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Trauma Made Me Dislike Something Most Humans Need to Live

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

For most of my life, I’ve just felt “weird.” When I looked at people moving through their lives, I saw fearless people who seemed drawn to deep intimate relationships with other people. They would embrace boldly or stand close to each other, grasping the other person’s forearm as they talked or wrap an arm around the other one’s shoulders. Touching others not only seemed to connect them but also in some way empower them. The most baffling part of all of this to me was that they seemed to like it.

The truth is, I don’t like to be touched. What I once wrote off as just being “weird” or a nod to my introverted self, I now know is from trauma.

I spent my life thinking that other people were just too touchy-feely and something was wrong with them to make them want to touch someone else. My personal bubble didn’t need to be popped by someone reaching out to touch my arm or rub my back. I blamed a lot of my aversion to touch on my love of being an introvert. I had my own space that others didn’t need to invade. You leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone and we’ll all get along. It sounds great but humans need touch to live. The more I withdrew, the deeper the ache for a touch I didn’t like grew within me.

There’s never been a point in my life where I remember loving touch. I’ve always been the person who steps back out of arm’s reach or I’ve learned how to turn my body in a way where when I hug someone, our bodies have the least points of contact humanly possible.

There’s touch I can handle. Fist bumps are always good. Handshakes are tolerable. High-fives are quick and easy. 

There’s touch from certain people I can handle and that I need. My husband wrapping his arms around me comforts me. My kids curling up next to me feels whole. My closest friends sitting thigh to thigh with me after a tough day is the small connection I need to keep going.

There’s also touch I cannot handle. A stranger brushing against me in the store when they invade my personal space? My heartbeat races into a panic mode. A friend grabbing me into a hug without warning? I hate it. Side hugs? No. Someone, even a close friend, rubbing my arms or back? It makes me want to throw up.

For so many years, I avoided touch but I didn’t understand why, or the full negative impact that being touched had on my life. It wasn’t until I started walking through trauma recovery and overcoming the repressed memories that had started to destroy my life that I realized not liking touch is “normal” for victims of trauma. 

Once I realized my aversion to touch didn’t make me weird, I started being able to tell my closest friends that I just didn’t like to be touched. One friend encouraged me to be bold in letting other people know as well that there are ways I prefer to be touched. Now, rather than dealing with rising panic as a new acquaintance touches my arm after shaking my hand, I politely tell them beforehand that I prefer them not to touch me at all. If I’m going to an appointment with a doctor or dentist, who will have to touch me, I can be bold in letting them know I don’t like to be touched and that I need them to inform me before they do touch me in any way. 

My truest friends pause and ask if they can hug me before we part ways. It’s a little validation from them that they understand me while also letting me remind myself they’re safe before they touch me. 

As I travel deeper down the road of trauma recovery, my aversion to touch has gotten much worse. Now, a hug sends a full-body shiver down my spine and sometimes I have to remind myself to breathe. Too many people bumping into me in the slightest way in a crowded space overwhelms me. Some days, I wear layers to cut down on the sensation of clothes rubbing against my body. My upper arms and shoulders are off-limits to everyone.

Touch is hard for me, especially in a time when I’m constantly reminded of a touch I didn’t want, a type of touch that destroyed my childhood.

But in this space, I’m also learning how to protect myself by letting people know my boundaries with physical touch. It’s not perfect. Somedays I still let people touch me in ways that send every nerve firing on high alert because I’m ashamed to ask them to stop. Most days, though, I’m able to remind myself I am able to embrace touching with safe people in my life. Even though I hate being touched, I’m working toward taking back the power of touch in my life. Rather than focus on the touch that destroyed me, I’m learning that touch can be a healthy form of love and compassion. Little by little, I’m working on teaching my body the good power of touch and letting that replace the bad memories my body holds onto so tightly.

Photo by Romina Farías on Unsplash

Originally published: March 16, 2020
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