One day, touch was forbidden. We were deprived of personal contact, of physically expressing and sharing emotions, we entered an era of touch prohibition, to safeguard our lives - they said. Progressively, we realised that we had long ago ceded the right to close-personal-affective contact. In the rush of accelerated times, we had given up the time that touch needs to make itself felt. And now, after a pandemic, while fiercely claiming the right to freedom, where have we left the trapped, needy and wounded body?
Worldwide, we accepted this aversion to touch, to greeting, to embrace, to lightly pat on the shoulder, when culturally we were finding variations in this concession. And so we normalised the inhibition, the emotional distance, of not saying. We spread the idea of touch as inappropriate, unacceptable, even dangerous, and from this came symptoms of emotional repression and touch starvation. Yes, touch starvation is a health condition. Affective skin-to-skin (non-sensual) contact is vital for our physical, emotional and mental health. This touch invites emotional expressiveness, elicits indications of security and confidence to evolve in interpersonal contact being a source of regulation of our stress levels.
After all, what are we giving up when we lose this touch, when we restrain emotional expression, when we interrupt our gestures and our movements?
In psychocorporal therapy, touch is not forbidden as in other psychotherapeutic modalities, it is accepted, if allowed, as Gerda Boyesen and, currently, Ricardo Amaral Rego, have explained. In this perspective, we approach the common back pain as not circumstantial manifestation, but as expression of emotional restraint patterns that build muscular armour - layers of tension that are bodily defences against anguish, fear, frustration and shock - that have not been consciously discharged. This mechanism becomes protective of external charges, but also a container for one's own emotions, which cannot be expressed, due to feelings of external hostility and non-acceptance. This emotional repression anchors anguish and conflict in the body. And we fade away. And when we blank ourselves out, when we repress, when we remain in unfulfilled experiences, we allow the body to become ill.
Touch therapy, such as massage and reflexotherapy, can be a more immediate way of reaching some comfort. Tiffany Field has devoted much of her life to the study of the effects of massage, movement and associated practices, such as aromatherapy, at the Touch Research Institute, where she has documented the benefits. Massage, with moderate pressure, like chiromassage, works so well because it achieves physiological, mechanical and neuropsychological changes. It can bring a general state of well-being, contentment and vitality due to the release of endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and encephalins - hormones and neurotransmitters that act to reduce pain, manage stress and increase feelings of comfort, control and resilience. It can also reduce levels of cortisol - the well known anxiety hormone. This activity flows from balancing the nervous system response, reducing the sympathetic nervous system function, alert-threat, and increasing the parasympathetic function, relaxation-security.
It also provides increased muscle and joint activity, with greater muscle elasticity and extensibility; improved circulation, increased flow of nutrients and oxygen, reducing stasis and releasing adhesions that block and inhibit movement. Massage can achieve the increment of regulatory functions, such as: release of pulmonary secretions, opening the breath, reduction of nervous spasticity, sleep regulation, and stimulation of visceral functions with increased peristalsis, currently also associated with emotional digestion - promoting a consequent improvement in immune response, nervous and endocrine systems regulation. Through massage, with touch having the function of communication, we achieve the effect of emotional regulation, of attachment - we reach the level of caring - and here the release of oxytocin informs of an experience of security, trust and belonging, where there is love and kindness, reducing feelings of isolation, loneliness, depression, stress or anxiety.
We reach body awareness, physical and psychological relaxation, with relief of pressure, muscle tension and achieving progressive knowledge about triggers, limits and mechanisms of physical and emotional self-regulation. This process brings up a regeneration of vitality, enhancing self-knowledge and self-confidence, where we reclaim our capacity to generate solutions to the challenges in our own lives. But, to meet all these benefits, it's urgent that we allow ourselves to feel, to connect with ourselves, with our needs and with the other person. Are we willing to slow down our rhythms, relax our defences, so we can feel, how affective touch, the forgotten sense, acts?
On the 20th of March we celebrate the movement "Massage Makes Me Happy", the same day we celebrate the International Day of Happiness. It is also in March we leave the winter - the shelter - and announce the spring - the blooming, the expansion of smells, colours and textures. How would you like to celebrate it?
I leave you with an invitation, an experience, similar to the article "How do I feel in my own skin - the body as revelation". I would like you to be present, in your body. Take in what emerges, what you feel, when you connect yourself to the question:
What touches me, excites me and makes me vibrate? How am I allowing touch in my life, how do I feel life through touch?
And we will meet at the massage!
Rego, R., Porto, D., Amabis, D., Forlani, M. & Martins, S. (2014). O toque na psicoterapia. Massagem biodinâmica. KBR.
Boyesen, G. (1986). Entre psiquê e soma. Summus. https://med.miami.edu/en/centers-and-institutes/mailman-center/community/other-community-based-programs/touch-research-institute-archiveshttps://www.massagemakesmehappy.com/https://www.dayofhappiness.net/