Touch – Dr. Lalit Chawla MD, CCFP, FCFP

We acknowledge the five senses as being sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch. These five senses are important for our survival. Most of us experience at least 4/5 of them daily, however there are many people who are severely deprived of one of the most fundamental senses – human touch. Touch, in the medical sense, is the sensation of feeling something hot, cold, sharp, soft etc. We need this sensation to navigate our physical world so we don’t walk off a cliff or cut off our fingers. But the “human touch” that I’m referring to is the one sense not always quantified or qualified in science. This sense of touch is important for us to thrive and feel alive.

There is something beautiful and soothing when you touch another human being. When my daughter hugs me or my wife embraces me I feel connected with the human race unlike any other act. The significance of touch sparks a deep level of emotional connection. Animals can also create that connection as well. I think that is why pets are so important for many people. For some, a pet may be the only form of physical contact they will have with another living being, for that day, that week, or even that year. I also think that’s why people garden; it’s soothing and life giving. People are “touched” by the feel of the air, the scent of the earth, and the beauty of nature that is constantly changing and touching us in different ways. Touch connects us with life.

As a physician, I’ve seen couples and families who lack unity.There may be many people physically in the home, but the relationships lack affirming physical contact. I sometimes ask patients when was the last time they received a pat on the back or a handshake. When was the last time they hugged their teenage children? When was the last time they received a hug? Positive touch connects people together and nurtures relationships.

My daughter, when she was four years old, had a habit of coming up to me and rubbing my arm. She would be chatting away with a friend and in the midst of her conversation would come up and rub my arm for a few seconds. It let her know that I was there, but it also let me know she was there too. It’s a great feeling of connection, no matter how brief the interaction is.

In the masculine world, it can be difficult for men to show affection by touch. It certainly has improved, especially over the last 20 years, but it is still difficult for many men to even give another person a hug without having a stigma attached to the action. A stigma that physical connection that is nurturing is not a masculine trait; nothing could be further from the truth in my opinion. Real men know how to access their entire range of emotions. Real men know that nurturing is a masculine trait.

Hug or tell someone they are special to you, it’s the one gift that expands both people.

As a physician I’ve seen many couples whose relationships are strained. They often report there is no real connection. Upon further probing, I often find that there is limited to no intimate physical connection. Many men can falsely feel that the carnal aspect of the relationship defines the physical aspect of the relationship. They can feel that hugging or holding hands isn’t important or significant. When this happens this can lead to a lack of a deeper level of connection with their partner; hence no important connections are made with their partner. When this occurs consistently, then the relationship can run into real trouble.

Single people, especially seniors, can be at high risk of experiencing a lack of physical touch in their lives. I remember one individual who was severely ill with depression, and shared with me a very touching story. He had great counselling by his physician and wonderful family support. When I asked this high functioning executive what was the single most important factor in his recovery, he said, “At the time, I never talked much as I remained inactive in the confines of my home. I had a friend who visited me frequently and he gave me a daily foot massage. No words were exchanged but I felt alive and connected. I was literally able to take my first steps to recovery. I remember thinking it was so nice to have human contact, not just human sympathy.”

We need that sense of connection and sharing. It’s worthwhile to take an inventory of the richness of your “physical” connections. When was the last time you were truly touched, or genuinely reached out and touched someone’s life? It’s really not as hard as it may seem. It’s the one thing that you can never give away without getting something valuable in return. Human touch creates empowering spiritual and mental health. Find ways to add a better level of connection in your life; it’s the one gift that expands both people in the process. It’s the one gift that truly matters.


 Dr. Lalit Chawla, MD, CCFP, FCFP
A highly sought after International Speaker, Family Physician in Chatham, Ontario, and an Adjunct Professor at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry in London, Ontario.

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