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The Power of Physical Touch

Counseling Services, Couples Counseling, Couples Workshop, Self Care, Sex Therapy, Therapy Specialties

I have a soul connection with my 10-year-old son, Zachary. When I was little, instead of naming my Ken doll (of Ken and Barbie) “Ken” I always said “Zachary”. I always knew I wanted to name my son, Zachary. Then in 2007, here comes this sweet, smiling, happy baby boy. Of his 10 years, that smiling, happy, sweet boy is still there. Needless to say, I have a heart to heart connection with him. But, although natural as children move into the pre-teen world, I’m finding him not as interested in cuddle time and a little “too cool” to hang out with Mommy. Even though I recognize that this is healthy and normal development, it’s still hurts my heart a little.

One of the ways I maintain my connection with him is that I wake him up in the morning before school. He wakes up happy most of the time and we have a minute together alone to say good-morning before the busy day takes over. Just the other day, I went to wake him up and just stared down at him sleeping. I touched his face and stroked his hair. I didn’t say a word but just gently woke him up by doing this. As he fluttered those adorable eyes up at me he said, “I love you too Mommy”. I totally embrace that I’m an emotional sap so these words completely took my breath away. As he opened his eyes and saw my heart pouring out towards him, he knew it was bursting with love and his first words of the day were “I love you too”.

There is research that shows the power of physical touch. Dr. Sue Johnson did a research study examining pain reports when loved ones are holding hands and it’s significantly less than when a person is alone experiencing the same pain ( We know that Oxytocin is released when there is positive physical touch and it’s also been dubbed “the cuddle hormone”. In fact, as I’m writing this blog an article came out stating that “the more you hug a baby, the more their brains grow, according to a recent survey from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio.” (Dr. Maitre, 2017). It is very important that we don’t stop touching as adults. We know children need hugs and kisses but adults crave it too. Let’s review some opportunities where touch is safe and appropriate. My hope is that it will increase your awareness and ability to connect at an even deeper level with one another.

  1. A genuine handshake when you are introduced to someone. Yes, this seems automatic and appropriate etiquette but you can do it unconsciously or you can look the person in the eye and welcome the connection as you shake hand to hand.
  2. Take the time to greet your partner when you come home. Neuroscientist and Psychologist, Dr. Stan Tatkin has a great video on the Welcome Home Exercise that I often share with couples in therapy:
  3. Hug your parents…no matter the age, most parents will embrace this opportunity to connect with you!
  4. Cuddle on the couch while you watch TV. It’s easy to go to your separate places on the couch and get cozy but it can be close and comforting to sit together, holding hands or cuddling.
  5. Your sports team will perform better if you touch each other. “Players who made contact with teammates most consistently and longest tended to rate highest on measures of performance, and the teams with those players seemed to get the most out of their talent (Dr. Keltner, 2010). So, high five, belly bump, and fist pound as much as possible when playing sports!

I want to encourage you to take risks to touch people when appropriate and safe to do so. Sometimes, asking ahead of time if the other is comfortable with you initiating a hug or form of physical touch is important. This ensures that the other is prepared and not startled and that the person initiating hopefully isn’t left feeling rejected.

The benefits of physical touch are countless and include more happiness and contentment in their life, more oxytocin release (that happy hormone), and help to keep people connected and feeling loved. In today’s world of tech isolation, it’s even more important for us to increase our opportunities to touch and connect with each other. I was given a gift that morning by my son Zachary when he said “I love you too Mommy”. That happy feeling lasted all day long and it definitely made me aware of the power of physical touch!

This Post Written By:
Rachel Thomas, Owner, LMFT – Therapy With Heart
8737 E. Via De Commercio, Suite 200
Scottsdale, Arizona 85258
Phone: (480) 888-5380
Fax: (480) 203-2881