abnormal psychology, life, mental health, mental illness, psychology

Compassionate Touch Blog Part 2 / When Physical Touch is Unwelcome

While most people have a positive neurochemical response to compassionate touch, some people have had their normal response damaged. If touch is associated with abuse the brain may become trained to release stress hormones when the person is touched in any way.

People that have been sexually or physically abused may have severe anxiety when they are touched by another person. This is due to an adaptation of the brain in order to protect the person from harm. Instead of releasing oxytocin and other feel good chemicals , the brain will release stress hormones such as cortisol into the body , in response to touch.

If you notice that someone cringes at a pat on the shoulder or pulls back when people get close to them, it is best to respect their right to deny any physical contact. Forcing a triggering event onto someone can cause them extreme distress and a flashback to their original trauma.

Once someone has been conditioned in this way, the trauma has to be dealt with before they will be able to tolerate anything that is a reminder to them of  their past (or present)  trauma. The fear of being touched is a post traumatic stress response.

People in domestic abuse situations may react in an unwelcoming way to being approached too closely. They may still have muscle memory of being touched in certain ways. Abusers will use tactics like putting their feet on the victim or swatting them with things that is meant to be degrading.


This can carry over after the person is no longer in the abusive relationship. It can cause problems with the next relationship they are in but with love and understanding the couple can work through it.

Adults of childhood abuse. may also have post traumatic stress disorder, that is triggered by touch. This is  deep emotional and mental scar. There are extreme fear responses in the brain that take over to try to protect the victim from any potential threat.  The trauma needs to be healed in order for the person to feel comfortable and safe.

In some cases, it is only a particular type of approach that is triggering to the person. They may react in a defensive way and not even be aware of the reaction. I posted a poem a while ago, about a reaction I used to have to anyone reaching near or across my face. ( I may reblog it today if I have time.)

If someone was reaching for the ketchup at dinner and happened to reach across me, near my head or face, I would throw up my hand in front of my face as a protection. I was completely unaware of the reaction until someone pointed it out to me, It was purely a reflex.

This is an example of a very mild reaction. There are people that have been through much more severe abuse than I was and their reaction may  be much stronger than blocking their face. They might shake and cry when someone touches them. Sometimes children will curl up or fight back with violence.

When I did my internship for college, I had a three month experience in an elementary school. There was a boy who reacted will an obvious pulling back when a teacher touched him on the shoulder.

Any teacher or child care provider who sees this happen on a regular basis should consider the possibility that the child could be currently in an abuse situation. If you feel that something is wrong, you should contact a supervisor.

Other types of people also have an aversion to touch. It does not always indicate an abuse situation. Children with autism do not always respond to pats on the back the way other children do. They may not be as affectionate with their parents. So , unusual behavior can be an indicator that the brain is wired differently for a variety of reason.

Compassionate touch can be very healing to most people when it is welcome. Part of being empathetic and compassionate is being observant and respectful of other people.

As always my hope is for Peace and Harmony for all of you,


10 thoughts on “Compassionate Touch Blog Part 2 / When Physical Touch is Unwelcome”

  1. I have had flashbacks and then react violently to playful wrestling. If I am pinned, for whatever reason, I will struggle like my life depends upon it. I have also dissociated and essentially regressed to a nonverbal state. Pretty horrific to hear about it afterwards.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It depends how much having that issue bothers you. You can try to ask people to respect your feelings about it.

      Anyone should tell you before they touch you and why they are touching you. I always let my clients know . Although I see other people that do not respect people’s right to be informed prior to touching them.
      Maybe I am more sensitive to it because of my past experiences.

      If you feel like you are missing out on something and it makes you feel sad, then that would be something you might want help with.

      When I want to hold someone’s hand, I usually hold out my hand , palm up, for them to consider. Then 90 percent of the time, they reach out for my hand. I have tried to teach this to people.

      It puts the choice back into the world of the receiver of my comfort.

      I am constantly frustrated with people not respecting the basic human choices of another person.

      It is always nice to hear from you 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so glad you have brought this up. I have two sons. One of them, if you go to touch him, will actually flatten himself against the floor or the wall in an effort to avoid being touched by most people besides me. The other is on the autism spectrum, and cannot feel touch unless it is very firm (playing tag with him is interesting). Both have a background of trauma. I do ask my children if they want to hug people hello or goodbye, but I never force them to hug or force them to submit to being touched. I want them to be firm with their boundaries and respectful of the boundaries of others. Forcing touch can be traumatic, indeed, and I believe that it teaches children that their bodies are not their own. That is a very scary thing to teach our young and vulnerable.
    I have some issues with things coming close to my face, too. I startle very easily. It’s embarrassing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your thoughts. It is a difficult world to navigate through. It seems like nothing is simple these days. Being a mom is very hard in this world. I am struggling to find the right things to do . I know you are trying , as i am. I wish i could back up in time and prevent any trauma to my kids.

      Liked by 1 person

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