Safe Touch – A Key to Good Mental Health and Relationships

Safe Touch – A Key to Good Mental Health and Relationships

I believe any educated and sensitive massage therapist will tell you that they tend to meet people who are more authentic in expressing themselves than perhaps one would just meet in an office setting. Even the same person is more authentic and gentle in a safe touch massage setting. Minimal clothing, lulling fountain sounds, the scent of lavendar, orange, sandalwood or other essential oils and music that doesn’t destroy your soul just seems to do that. Everyone needs safe touch to be comforted and to feel free to be themselves without judgement.

From my own experience, we live in a touch deprived culture. Touch someone in the workplace, even as an encouraging “good for you” pat on the back, and you might find yourself judged some kind of office pervert. Rub a back in gesture of comforting or hold a hand to say “I care about how you’re feeling,” and well, off to prison you go!! Touch in our culture is suspect and often threatening. I’m not encouraging anyone to just accept the touch of anyone they meet as well intentioned or harmless. But for the most part, out went the baby with the bathwater as usual.

I used to lay hands on people as a pastor in compliance with and hope that James 5:14-16 would bring about the desired and promised results. “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

I did this thousands of times and respectfully observe that it is not the cure for anything significant, from my perspective. I am sure however, that at times and because of the reaction of some, the touch itself was deeply appreciated and meaningful. A church or pastor that relies ONLY on this because “it’s in the Bible, God said it, I believe it, that does it for me,” is a fool and delaying help a genuinely sick person might need to receive from professionals. I’ve seen that in my past career and it’s difficult to speak of, though I was not of the anoint only perspective.

Kind, intentioned and educated touch seems to release a person from the masks we all wear. Everyone wears masks. It’s how we survive dealing with topics that we can not speak of or will receive no understanding for even thinking about. In massage, people become more openly genuine and some want to talk, at times, about what they really are thinking. Some few might wish to vent about the office envirnoment, the company or the boss, but when sharing, most simply talk about touch and why humans are so fearful of their own thoughts and needs.

“Needs”, now there is a word for you. Our Christian culture has all but beat the idea that what one needs having any validity out of the needy. Sermon after sermon over decades has made that equal with being selfish and carnal or unconverted and “of the world.” Just say “I need” to a pastor and often his own repressions will bubble up and you will receive a lecture on how the Bible tells us this or that mainly along the lines of “doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself;” Phil. 2:3 (ASV) I always wondered if we are to count all others better than ourselves and all that implies about our own selfworth, what are others supposed to do?

Everyone needs to be safely touched. One client, long ago, was very quiet as I worked on them and then suddenly said, “don’t you think it’s funny my dad never hugged me?” We chatted a bit about that but I knew that me, a stranger, touching him set off that thought in contrast to his dad, who knew him well, never hugging him. After a few minutes he said, “I don’t think I am gay.” That was also a no brainer. Here is how it worked in his mind. “I like this touch.” “Dad never hugged me.” “Yikes, I like this and this is a guy!” “I better tell him I don’t think I’m gay so he doesn’t think I am.” Interesting huh? To him, touch was needed yet had connotations that weren’t really there, but needed to be referenced. I’m not gay by the way either.

One of the things people need to practice more is the phrase “I need.” It is not selfish or crass. It is human and is the stuff that makes relationships function at a more real and authentic level. How many relationships would be better or even saved if we learned to say, “I need you not to speak to me that way.” “I need you to be around more often.” “I need you to touch me in a way that feels caring of ME.” “I need you to listen to what I think for a change.” “I need you to give me some space.” “I need variety in my life.” “I need you to take better care of yourself.” “I need you to leave the people you don’t like, the crazy relatives, the stupid boss and the damn church out of our conversations.” “I need…” Try it sometime and you might see that others also need the same. They just didn’t know you knew anything about needs.

Others talk about what they don’t need in the way of touch in their lives. They don’t need to be grabbed, or pushed. They don’t need to be slapped or pinched crudely. They don’t need to feel used and not loved. I guess this is another whole topic.

