The Evolution of Touch

Angela Gibson, RMT
March 20, 2019

The evolution of touch as we age intrigues me as it doesn’t evolve at all. Instead, it ebbs, it flows, it wanes in our culture to be honest.

As we raise our children, intentional touch is a given.  We rock, caress, tickle and, if you are me, massage those little people without a second thought. Babies and children need touch; without it, they will fail to thrive.  Touch is the first of the five senses to develop. The need for touch, for connection is in us. Babies have no need to be taught how to touch or that they need to touch at all. They begin receiving tactile signals before birth, as the vibration of their mother’s heartbeat is amplified by amniotic fluid.

 “Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language, and the last, and it always tells the truth.”  ~Margaret Atwood

Depending on cultural background, as our children age, touch becomes less and less intentional in most families.  We tend to hug and caress when our children are sick, hurt or have a bad day at school. These important ways of communication cannot be lost as our children grow.  These are the actions that can truly evolve in to something meaningful and lasting if we allow ourselves to slow down and think of touch on a much broader scale.

As a generalization, here in North America, the touch of parents slowly disappears as we approach adulthood which is a very natural progression.  What is important to remember is that if the “touch of communication” is open while still young; the better communicators they will be as adults.

As we mature, touch of course becomes more of a sexual nature.  Hopefully with these relationships, comes healthy communication of how each person likes to be touched, what feels good, and what doesn’t. This can be troubling for those people who have experienced trauma in their lives.  Both physical and mental abuse can have a major impact not only in a sexual, intimate relationship, but also can make a massage therapy treatment almost unbearable.  This is where talk therapy with or without the help of a massage therapist can start to break through some of those barriers.

Aging, loss of partners, and sometimes illness then widens the gap greatly. Touching, if not done intentionally, is only for the basic day to day needs of the elderly or ill. This procedural touch is merely completing a task. The need for meaningful touch can so easily be lost.  Those left without a life partner are now without communication by touch at all.

We are starting to understand the need and the effect touch has on all of us. With each act of intentional touch, whether it be firm, gentle, warm or a massage, you have the possibility of making an impact: decreasing cortisol levels, releasing multiple hormones, lowering blood pressure and decreasing the heart rate. Registered Massage Therapists are now allowed into pediatric hospital rooms and palliative care situations.  We are welcomed into those rooms knowing that although what we do may not even be consciously known by the person in the bed, their bodies know, they react, and they accept. The benefits to those being touched are immeasurable; furthermore, a lot of those same physiological benefits are happening to the person doing the touching.

You can’t touch someone else, without being touched.

Sincerely in health,
Angela Gibson, RMT
Registered Massage Therapist