this is still a problem for me.
But why? Why have I grown into this person who has a harsh “don’t hold my hand” policy? Why is it that once my kids reach a certain age, I feel awkward hugging and snuggling with them? Why can’t I hold my own child’s hand without feeling stifled? Because I allowed myself to stay within this comfort zone. I never learned the proper feelings behind touch.
Touch always had to MEAN something to me, which meant I didn’t want to explore it. With my dad, it was a paternal touch. A physical connection that was engulfed in overwhelming love or happiness. A touch that, when your teenage hormones take over and tell you that life sucks everyday, wasn’t something that I wanted to invite into my emo drama. Touch was hand-holing or hugging a boyfriend, and immediately feeling like I was someone’s property. Touch was tough.
Until one day, I realized that I was full of crap. Touch doesn’t have to be complicated. As a matter of fact, it can be therapeutic, simple, and light. And I could learn the basics of a touch, without consequences, from a well-known place: the spa.
My friend Ruby would share her monthly excursions to see her massage therapist. Once a month, she’s give us a little peek on Snapchat of her getting ready for her massage. She said it was important for her health. Her health! That changed my life. Could I take on a small challenge of massage therapy once a month, and see if this could be a catalyst for my evolving mental health? Possibly. Could I do it, and basically make myself attend this therapeutic session FOR MY HEALTH? Yup. So that’s what I did. I took a cue from Ruby, and I worked on my issue with touch.
Michelle, my massage therapist, works diligently on me each month. We have a small 5 minute talk about where my pain points are, and even what I have been going through the past 4 weeks. No, not physically going through. My mental state. Have I been overwhelmed at home? Is work causing insomnia? Am I taking time for myself to sit in the quiet and meditate? Those are the talks we have now. Then, she gets to work.
Here’s the cool thing about this experiment: it’s working. I’m sure it has something to do with all the factors, though. First, I want a change in my life, and the lives of my family. I want to be able to provide a physical love towards my children, and provide non-sexual physical touch to my husband. Oh, did I mention that? My husband’s love language is physical touch, so you can only imagine the interesting conversations we’ve had over the past 12 years about “connection.”
But, another factor is my choice in massage therapists. While Michelle is my go-to therapist right now, I have noticed that in the past, I’ve felt the biggest connection and release when my therapists are African American women. See that picture above? That was after an excruciating shiatsu massage from a Trinidadian woman of African decent. Her response after we finished? “Little gal, you were tied UP in knots all over ya body. I did tings that make-a grown man cry, but not you!” Do you see my face? I obviously needed her.
While I don’t intimately know these women, they represent something for me. They represent my dear mother, who loved me with words but not touch. They represent me, the mother who wants to provide love in all ways, and it dying to know if her children need more touch in their lives. They also represent the wife I am, learning ways to be physically present with the man that needs it from me. Each knot they remove from me, breaks down a mental wall I need to crumble. Each stroke of my back releases the burden I’ve created of not being a good mother to my kids. Each gentle massage of my hand reminds me that those hands are meant to comfort others.
Massage is real therapy for me. It’s turning me into a woman I never thought I could be. It’s teaching me a new way to love. Today, I can proudly say, I’m open to the possibilities this little challenge will bring.