Why I Don't Want to Be Touched As Someone Whose Experienced Physical Abuse
Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced domestic violence, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by clicking “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated being touched. It’s always felt wrong and unnatural, leaving me feel trapped and isolated. I counted the seconds until I could stop hugging this relative or that, until I could crawl out of that cousins lap. I hated being forced to kiss someone on the cheek or sit silently while a family member spanked my butt as I walked by. No matter how uncomfortable or dirty I felt, I was obligated to have my personal boundaries crossed over and over again. With each new violation, I shrank smaller and smaller inside myself, until I barely took up any space at all.
So no, you don’t need to touch me.
Then there’s this evil, soulless man who ripped me apart: my final trauma before I met my husband. This man tortured my heart, wrenched my soul in a fist between uncaring fingers from where only ash escapes. He dislocated my shoulder, adding physical destruction to his list of unforgivable sins he committed against me. And now, whenever those tendons ache in the night, I think of him. When it pops back into place, he’s there. Every time, I know it’s coming and I am powerless to stop it from happening again. Whenever my attention turns to my right shoulder, he comes, unbidden; he is a predator and I am his prey. When I go for a run and that familiar cramp begins on the bottom of my shoulder blade, I feel his hands on me. When I lean too long to the right, I feel like I have to shove myself away as if I’m nestled against him. All these little reminders of pain never seem to go away.
So no, don’t wrap your arm around my shoulder.
Because when you do, everything short-circuits. My heart jumps into that place where my throat intersects with my shoulder blades. It’s like when my cockatiel flies off his perch and gets trapped between two hard places. He flaps his wings furiously and I worry that he’s going to break every little bone in his tiny body. He’s shrieking with terror, breathing rapid-fire, not really sure where he is or where he’s going, but all he knows is that he has to get the hell out of there.
And that’s exactly what it feels like when you touch me.
When you touch me without my consent, it feels like a violation. Whether it be a hug, a kiss on the cheek, holding my hand, putting an arm around my shoulders — it doesn’t matter. I didn’t say it was OK. I didn’t say yes. With someone like me, with my past; taking away my choice of engaging in physical contact feels criminal.
So no, you don’t get to touch me.
And what you might not understand, is that my soul has been flayed and ravaged so many times that I no longer recognized the right to be master over my own body. If I don’t want someone to touch me, I have earned the right to have that request respected. I deserve my “no” to be heard. I am under no such obligation to let you invade my space, to strangle the rising panic inside me, just so you can fulfill some needless social protocol. I will not compromise the safety of my comfort zones that have taken years to establish.
Maybe you think I’m “crazy,” the way I turn cold and angry as I ask you not to do that again. Maybe I’m a bitch because I won’t let you come within three feet of me because I know you’ll try to tickle me, because you’ve done it since I was a kid — so why can’t you do it now? Or maybe I’m just being dramatic, flinching or jumping to the side when you raise a hand.
When someone beats you, you learn to dodge their fists. When you’re conditioned to know that hands bring more pain than pleasure, you stay away from them. When you feel the horrible sting of someone else’s fingerprints branded against the most sacred parts of you every single day, every touch thereafter feels like sin. When being wrapped in an embrace makes your heart race, your lungs pant and your head swim – you avoid them. When you don’t remember what it’s like to be comforted by physical contact because you’ve come to fear it, there is nothing pleasant about having to shut your eyes and wait until it’s over.
So no, you don’t need to hug me. You need to respect me. Because now that I’ve fallen in love with a good man – and this wonderful, gentle man has somehow fallen in love with me too – I can recognize just how much joy can be found within a fist. Because of this man, the lesson of pain has been unlearned within his arms that shield me instead of punish me. His presence so close to me no longer suffocates me — it liberates me. But just because I no longer shrink away from physical affection from some people in my life, doesn’t give anyone else the right to come that close. I have lived through enough to have the right to choose who comes into my space and who can stay there.
So no, you don’t need to touch me. But finally, I can be touched.
If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
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Thinkstock photo via Favor_of_God