Objects can touch

Body contact: Everyone needs contact

A person cannot live without touch. In order to be emotionally and physically healthy, a minimum of skin contact is necessary. If a person does not get enough contact in a relationship, he looks for other sources.

Man is a relational being, which means that he cannot exist on his own. He makes contact with the world with his five senses and develops through mutual encounters and relationships with other people. A lack of relationship and touch brings with it a lack of emotional as well as physical health.

Touch strengthens well-being

A pleasant touch leads to the release of messenger substances that strengthen well-being, such as the "happiness hormones" dopamine and serotonin. In addition, the hormone oxytocin is released, which creates a bond between people who are touching.

Missing touch can make you sick

Humans are dependent on a certain amount of external stimulation, otherwise they wither away. This can be clearly seen in infants who have no physical contact. With them, the entire development is delayed (deprivation). "Without loving contact, there is a risk of mental disorders such as fears, inability to make contact, lack of ties, mental and physical stuntedness," says Franz Brunner, psychotherapist at the Institute for Psychotherapy at Kepler University Hospital.

But not only babies and children need physical attention, people of all ages depend on it. Possible effects of a lack of positive contact are:

  • Lack of development and slow growth
  • Addictions (e.g. anorexia, alcohol addiction, drugs, gambling addiction)
  • Negative effect on self-worth and self-confidence
  • Mood disorders such as depression
  • A prolonged lack of contact can lead to stress (release from cortisol) and in the long term to high blood pressure and weakens the immune system.

Whether a lack of contact makes a person sick also depends on the extent to which the person is restricted or disturbed in his other abilities (hearing, tasting, smelling, seeing). A lack of touch can only be compensated to a certain extent by other sensory impressions.

Couples and singles

People in good couple relationships usually have sufficient physical contact and are therefore often happier and healthier than single people. The fact that people in couple relationships generally live happier and healthier than singles cannot be said, it always depends on the quality of the relationship. In addition, many singles often have sufficient positive physical contact, often much more than people in relationships. The situation is different for single, elderly people. They often suffer from a lack of contact and touch and become depressed as a result.

Possibilities and meeting spaces for physical contact

  • Social network: partners, family, friends
  • Sport, especially active, but also passive (e.g. when fans throw themselves around their necks while celebrating a goal.)
  • Animals: Cats and dogs need attention, want to be petted, and also actively snuggle up
  • To dance
  • various activities in club life
  • Health system: doctor, nurse, nursing staff
  • Wellness, massages etc.

Because many people do not find enough contact in their social environment, external sources are becoming more and more important. “This is also the case because society is becoming more and more isolated and the opportunities for contact in the environment are decreasing,” says Brunner.

Life in the virtual world

The increasing virtualization is a danger for a mindful togetherness, as the individual often comes into contact with his touchscreen rather than with his fellow human beings. “Extensive use of the new media goes hand in hand with a decline in the ability to meet people directly. Typing and reading messages is no substitute for direct eye contact, personal conversation and physical contact, ”says the psychotherapist.

Seniors often lack physical contact

Prevention is particularly important for the elderly: it is important to build and maintain social networks. It is important to continue to have a lot of contact with your own family and to maintain contact with your grandchildren across generations. "A good relationship between grandma / grandpa and the small grandchildren often involves a lot of physical contact, contact that is very important and beneficial for both parties," says Brunner.

For those who live in a retirement or nursing home, touch-intensive care is important (of course only if this is wanted by the person concerned and carried out carefully). This is increasingly true when the mental powers dwindle and language is lost. Often only physical contact remains as a contact possibility with the social outside world.

Seniors without a partner often seek the necessary physical contact from a doctor. For many, a visit to the doctor, including the physical examination, is the only way to be touched at all. Many visits to the doctor are also to be seen under this aspect. The examination and the care then serve as emotional and physical prevention in healthy seniors in order to stay healthy.

Active touch

Not only being touched passively is pleasant and health-promoting, but also active touching. Brunner: “There is always an interplay between touching and being touched, basically you can't separate them. For good mutual contact it is important to be mindful of the other person, to recognize him or her not as an object but as a subject and to respectfully respect the wishes and needs of his counterpart. "

Touching oneself

Touching oneself is good and important! The possibilities are diverse and range from rubbing your hands, kneading your shoulders, putting on lotion, washing your hair, showering and even masturbating.

Positive and negative touch

The quality of the touch is decisive for its effect. Positive touch leads to calming and relaxation via the autonomic nervous system and even has a pain-relieving effect. The immune defense and the cardiovascular system are strengthened and growth is stimulated in children. On a psychological level, sufficient positive touch brings a feeling of security, trust, connectedness, strengthening of identity and willingness to cooperate.

Conversely, any touch, if it is not wanted or even forced, can have unpleasant to traumatic consequences. A pat on the back can be appreciative and therefore positive, but it can also be a gesture of appeasement and control.

Wellness is booming

The wellness industry is booming not least because it offers physical contact. Massages and other applications are fundamentally positive and offer a suitable auxiliary function if one does not get enough contact in relationships. "The offers of the wellness industry can remedy this to a certain extent, of course they can never replace real relationships," says Brunner.

Dr. Thomas Hartl

May 2016

Photo: shutterstock

‌ Last updated on November 13, 2020