"Though that mark will never fully heal…as you grow, the scar gets smaller in proportion."

This is a beautiful video by the great Ze Frank (yes, of “True Facts” fame), and young dancer Harry Shum, Jr. Using light, movement, paint, music, and voiceover, this video fully embodies what it is to be “painfully shy,” and what it is to come out of that shell at last.

If you, right now, are in a shell, you should know that you’re not alone, that there are many, many other people like you, and that there’s nothing wrong with you. It might even be necessary, right now, might keep you safe for a time. But after the danger’s gone, and after it’s exhausted its use, you’ll find a way out. You may need help. You might need to work pretty hard, and you may need to find some ways to laugh at yourself. Or, find a passion, or a friend. But you will find it.

To me, this beautifully elucidates the journey we must take, from within ourselves, to make contact with others. Sometimes through pain, sometimes through laughter, sometimes through brute force and at other times through slow growth.

Here’s to all of our healing.

“Though that mark will never fully heal…as you grow, the scar gets smaller in proportion.”

This is a beautiful video by the great Ze Frank (yes, of “True Facts” fame), and young dancer Harry Shum, Jr. Using light, movement, paint, music, and voiceover, this video fully embodies what it is to be “painfully shy,” and what it is to come out of that shell at last.

If you, right now, are in a shell, you should know that you’re not alone, that there are many, many other people like you, and that there’s nothing wrong with you. It might even be necessary, right now, might keep you safe for a time. But after the danger’s gone, and after it’s exhausted its use, you’ll find a way out. You may need help. You might need to work pretty hard, and you may need to find some ways to laugh at yourself. Or, find a passion, or a friend. But you will find it.

To me, this beautifully elucidates the journey we must take, from within ourselves, to make contact with others. Sometimes through pain, sometimes through laughter, sometimes through brute force and at other times through slow growth.

Here’s to all of our healing.

Pain and pleasure as emotions

On a recent edition of Science Friday, I encountered an interview with neuroscientist Francis McGlone, whose research into touch-sensitive nerves has changed the landscape for how science understands touch in humans.

It was already known that there are what might be called fast nerves and slow nerves. The first carry sensation to the brain in milliseconds; these are the nerves that make you draw back when you touch a hot plate. The slower nerves carry the message over the course of several seconds: these are the nerves that process the burning sensation afterward.

What was a relatively new finding was that there are also slow nerves – called C fibers – associated with pleasant touch. These are known as C-tactile fibers, and convey what McGlone calls the emotional quality of touch.

When a person is stroked gently, these slow nerve fibers process the sensation as a feeling, transmitting to the brain a feeling of pleasure. These nerves, though, also work with the brain to interpret the feeling and put it in context: if someone you can’t stand is touching you, for example, the pleasant touch won’t be experienced as pleasant. Similarly, a painful sensation won’t be experienced as quite so painful when it’s in an expected or familiar context: for example, getting hair pulled out at the salon.

These slow nerve fibers, then, are the conduits that help our bodies translate the sensation of touch into an emotional experience of the world, from the breeze on our face to the sand between our toes to a reassuring touch on the shoulder.

A more detailed discussion of McGlone and others’ work in this arena is here, in an article from The Scientist.

What this research made me think of in the context of Rubenfeld Synergy was how developmentally, the type and amount of touch we receive as infants and children helps determine how our brains form socially.  In the above interview, McGlone calls the brain “a social organ,” and talks about how the earliest touch we receive helps us develop affectively. This, to me, points to how many people’s wiring gets crossed early on, and what is meant to be pleasant touch, received from inappropriate sources or in sexualized or otherwise inappropriate ways, may wire a person’s brain to perceive pleasant touch as unsafe or even painful.

One role that touching healers, like Synergists, can potentially play is in helping clients rewire their nervous systems to be able to receive pleasant touch, by exposing them to non-sexual, boundaried, gentle contact in a healing context. This is tricky and sensitive work, but I have hope for its healing properties.

Fostering consent culture – making touch safe for kids and adults

My friend and colleague Christine Kraemer wrote over at the Patheos website recently about how desperately kids need touch – not just for emotional development, but literally for biological development – and how that touch is being systematically taken away in many school environments and elsewhere. More and more, non-parent adults are not allowed to hug children, kids are not allowed to touch each other, and the entire culture of touch and kids has been boiled down to preventing sexual abuse.

But it turns out that if infants don’t receive enough touch, they can literally die. And even older children can experience developmental delays from lack of touch early on, and violence in teenagers has been correlated with neglect. In the attempt to protect our children from predators, we are contributing to a world where our children, deprived of touch, may grow up to become them.

In this culture, then, a shift needs to occur. One pathway in this direction is toward a consent culture: where asking permission to touch, and believing that each individual is the best judge of whether they want to receive it, is the norm. The more we cultivate this culture of consent, the more we make asking – and not just denying, but also granting! – permission the norm, the more safe touch we cultivate in the world.

Christine includes some great exercises for elementary aged kids in her post, to help practice asking, saying no, and saying yes. It reminded me a lot of this post of mine that was very popular some time back, describing kids playing with splashing in the pool. Both of these things make me wish that this topic was alive when I was a child – painfully shy, introverted, weird, and often picked on and touched in ways I didn’t want but had no tools to stop. The idea of touching other kids or being touched on purpose never even occurred to me, though I longed to belong to a group. I believe that teaching kids how to ask for touch, how to refuse it or accept it, and how to respect others’ boundaries and personal space could go a long way, not just toward getting people the touch they need to grow, but toward alleviating loneliness, shyness, and fear.

Go read.