The healing effect of a loving physical contact is a basic human experience in all cultures. It is an experience that is – or at least should be – very familiar to us.
And yet I had to make the astonishing observation – not only with myself but also in everyday therapeutic life – how strongly we people from the urban world have lost touch with our bodies, no matter how much we do sports and take care of our health.
When I speak of body-reference I don’t think about it as “relation to the object-body” but rather as the subjective “experience in my body”; on one hand as experience from outside when I touch myself or when I am touched, on the other hand as experience from inside, by consciously perceiving what happens in my body – as far as this is possible at all.
But it would go beyond the scope of this article if I were to go into detail about the variety of phenomena and all the techniques and methods that are prevalent today. From a therapeutic point of view, however, the body experience is of fundamental importance.
In natural science teaching, body touch is barely addressed. SCHMIDT quotes in his review only one study dealing with this question:
“Already WATSON (1930-1968) had concluded from observations of infants that there are stimuli that trigger fear behavior via innate mechanisms. Sudden loss of hold when dropping or pulling away the standing ground and loud noises are such triggers. Obstruction of the freedom of physical movement he saw as an innate trigger condition for rage. As unconditioned stimuli for ‘love’ in a very broad sense, he discovered stroking (especially of the ‘erogenous zones’), gentle cradling and patting.”
We depend on physical nearness
According to GABY MIKETTA and CLAUDIA TEBEL-NAGY, a Swedish physiologist has attempted to study “the effects of touch: if you pierce a rat’s paw with a small needle, its cortisol levels rise; if you tickle its paw with a toothbrush, cortisol drops. Physical touch also causes oxytocin levels to rise.
Caressing a rat that is used to humans 40 times per minute for five minutes allows all the known oxytocin effects to be observed: Cortisol drops as does blood pressure, glucose levels rise and muscle tension drops. One may assume that the rat feels the same way as any cat or dog that is caressed. It is just as true for humans. We depend on physical nearness, attention, tenderness and skin contact and need this throughout our lives, not only as babies. Only then do we feel satisfied all around.“
That therapy methods, from the well-established Reiki laying on hands, Cranio-Sacral Therapy, and all the many newer body therapies associated with GEORG GRODDECK, EVA GINDLER and WILHELM REICH have an unmistakable connection to both, being love and excited love, is obvious.
The body seems to be off-limits
At the same time – and here we once more encounter the problem of taboo mentioned at the top – the push-off of these body-related therapies into the alternative scene outside of the official methods taught by university chairs, seems more than just coincidental. Perhaps the idea behind is that the higher human development in the context of increasing socialization could only be achieved through renouncing bodily experiences of happiness, i.e. through what FREUD described as the higher evaluation of the reality principle to the pleasure principle.
Anyway, it remains to be hoped that especially on the basis of the findings from prenatal research, the reference to the body in the context of the mental development of a human being, will be recognized by psychiatry not only verbally.
Despite the socially and emotionally highly explosive nature of body contact and the resulting fears and desires of therapists, it is appropriate to draw practical consequences from these findings. The fact that individual body therapists abuse their particular form of therapy does not fundamentally speak against this treatment; it only points to a fundamental problem of sozialization, quasi as the tip of the enormous iceberg of bodily contact not lived or experienced as damaging.
Socialization complicates the access to being love
Within the development of history, being love is a precognitive state. It corresponds to an experience during a phase of life in which physiological regulatory processes follow patterns in which predominantly older areas of the brain are operating.
As described in Physiology of Emotions, these processes occur primarily foremost in the limbic system, an important area of the midbrain, with the thalamus and amygdala as key switch points. As long as we leave ourselves to the subcortical process however, we do not have the situation under rational control. How threatening this can be for us civilized people, I have shown in connection with the quality of being love “spaceless” or rather “emptiness”.
I already have referred to the period between the 12th and the 24th month of life, which is crucial for human development. Typically, we look at this phase in the child’s life from the perspective of enormously growing cognitive abilities and the widening capacity to relate. That at the same time there is an adaptation of spontaneous behavior to normative action we regard as necessary evil, a price to pay for the blessings associated with growing up and becoming integrated in society.
Fear as driving engine to block being love
We know that anxiety from a very early age is central as driving engine for most disciplinary rituals in our performance society. We try to control the fears of life by thinking; an ever-increasing need for security is the inevitable consequence.
Most people in our society know nothing of the greatest loss, the blocked relationship to the experiential world of the primary self and being love. It only is to be perceived in “longing for paradise”. Satisfaction is sought in material form according to the values of Western society, misunderstood and deformed. We try to compensate not only the “loss of paradise” but also the loss of feelings by the never ending craving for material goods.
“The world belongs to him who does not feel”,
as if we had never been in touch
with the spontaneous living
of a natural child.
Undoubtedly socialization is vital for humans as social beings. But the price is high; alienation from “ourselves” makes us ill. Millions of sensitive people pay for it with mental disorders; the high suicide rate in the affluent society is probably related to this.
The astronomical sums spent on compensatory satisfactions, on anxiety-relieving and “calming” drugs as well as the extent of energy expended to achieve these compensatory goals confirm that the vast majority of those who seem to benefit of this society also suffer from this loss more than they admit. As a side effect, with every environmental report it becomes more and more obvious that we are about to drag the environment, the immeasurable diversity of animals and plants into the maelstrom of our artificial worlds.