The mask that covers topics of sexuality is a biggie for ALL people. All massage is sensual even when therapeutic as touch just is that by nature. In a safe and compassionate envirnoment, many think about the place that sex has or does not have in their lives. Human sexuality and the need to express it and experience it never goes away. I always got a chuckle about how the Bible tells us that when Moses died at 110 (maybe yes, maybe no), and that ” that Moses was one hundred and ten years of age when he died–that his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated; …” This is a coded way of saying he noticed everything and could still get excited. How they knew this, I am not sure. I guess he bragged about it. But it is an old way to affirm that the man was not dead and that he was really really alive right up until he was dead. Many people I meet feel dead because they have no touch or sexual expression in their lives.

While many fundamentally religious types will deny this aspect of human need as being merely selfish and carnal, it is very normal and very necessary for a healthy life. The most extreme sexual religious ignorance I have heard to date is of one who always prayed to God they would not experience, shall we say, the unabated force, and have to have sex with a partner just for the sake of sex. Argh… no further comment. I’d say the partner is looking elsewhere in some way.

On the other hand, those that, while very religious and faithful to their church politely listen to those in authority represent “God’s view” on these topics to them every week, are very able to say that they don’t care what the minister says and their sexuality is really none of the church’s business, which it isn’t. I find so many devote believers who sturggle against what they are taught or in many cases not taught by a church. Much of that which has to do with human sexuality in the Bible is wrong and harmful to humans. It’s archaic, middle Eastern in perspective and It does control them nicely though which is perhaps it’s intent. It also promotes much anxiety and depression which are functions of an shame, guilt, fear and anger unexpressed. I have yet to meet an anxious or depressed client that is not fearful or angry about something they feel they have no right to or is too risky to express. Think about it.

I love my gay clients. There are probably no more honest, open and compassionate types of human being. They have a nature that lends itself to that and often the experience to reinforce the benefit of that way of being and thinking. They have also dealt with a lot of rejection and had to face issues of authenticity that, again, most never face, openly. Not one I know is gay by choice but rather by nature. Not one is trying to be ungay, nor should they. Everyone is a genuine human being who knows more about themselves than most will ever dare explore. I think of the one who was “outed” by a friend at Church and was given a video tape to watch on how to not be gay. If they could not change and the video did not convince them, then they were not welcome at church. Needless to say the video just didn’t work. I asked a lesbian client once why she came to me as I was, well…a man! I knew the history of abuse and was just wondering. She said the nicest thing I have ever had said to me. “Because I love what you do, I feel safe, and you are the only man that is ever going to touch me again.” Wow..but she wouldn’t let me use that in my advertising.

Everyone needs safe touch. Touch tends to send it’s message subtley but loud and clear. A client knows if I am not present in the massage by the way touch feels. One client said he’d tell me later in the session if he wanted to go for 90 minutes instead of just an hour. From my perspective, I’d like to know now as it determines what and how I do the massage, but I just said ok. I put my hands on him and made half a pass down the back when he said, “let’s do 90.” He said when I touched him, he knew he wanted to go longer. Nice compliment. It was the touch.

On occasions there might be a person who is so stressed and so angry, that they just feel that way without saying so. It is more sensing than feeling. I can feel a bad intention and it makes for a very long hour. Sometimes you just can’t put your “finger” on it but you know that all is not well. That’s how touch works too. Just the energy people give out can inform you long before they ever get near enough to touch you. It’s why we can feel great or bad when some people walk in the room. Even without touching us, they are getting to us.

So think about how you touch and why. The mantra for many is sadly “don’t touch me,” and that also needs to be respected. I believe much obesity is a subconscious message to “stay away form me.” Research tells us that 80% of all obese females have experienced sexual abuse. Sounds high to me, but might be close. Even untouch or ungentled, as the term is used, RATS, die sooner and don’t survive surgeries as well as those who are oft gentled or touched. How much more so our partners, family members, children and even ourselves. Watch even how others soothe and touch themselves to see that even unconsciously our brain tells our hands to comfort us in time of need.

So…have you gentled someone today? Or if you need it, do you allow. from those whose intentions are right, without drama or indictment. I always tell my clients, “more touch and less rocket propelled grenades is what I always say.” They laugh, and they always say, “ain’t that the truth.” Yes it is.

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