Safe Touch (Self and Other) as Therapy

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woodsgnome

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Safe Touch (Self and Other) as Therapy
« on: September 11, 2015, 11:04:15 PM »
First, let me get this bad pun out of the way—I'm very touchy about touch. Thank you.

I've long avoided considering any therapy that involves touch, but lately I feel that maybe I should, and/or find a more general somatic approach. While I do some general exercise routines (and used to love chopping wood and other “natural” exercise), I'd like to work towards relieving the body armoring and tension that I carry around.  The flip of hoping to get very far with it is my fear of any touch (even self-touch). Much of what happened in my youth was internalized and I've retreated from human touch of any sort, for the most part.

***TRIGGERS next 2 paragraphs*** I can't ever remember being touched in a nice way, either at home or at school. In the first, I was regularly a victim of the m's attacks on me, usually in bathrooms (I still have a strange aversion to bathrooms; as in “where is the quickest exit”; as a kid, I was often constipated as that room I thought of as a danger zone and sought to avoid going there at all costs; unfortunately that fed right into the m's fondness for “other” solutions for a constipated kid, which seemed to make her very happy).

***TRIGGERS CONTINUE***At the private school I attended, negative touch was also out of control. It went beyond mere corporal punishment, although there was plenty of that. One teacher had this truly awful technique of pressing down on both your shoulders while intensely staring into your eyes, holding you like this so you couldn't look away; he kept his fingers moving massage-style but maintained his fierce downward pressure all the while. There wasn't always a “reason”—he just stopped me, held me in the shoulder lock, and stared.  Perv is the mildest I can call him. Sometimes, though, it was just a prelude to his next actions, more physical than even that awful touch.
***END OF TRIGGERS***

Those sort of memories had me resisting touch of any kind for most of my life. Once in a therapy group of around 10 folks, the leader asked if we could do one thing as a group activity, to ask. So I asked the group's permission to share a short hug. It was beautiful, the first time I'd ever felt any sort of safe hug in my life. Minor detail...I was in my 40's. It's not like I didn't have any relationships, they just didn't involve much hugging. And people could sense my unspoken message if their actions resembled a hug: don't go there. I mean, shaking hands was a huge leap-of-faith for me. It's not like I'm some total wallflower around people, anymore. I've been a popular speaker, actor, teacher, etc., but when it came to touching beyond a minimum...nope. Only exception involved some hospice situations, where they felt more than okay. The prob comes with the “normal” social interaction.

Once I allowed someone to try therapeutic touch/reiki, which don't involve actual physical touch. But even those felt awkward. Instead of relaxation they couldn't get me to any level of trust with hands moving around me. I really got bold and even tried standard physical massage, even some rolfing, but I just couldn't relax enough to get much benefit.

Well, okay, I'm still an adult (surprise) or at least well along in my arrested development. So in one of my wanders around the OOTS site archive, I ran into an approach called the “butterfly hug” and found it interesting (link at bottom of this post). Although when I tried it the first time, I literally flinched back as the first step involves touching the shoulders; all I could think of was that horrid teacher's “hug”. But it was still nice, even just to think it through the way it was described.  There's another simpler technique in Kristen Neff's wonderful book “Self-Compassion” which I'm finding helpful as well.
 

As I'm sure many here probably have had a huge problem with touch, has anyone tried some of these approaches and found them beneficial? Specifically self-hugs? All I can offer you here are these sorts of hugs  :hug:  which is huge for a non-hugger. Feels good, though. Thanks for allowing me.

Okay, here's the link to the butterfly hug, courtesy of some site called OOTS:

http://outofthefog.net/C-PTSD/forum/index.php?topic=667.0

Sorry for the triggered parts...it was cathartic to spit them out.                       
« Last Edit: September 11, 2015, 11:13:24 PM by woodsgnome »

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stillhere

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Re: Safe Touch (Self and Other) as Therapy
« Reply #1 on: September 12, 2015, 12:45:54 AM »
Intuitively, I think you're on to something.  And in my recent reading about CPTSD, I've learned that trauma affects the body and is, in effect, stored neurologically.  So somatic approaches to therapy have seemed like the right direction for me too.

I don't share your experience with touch, but my life has little of it, and I've been wondering whether that deficit is related to my FOO.  I was never sexually abused (thankfully), but the body shaming was constant.  I could barely enter a room without undergoing a review and critique of my "most unattractive" appearance and hearing a litany of all the reasons no one would ever want to touch me for any but punitive reasons.  So for most of my life, I've lived in my head, treating my body as an unfortunate appendage.

Rather than focus on touch, though, I've been thinking about body-related therapies broadly.  I've recently started to learn yoga.  It was a big step, as I half expected to hear the kind of ridicule I heard in high school phys ed class in the yoga studio I tried.  But it's been fine, and I've even improved some.

I've also returned to meditation, which brings some body awareness that I wouldn't otherwise experience.  I at least find myself slouching less. 

I've read recently about somatic experiencing, which is evidently Peter Levine's trademarked system and very specific.  I think the butterfly hug is part of that system.

These measures don't necessarily involve touch (well, maybe self-touch).  But they do force the self into the body.   I'm hoping the effort will help to address my CPTSD symptoms.  I imagine otherwise that I could talk about trauma for many more years, in therapy and on line, and continue living in the haze that is my present life.  Like you, Woodsgnome, I'm hoping instead to find a way forward.

