The importance of touch
In 1991 I picked up a copy of Arthur Janov’s Primal Scream (1975) and every word in that book struck a cord of truth that compelled me to try and access my repressed pain. I got involved in rebirthing, which I was to read in a later book by the same author, is merely cathartic and relatively superficial. Seven years later, I began an undergraduate Degree in Psychology, most of which I found tedious and irrelevant. Fortunately, I took the opportunity to study The New Primal Scream (1991). In this book Janov explains how more of the human brain is related to the sense of touch than to any other sense, indicating how important this sense is. This is particularly true in relation to babies. Janov cites the case of the neo-natal ward of an impoverished hospital, which didn’t have enough humidity cribs, so the pediatrician ordered that the premature babies (for whom there wasn’t enough room), be strapped to their mother’s sides. Post testing revealed that these babies faired far better than those relegated to a highly technical box!
Janov further states that all cases of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) have occurred when the baby is left alone in a cot. Through witnessing his clients regress back to painful experiences, including those that took place when the client was a baby, Janov has come to realize that for a baby, the absence of touch is terrifying. So great is the terror of abandonment and annihilation that the baby’s innate defense mechanism in response to trauma (fear of death) is activated, which is repression. If the pain is too overwhelming the baby may die.
As I reflect on the concept of touch, I can recognise my conditioned masculine response to this notion, which is to denigrate touch to the reprehensible world of weakness, softness, and femininity. I also undertook a course in ‘Gender Studies’ during my undergraduate Degree, during which I read Victor Seidler’s Rediscovering Masculinity, (1989). He points out the divide between mind and body in Western Culture, which crystallized in the writing of Emmanuel Kant and De Carte, who was responsible for the famous quote: “I think therefore I am”. Basically in the Western tradition, the rational reasoning mind has been valorized and glorified at the expense of the body and emotion which has been denigrated and maligned as unreliable and fallible. Hence the split between mind and body has a strong historical basis in western culture and continues to have very real and damaging consequences resulting in split and damaged individuals. The fact that we as a society isolate infants either at home in cots or in childcare institutions is extremely dangerous as this sort of practice will result in alienated, troubled individuals like me!
Before Freud was castigated and ostracized by the Venetian ruling class, he reported that young women that he was seeing in his psychoanalytic clinic were suffering from sexual abuse by their fathers. The young women in Freud’s clinic were not consciously aware of their abuse for these memories had been repressed. Janov explains that when an experience is too painful, the body has an automatic response, which is to partly shut down. This process is called repression. A good analogy is the phenomenon of becoming numb from the cold. As the feeling returns, so does the pain. Similarly, repressed pain can also be accessed and brought to conscious awareness through emotional expression, and thereby restore harmony and contentment. The sanctions on emotional expression in western culture exacerbate the problem of repressed pain, which underlies the myriad of neurotic symptoms from eczema, to arthritis, addictions to cancer. As our brains shut down to the pain we lose our ability to empathise and to be compassionate. This explains the high incidence of otherwise inexplicable violent, abusive and suicidal behaviour that journalists are forever reporting.
Fortunately, I was able to convey the importance of touch and sleeping with one’s baby and breast feeding, until the baby looses interest, to Gosia when she gave birth to Julia. In fact Janov asserts that the process of vaginal delivery has essential stimulatory effects upon the newborn. Julia was vaginally delivered and has slept with Gosia every night of her first 2 and a half years but now, in order to escape the sound of me bashing my ears, Gosia lies with Julia until Julia is asleep, then moves to another room. Recently Gosia attended a conference in Beijing for a week and Julia and I watched the aeroplane vanish into the night sky. It wasn’t until half way through the night that Julia awoke, and was crying for her mommy. Through cuddling her, Julia’s sense of safety was restored. For the next two nights Julia also wanted persistent contact through the night. In subsequent nights, her need for touch progressively subsided, as the countdown to mommy’s return entered the lower numerals.
Human babies are more vulnerable than any other species and need constant contact when they sleep. Baby slings which bring the baby in contact with the adult carer are a great idea and are used around the world testifying to their validity. I hope you find this information useful. It certainly helps me to make sense of the world and more specifically our neurotic society.
You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance.
(Franklin P. Jones)
A three year old child is a being who gets almost as much fun out of a fifty-six dollar set of swings as it does out of finding a small green worm.
Kids: they dance before they learn there is anything that isn't music.
Children are one third of our population and all of our future.
(Select Panel for the Promotion of Child Health, 1981)
Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.
In the United States today, there is a pervasive tendency to treat children as adults, and adults as children. The options of children are thus steadily expanded, while those of adults are progressively constricted. The result is unruly children and childish adults.
Children are unpredictable. You never know what inconsistency they're going to catch you in next.
(Franklin P. Jones)
Children seldom misquote. In fact, they usually repeat word for word what you shouldn't have said.
Children find everything in nothing; men find nothing in everything.
(Giacomo Leopardi, Zibaldone Scelto)
Women gather together to wear silly hats, eat dainty food, and forget how unresponsive their husbands are. Men gather to talk sports, eat heavy food, and forget how demanding their wives are. Only where children gather is there any real chance of fun.
(Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960)
Anyone who thinks the art of conversation is dead ought to tell a child to go to bed.
There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.
A child can ask questions that a wise man cannot answer.