Saturday, May 2, 2015

Good touch vs. bad touch

I think 90% of the people who know me view me as an extrovert. I am friendly, personable, talkative, and wear my heart on my sleeve. But people who truly know me and understand me also know that I am secretly an introvert and can only be extroverted when I've had a chance to retreat into myself to take time to rest and replentish the energy it takes for me to go out amongst the people.

Because of that need for personal time I also often need personal space. My body will close up into a ball, almost as it was hibernating or entering into a cocoon, and I am filled with the desire to be quiet mentally and physically. In college this got me the reputation of "not being that into hugs" as one of my suitemates put it. Even though she got it wrong (I LOVE hugs---good bear hugs are the best), something inside of her sensed that, at times, I did not want to be approached in this way and she respected my need for space and thus the silent personal boundary I set up.

As a child (3 or 4 years old) I remember several times when this need was not respected and the frustration I felt because of it. One time in specific I was with several female family members and when approached for a hug I was very adamant that "no, I do not want a hug right now." I was told that I was being rude/mean and that I should accept the hug or risk hurting my family member's feelings because "she just wants to show you she loves you." After much arguing and a near hissy fit on my part I was forced to give in, reluctantly accepted the hug. Afterwards I felt frustrated and hurt that my need to not be touched was not respected. I wanted to cry, but after the earlier lecture I received I kept the feelings hidden and was silent the rest of the afternoon. No one noticed and the rest of the world kept turning.

I bring this up now because recently I have seen another blog post being circulated around Facebook about the importance of not keeping secrets in families and how this relates to sexual abuse. This kind of touch is universally accepted as being bad and so is any other kind of unwanted sexual touch (i.e. even towards adults). We, especially women, are taught from a very early age that if anyone touches you "down there" that it is not ok and you are allowed to say no. Yet somewhere it is often lost that there are other kinds of touch that are also unwanted, but because of manners and social niceties you are not allowed to reject them. The sloppy kiss from your hairy, lipstick stained great aunt. The pinch of your cheeks from your grandmother. The hug from your younger cousin. This list is exhaustive, but no matter your age, even if you do not want to, someone stands over you and says "do it, don't be fresh." Even though this is another form of unwanted touch, your personal boundaries and desires are not respected. People have a hard time recognizing that negative experiences are in the form of the person receiving the touch, comments, etc. and not the person dishing them out. I think this lends to itself to a very confusing message that children receive and given the fact that most sexual abuse occurs at the hand of someone the abusee knows, it is no surprise that it can be so easy to manipulate the victim into keeping silent and feeling confused and ashamed (I think it is also the reason why people have a hard time recognizing and stopping verbal abuse---but that is a different post).

Now don't get me wrong, I do not by any means want to equate not wanting to get a hug from a well meaning relative to sexual abuse. I am just trying to draw a parallel between all kinds of unwanted touch and the need to teach our children it is ok to have boundaries, demand respect for them, and that as adults we should not have a problem with a child saying no to us for this reason. Allowing our children to say no will not turn them into spoiled brats (good parenting ensures this). What it will do is show them that they are respected both inside and out.

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