One question is what problem you're seeking to solve.  Do you want to "get over" an aversion to touch?  Develop a life with more touch in it?  Explore the possibility that your aversion is related to other CPTSD symptoms?


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woodsgnome

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Re: Safe Touch (Self and Other) as Therapy
« Reply #2 on: September 12, 2015, 02:11:12 AM »
Stillhere wrote:

"One question is what problem you're seeking to solve.  Do you want to "get over" an aversion to touch?  Develop a life with more touch in it?  Explore the possibility that your aversion is related to other CPTSD symptoms?"

It's maybe more of knowing there are safe ways of touch that won't hurt me. Perhaps it's more a quality of life issue plus developing a greater sense of comfort and ease around people.

Truly ironic in that I've literally spent lots of time in people occupations. But it's like with my acting--I'm fine performing for people, I love it in fact. I'm not fine with the crowd, in the role of being "me". Probably sounds weird--basically it's 2 stages, and the one with more separation is easier, (even if I'm not so separate from the other performers). I suspect this may be true for many performers, the sense of feeling more at ease that way.

A standard question on starting therapy, at least with the T's I had, is "are you easily startled?" No, for sure not, my hyper-vigilance is pretty alert to the environment around me, unless and until someone were to touch me, even by mistake;  that's a boundary I haven't "fixed" yet. I mean, I don't faint if it happens, but my comfort zone takes a huge hit.

The last question about the relation of touch to other cptsd symptoms, I guess it's all inclusive, they all form a unit. As to EFs, for instance, those incidents I wrote about are instant EF material just by thinking about them; but I'm not living in the world that produced the touch aversion any more.

So by appreciating that touch isn't life-threatening anymore, I can better accept the bad memory, grieve the story, and live my new story. I don't want to accept that the effect/aftershock is my destiny. The body armor reminds me, with each step, and learning a better way to be with and around touch would ease that, is my hope.

There is a couple I meet for coffee and she likes to hug; I used to not let her, now I'm kind of neutral...practicing one hug at a time, I guess.

The other part of this is I've given up on finding a T. And I think I relied too much on what I might find via that form of therapy. It's natural to want those answers that you think a T is bound to have. I've read more in some instances than those T's, and I'm kind of developing a more organized approach to what I can do myself--I still think a T might be cool as a sounding board, but if I want to turn a corner on what I feel I need I've decided I'm the only one who's going to get me there. I call it my Self-University. 
« Last Edit: September 12, 2015, 02:16:46 AM by woodsgnome »

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stillhere

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Re: Safe Touch (Self and Other) as Therapy
« Reply #3 on: September 12, 2015, 02:31:45 AM »
Yes, I think I'm doing a kind of "self-university" too.  But my T (I've been seeing her less than a year) has been encouraging the process.  She doesn't claim to have all the answers or seem to feel threatened when I bring ideas to sessions.

The touch issue seems multi-faceted.  One facet is just being comfortable with contemporary norms, which now mean hugging.  When I was a child, back in the 1950s and 1960s, hugging just wasn't done.  Touch was limited.  People might shake hands, or at least men did.  But I don't think casual hugging became prevalent until later.   

Another facet is the mind/body connection and its relationship to recovering from PTSD.  That's what I've begun  to address.  But I don't have an aversion to touch.  I'd actually like more of it.  Your story, however, hints at touch having been the source of much distress early in life.  The connection may be more direct.

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Dutch Uncle

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Re: Safe Touch (Self and Other) as Therapy
« Reply #4 on: September 12, 2015, 04:26:02 AM »
I have done 'bodywork', starting the year preceding my coming out of the FOG, and continued with it for three years. Then we stopped as we had reached the limit of what it could provide.

It was possibly more the opposite of what you describe, but it was a rather interesting concept. To clarify beforehand: safety was an integral part of it.

It was a sort of body massage, but contrary to massage the tense muscles where not massaged into relaxation. Actually when tense, 'tied in a knot', painful areas were touched physically by the 'T', a little pressure was actually applied at the spot. I was then encouraged to feel and express any associations with the pain/stress/discomfort. To focus attention to the sour spot. And to try and 'relax' the sour spot myself. "Breath into it" was the magical phrase they often used.
So in fact, discomfort stored in your body was actually actively searched for.
Safety was a major factor in the sense that I could at anytime say if it was to much or not. He would not 'press on'. The trick, the purpose was to stay as close to what was still just safe enough to feel, both physically as well as emotionally.
Quite a few traumatic memories resurfaced in this way. I reconnected with quite some feelings I had 'pushed away' and that had stored in my tissue. And my body has relaxed in many ways because of it, it has become less tense. It's been hard work though.
The sessions, about 1,5 hours were roughly split between a talk about what was happening in my life (T-session style) after which the physical session would take place. I could growl, shout, sob, speak etc during the 'massage', as I would see fit as I reacted to the touching, and memories and feelings surfaced as a consequence.

With regard to hugging: It has taken me long to be able to accept hugging, as well as giving it. But I'm slowly learning.

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tired

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Re: Safe Touch (Self and Other) as Therapy
« Reply #5 on: October 03, 2015, 07:18:14 PM »
I kind of check out. I've had massages that I barely noticed; I spend most of the hour talking. I assume some muscle tension was released.  The moments of awareness are just too much.  Growing up I didn't get a lot of touch so I'm not used to it. 

I've given up on fixing this problem and I have moved on.