Saturday, July 20, 2013
I suppose it is no accident that I have been thinking of my birthmother today. Her birthday is tomorrow. She will be 65 years old. Had she stayed married to my father and remained in America she would perhaps be retiring now. But that is one possible reality that never came to be.
I made a new friend today. In making this new friend I was reminded of the power of human touch. I am convinced that the pain I have been carrying around regarding my mother’s illness and her disappearance from my life at such a young age awoke within me recently due to my recent visit to Germany in which I took the opportunity to see her. I still remember the feeling of walking with her after lunch and how I held her arm to guide her. The touch between a mother and her child is very powerful. Human touch is so vital to healthy human development. Studies have shown that children deprived of nurturing touch often do not thrive in the way that children who received such care do.
I cannot now remember when I first heard of a particular study that really fascinated me. I believe it must have been when I was in high school. I managed to find the background story of this study by looking on Google today. Here is the link. The most important section of the story’s content follows:
Harlow’s most famous experiment involved giving young rhesus monkeys a choice between two different "mothers." One was made of soft terrycloth, but provided no food. The other was made of wire, but provided food from an attached baby bottle.
Harlow removed young monkeys from their natural mothers a few hours after birth and left them to be "raised" by these mother surrogates. The experiment demonstrated that the baby monkeys spent significantly more time with their cloth mother than with their wire mother. "These data make it obvious that contact comfort is a variable of overwhelming importance in the development of affectional response, whereas lactation is a variable of negligible importance," Harlow explained (1958).
It is truly amazing that these monkeys would prefer the contact comfort over the offerings the wire “mother” provided. I find the results fascinating and completely believable. Yes, naturally human beings are not the same as monkeys but the discoveries made in this study (and many others) demonstrate the significance of touch in healthy development. I have heard stories of how children who spend long periods of time in orphanages often stop crying. From what I have read this change in behavior is attributed to the lack of sufficient individualized nurturing; eventually the children stop crying out because their cries are simply not answered to sufficiently meet their needs.
I attended massage school several years ago. I recall the power of human touch. During and after my training I came to conclude that America is a very touch deprived culture. People are very busy watching television, walking down the sidewalk looking at their “smart” phone, listening to their headphones and so on. The art of being present to your actual surroundings has become a lost art. When was the last time you had an actual conversation with someone on a bus or train? And by conversation I mean an interchange that includes more than a few three to five word sentences.
Despite the challenge that stands before me I am nonetheless optimistic that I will completely heal in due time. I am resilient; if I survived the anxiety and stress I initially experienced at the age of two I can certainly process the impact of it now as a grown man. It might not be easy but I can certainly do it.
I leave you today with this question: What is the role of human touch in your life? Where do you find such support? Do you have enough of it? What could you do to bring more of it into your life?