Written by:
Amna Nawaz

When asked about the five senses, the first four senses that usually come to mind are the senses of vision, hearing, taste and smell. The sense of touch is often remembered in the last. But this sense, if utilized at the right time and place, can leave an effective psychological impact on us as humans. We have developed several non-verbal languages, cultural gestures and emotional expressions through the medium of non-sexual physical contact ranging from a kind hug, warm handshake, to an encouraging pat at the back.

Amna Nawaz works as clinical psychologist at Willing Ways, Lahore. She has done MS in clinical psychology and B.Sc (Hons.) from GC University, Lahore. Heath counseling, addiction counseling, subjective well-being and intellectual disability are her areas of interest as well as her educational expertise.

Editor: Haroon Christy

The immense advancements in digital world have decreased the chances of human touch. However, it still holds its’ unique importance and it is essential to understand its benefits in human interactions right from one’s birth. An infant gets comfort from his mother’s cuddle, caressing touch and pats; holding one’s younger sibling’s hand while crossing a busy road is a gesture of offering safety to him which inculcates a sense of security; an admiring pat at the back or on the shoulder indicates one’s encouragement and applause towards the other person which acts as a morale-booster; providing a kind hug to a friend who is hurt or in grief ensures that you are there for him which can also provide consolation to him.

Such non-verbal physical touch communicates millions of words without uttering a single word and conveys our love, care and concern for the other person. These non-verbal gestures of love can prove to be the strongest and sincere way of communication.

There are various forms of non-sexual touching. First there are the positive touches. They are universal in nature, and generally understood as an expression of warmth, love and fondness such as cuddling, hugging, patting, or smoothing. Secondly, there are the negative touches. They indicate a strong desire of hatred, hostility, disliking, disapproval, or anger. They are sudden in nature and can either be practiced out of impulse or deliberation such as slapping, hitting, pushing, punching or pounding. Thirdly, there are the ambiguous touches that depend upon the situation, the intention of the sender, and the level of sensitivity of the receiver and can be practiced either out of neutrality, mannerisms, or hidden agendas. They can include tickling, surrounding, grabbing or pointing.

Touching can show our love and concern for the other person in various ways. Since everyone is born with unique temperaments, one of which is the sensory thresholds. Everyone has different type of sensory stimulation which can incite either positive or negative responses, for example, tickling can be playful for some individuals but hostile for others, a strong hug can convey warmth to some people but suffocation or crushing for others. So, recognizing and acknowledging the receiver’s considerations regarding the touch is the first step as it shows our respect for the other person and our acceptance of him as unique entity.