I want to address the issue of touch hunger (also known as “skin hunger”) because it appears to be quite a common among Side B Christians, although I’m sure many other people – particularly singles – can relate to this. Sometimes it is the case that people have a high degree of touch hunger due to deprivation from childhood, although in other cases it may be simply circumstantial – due to living alone, being single, or coming from a family where touch is not practiced frequently.
There could be a number of factors involved, and of course people have different love languages so touch is more significant for some people than others. However, touch is a very primal need, particularly for infants and children. It facilitates bonding and attachment, in friendships, family relationships, and romantic bonds. This is partly why the sexual relationship cements attachment so effectively in committed relationships. Many women crave affectionate, loving touch and have a great desire to be held, just as much (in some cases even more) than they want sexual intercourse.
I often really like touch from my friends (and sometimes even work colleagues!) although I must admit hugs from people who don’t really care about me are not particularly satisfying. I was once part of a church group where everyone seemed to hug each other during the “greeting” time, but I didn’t feel very close to many of the people, so it didn’t really make me feel particularly loved or special. I’ve come to realise that quality time is another one of my love languages, and when that is lacking I find that touch is not as powerful or meaningful to me.
So how does one deal with touch hunger? I must admit, it’s quite tough being in a culture where there is not much touch in everyday relationships. Further, it’s often harder for men than woman in platonic relationships. It can be a shock for people from other cultures when they move to Australia (or another Western nation) and experience touch deprivation, when they are used to frequent touch in their daily interactions – not just romantic relationships. Touch hunger is a varied experience and many people can relate to it, even though it is not talked about very much.
But back to the practical implications – I don’t want to ignore those! I can’t say I have an easy answer, although there are many healthy ways I have found to enjoy touch in my life. Getting a massage, patting a dog or cat, hugging a friend, or putting a hand on someone’s shoulder during prayer are some appropriate, nourishing forms of touch which are soothing and reassuring. One thing I love about charismatic churches is how they often lay hands on me while praying, which is a beautiful experience. Young children often love to give and receive a great deal of loving touch, and I have often felt God’s love through the enthusiastic hugs that only a little child could give.
Sometimes I like to link arms with a friend, give them a back rub, or hold their hand – if they feel comfortable with that. I have learned to discern which people in my life appreciate touch and physical affection, so they won’t be disturbed if I give them a spontaneous hug or put my arm around their shoulders. I have also learned (sometimes by accident!) which people hate hugs and dislike being touched. It’s important to be sensitive as some people may have had negative or abusive experiences, so touch can trigger a strong reaction.
Some people might think some of those activities (e.g. holding hands, giving a back rub) are very risky if you struggle with SSA, so I would be careful with boundaries. It is important to be aware of what can lead you as an individual to temptation or unhelpful levels of dependence, because it varies from person to person. Yet many people from Asian, African or South American countries are much more comfortable with touch than we are here in the West. Culture and nationality can play a significant role, and it’s wise to be sensitive to what is culturally appropriate in any given context.
There are times when I would really like to be held and there is no one there for me. This can be a really tough experience, and I can’t always avoid those times. It’s a particular kind of loneliness that can be very painful and intense. Yet I have found it uplifting to pray and ask God to put His arms around me, and hold me in those times. I can sooth myself by giving myself a gentle massage. Meditative prayer also calms my anxiety, as I find that touch hunger and anxiety tend to go hand in hand. I can also pray and ask God to fill any empty places in my heart, and bring a sense of wholeness and security.
Perhaps you could write down a list of things that help you when you feel touch hunger and have no way to relieve it, so that you are prepared next time it happens… it could be listening to music, having a relaxing bath, meditating on Scripture, doing a relaxation exercise, going for a walk, or texting a friend and asking for prayer.
What helps you deal with touch hunger? Please share in the comments!
Image Source: Pexels