Somatic Psychology - June 2015 - Santa Fe
Honoring the Power of Touch
By Corine Frankland
Touch is a sensory process through which we communicate with the world around us. When we experience friendly, affectionate touch, our bodies release oxytocin, also known as the “love” or “trust hormone.”
Oxytocin's effects include lowering blood pressure, decreasing the stress-related hormone cortisol and increasing pain tolerance. It is released through friendly and intentional touch, including contact between breastfeeding moms and their babies, friends engaged in a hug, cuddling couples and even pets and their owners.
As babies, we learn about our value and safety in the world, through our skin. Numerous early childhood studies indicate that children who receive consistent touch that is pleasurable, safe, and appropriate contract fewer illnesses and have significantly lower rates of depressive and aggressive behaviors. Research also indicates that that touch is valuable for adolescents and adults in reducing stress; lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels; and stimulating the hippocampus which is responsible for enhanced memory and the release of a host of hormones and neuropeptides linked to positive and uplifting emotions.
Throughout our lives, we need to touch in order to learn, to communicate, to experience pleasure, to be healthy, and to grow in awareness and consciousness.
Despite its benefits, many of us find it difficult or awkward to discuss the practice of touch. As children, any of us learned that touching is wrong or inappropriate. Much of our reluctance to touch and be touched stems from a conditioned fear of our bodies. For example, a woman who breastfeeds her child in public often receives disapproving looks, children who explore their own bodies via sexual touch are often shamed, and in
many educational settings, teachers are forbidden to touch children at all. As we lose our childlike innocence, we may experience non-sexual touch, such as a hug or a gentle handle on the shoulder, as strange and uncomfortable. By the time we reach adulthood, many of us have forgotten how to touch; we are touch deprived. We refrain from giving or receiving because we feel alienated or cut off, or are depressed, anxious, and/or withdrawn. Living primarily in our heads, rather than fully in our bodies, we are often simply unaware of our need for touch.
When touch is considered taboo, the need to receive and provide touch is often nepressed and serves as fertilizer for our personal shadow. According to Carl Jung, the personal shadow is the conditioned part of us that contains all that which is determined as immoral or unacceptable by one’s culture. The personal shadow is that part of us that erupts spontaneously and unexpectedly when we do something self-destructive, or
hurtful to someone else. When the need for healthy touch is repressed and relegated to one’s personal shadow, our desire and longing for touch may drive us towards self-mutilation, compulsive sex, physical violence, or sexual violence. When we perpetrate violence against our own bodies or the bodies of others, we perpetuate the cycle of touch aversion.
If you are single, or in a waning or unsatisfying partnership, or perhaps your significant other has health issues, you likely are familiar with the deep longing to be held, touched, and comforted. If you find your body desiring more touch, consider the following simple strategies to increase your levels of oxytocin:
Schedule a weekly massage or hands-on energy-work session from a nurturing and safe therapist.
Create your own massage ritual including centered attention to the feet, neck, and hands.
Ask to hug and be hugged by the important people in your life.
Engage in a heart-centered meditation by briskly rubbing your palms together and placing them over your heart. Feel the heat move from your hands to the skin allowing the warmth to open your heart and anchor you in your body.
Touch is central in all aspects of our lives - cognitively, emotionally, developmentally, behaviorally—spanning from our time in the womb well into our elder years. From reducing blood pressure to flooding us with positive emotions, consciously incorporating touch into our day can lay the groundwork for more creative
ways to nurture ourselves and our larger world. As we learn how to meet our own needs for touch, we feel happier, less stressed, and more content to be conscious and present to our highest selves.
Corine Frankland, Ph.D., is the department chair of liberal arts at Santa Fe University of Art and Design where she teaches courses in women’s psychology, archetypal psychology, and Kundalini yoga. She is also a somatic polarity practitioner, specializing in anxiety reduction, grief and depression, and women's reproductive health and wellness.
You can find her on Facebook at
Vibrational Healing Santa Fe or visit her website at www.myvibrationalhealing.org