I came across the above-named article today and just knew I HAD to include it here as it so deeply resonated with me.
Before going to the article I thought I’d share my journey in relation to physical touch.
Touch has been a HUGE issue for me. Apart from occasional hugs from friends I lived without physical touch for a quarter of a century.
After a childhood filled with sadistic violence the mere thought of touch terrified me. I remember after I was raped at the age of 20 thinking “no-one gets anywhere near me ever again.” It was the only way I knew to protect myself. But it kept me alone and totally starved of touch and affection.
I remember feeling like I was untouchable and longing for touch yet terrified of it. If someone did touch me I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t want them to know how desperate I was for that touch. I also didn’t want them to know I couldn’t deal with being touched at the same time. I didn’t want them to know how awkward I felt about touch. I didn’t want them to how the extent of my touch starvation and my fear.
Touch was so connected with pain in my mind and emotions I had to shut it out of my life completely.
A life without touch has been very hard and lonely. There were many times I didn’t even feel human. I felt untouchable because I couldn’t cope with the mere hint of touch. It added to my isolation and aloneness.
In May 2011 my CPN suggested I think about therapeutic massage as a safe way of introducing touch back into my life. She said the look of horror that crossed my face when she suggested that is something she’ll never forget. I remember jerking out “Massage? No one touches me!” I shocked myself with my reaction. It shocked me so much that I went away and thought long about my reaction and how I felt when she suggested it. It was a feeling of sheer terror. I also thought a lot about how I’d gotten to that point in my life. I realised it was a good idea and that I had to give it a go. I contacted the charity my CPN had suggested and had a chat with them. I began seeing a counsellor and slowly opened up to her and discussed the issue of touch, what my CPN suggested and my reaction to it. After 3 ½ months of weekly counselling sessions the charity was firmly established for me as being totally safe which enabled me to face my fear and decide to give massage a go.
I began seeing a massage therapist mid September 2011. My massage therapist has been doing massage for over 20-years and has worked with many sexual abuse survivors so really understood how huge this issue was for me. We negotiated where I was willing for her to touch me. To start with I had a massage every 3-weeks which meant I had 5 massages before Christmas. I began with just my neck and shoulders during the first 2 massages. During my first 2 massages everywhere she touched me hurt. My body translated touch as being pain. It was only in my 3rd massage that touch no longer hurt. I hadn’t expected my body to react that like! On the day of my 3rd massage I agreed to take my top off but retained my bra so she could do some of my back. It was a massive step on the day of my 4th massage when I agreed to her undoing my bra so she could massage my entire back. I dissociated a lot during my first 5 massages and had to keep reminding myself why I was having the massage and that it was safe and my choice.
Since the New Year I’ve had 5 more massages, now at 2-week gaps. I’ve gradually become more and more ‘present’. During my last massage 10 days ago I was astounded at how present I was throughout. I guess I was present for about ¾ of the hour, which was just incredible.
It still feels really odd when she unclasps my bra at the beginning of every massage. It’s a very weird and strange feeling. I have to remind myself this is safe and totally non-sexual. I cope with the uncomfortable feeling and the stab of fear by reminding myself of the context and that I’m choosing this for positive and healing reasons.
My massage therapist has been very sensitive, gentle and understanding throughout and has gone at my pace. When I go for massage next week I’ll be taking a HUGE step of allowing her to massage my lower back which means I’ll have to undo my jeans though I won’t have to remove them. It may sound like a small step but for me it’s MASSIVE!
I’m very glad that physical touch is back in my life now, even if it’s only 1 hour every two weeks. I’m beginning to feel human again. I’m beginning to notice my body and be more aware of how it feels. I’m starting to allow myself to feel the massage, to feel what it feels to be touched, to be massaged. I’ve a long way to go but wow, I would never ever have believed any kind of touch possible, never mind planned regular touch. It makes me feel less of an object and more like a human being which is amazing!
And now to the article... here are short excerpts from the article which cover the main points -
“The deeply felt pain of touch deprivation is very real and almost unbearable for many survivors.Adult survivors of child abuse and neglect who learned that no matter what they did they couldn’t stop the abuse, internalized a belief of helplessness of even getting healthy touch. They see themselves as some anonymous entity not worthy of close human interaction and/or believe no one cares enough about them to reach out. It is an extremely debilitating, psychological problem.It is important to understand that for a survivor to just “ask” someone to touch them is a big step.Over time, with healthy people respecting the survivor’s wishes, touch can be the pleasurable experience it was meant to be.”
The complete article can be read at - http://www.wearesurvivors.org/?p=2929