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,