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Friday, January 9, 2015

How Touch Affects Your Children: The Devastating Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect


Originally published on Yahoo Contributor Network May 25, 2009

Telling your children you love them is not as powerful a reassurance as demonstrating your love for them, and depriving your children of genuine physical affection can have devastating consequences. Years ago many motorists had this sticker affixed to their bumpers: Have you hugged your child today? Many of those stickers have disappeared, along with their message. We become so wrapped up in our own lives that we don't have time to show our children affection anymore. We come home exhausted and we still have to cook for them, bathe them, clean up after them, and shop for them. We use grueling work hours as excuses for not stopping long enough to just hold them and hug them for a few minutes - "Not now - I'm busy." Do we really need to spend more time showing them affection?

In a word: Yes. We can't afford to ignore our children's need for physical affection. Here is why:
While much research has been devoted to the visual, auditory, and olfactory senses, very little research has been conducted on the subject of touch, specifically, its neglect. Volumes have been written on physical and sexual abuse, and many books and articles have been written on the healing properties of touch, but the consequences of its absence can be glimpsed only in sporadic sentences in college psychology texts. More has been written about neglect of touch on monkeys than on human beings, despite the infinitesimally small amount of human research indicating that more needs to be conducted.
Before our eyes see clearly, before we understand what we hear, and long before we identify taste or smell, we feel. Touch is one of the first sensory foundations from which we gain knowledge about life.
We are as affected by touching others as we are by others touching us. If exercised sensitively and wisely, touch in the form of affection and nurturing heals us.
But abusive (physical and/or sexual) touch, if exercised to its fullest expression, may result in our death, either physical or spiritual.
Being deprived of touch can drain us of life, too - physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.
Not all people who are abused or neglected die, however. Those who survive after having lived through abuse and/or neglect sometimes exhibit abnormal behavior due to insufficient and inappropriate expressions of love.
In the beginning we are bathed in the comfort of an amniotic sac. After our entrance into the "real world" we meet, hopefully, with embraces by people who care for us. Babies know when they are being held warmly or lovingly, and they recognize when they are being injured, molested, or physically deprived of touch.
Although no research has been conducted specifically on the effects of abnormal behavior in relation to touch deprivation, I believe the information provided here implies abnormalities in behavior due to either neglect or abuse, since evidence clearly indicates a connection between abnormal physical growth and the absence of touch - our emotions are carried by the physical apparatus which supports them.
Most research on the effects of touch has been conducted on animals, but evidence provided here will indicate strong parallels between animals and humans, both of which (or whom) have been neglected or abused.
People have been abusing each other since Cain killed Abel. But the proliferation of abuse probably accelerated with the publication of a booklet written by Luther Emmett Holt, Sr. over 100 years ago (1894), entitled, The Care and Feeding of Children. Mr. Holt was the Professor of Pediatrics at New York Polyclinic and Columbia University. According to Ashley Montagu, author of Touching, Holt's booklet was comparable, in its reign as the supreme authority on child rearing, to Dr. Spock during his time.
Holt admonished parents for rocking their babies and for picking them up when they cried. According to Holt, babies were to be fed "by the clock." Sadly, Holt also advised parents that too much handling would spoil their babies.
By the time Holt's booklet was in its 15th printing, John B. Watson had already published Behaviorism and consumers had been reading it for eleven years. According to Mariette Hartley, author of Breaking the Silence (1991) and John B. Watson's granddaughter, Hartley "got chills" when she read the book that exposed her grandfather's beliefs (Touching), "The child's wishes, needs, feelings are treated as if they did not exist. Unsound as this thinking is, and damaging as it has been to millions of children, many of whom later grew up into disturbed persons, the behavioristic, mechanistic approach to child-rearing is still largely with us."
Montagu considered professor John Broadus Watson (known as "Big John" to Hartley) of Johns Hopkins University to be "The man responsible...the man to thank," for society's mechanical treatment of children.
From Watson's Behaviorism, we find testament supporting Montague's words: "The child quickly learns that it can control the responses of nurse, parents and attendants by the cry, and uses it as a weapon thereafter...Tears, in all probability are also conditioned very quickly since they are a much more effective means of controlling the movements of nurses and parents than is dry crying."
How many parents followed Holt's and Watson's advice? What repercussions did that advice have on their children, their grandchildren - and today - their great grandchildren? When parents listen to "experts" and deny their own reasoning skills, the effects can be destructive, as Hartley reveals in the effects of Big John's treatment of his own children, most of whom were brought up with what he termed, "minimal fixations":
Billy, a highly respected psychiatrist, attempted suicide twice; his second attempt was successful.
Little John suffered throughout childhood with "a queasy stomach and intolerable headaches." He ultimately "died in his early fifties of bleeding ulcers."
Uncle Jimmy suffered continually from "chronic stomach problems but, after intensive analysis, is alive and doing very well (as of 1991)."
And Polly? "My mother...attempted suicide over and over and over and over."
Today many people would accuse Mr. Watson of child abuse, but abuse is particularly difficult to determine if the intent is to enlighten people. Intent or no intent, however, the manifestation of abuse is diverse. Sexual promiscuity may be one manifestation of abuse and/or neglect.

As stated in The Courage to Heal, written by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, "If abuse was your sole means of getting physical contact when you were a child, you may continue to look for closeness only in sexual ways. You may become promiscuous or try to meet nonsexual needs through sex."
Issues of trust are confusing to sexually abused victims. Safe touch becomes important, but trusting that it is genuinely safe is not always easy. "Many of the women I work with are starved for safe touch (from The Courage to Heal)."
Starvation for touch, any kind of touch, results from being deprived of physical affection. Evidence exists to support the effects of touch deprivation on arrested growth, from experiments performed on rats and monkeys to reported findings of institutionalized humans.
In a January 1992, Reader's Digest article, Lowell Ponte reported these findings: "...touch stimulates certain hormones...including those that facilitate food absorption." Quoting University of Washington nursing professor Kathryn Barnard, Ponte reports that the "more a mother holds her baby, the more aware she is of the baby's needs." Touch confirms and refines what the eyes see. Without this confirmation, the child's sense of perception may become distorted, and emotional growth retarded.
The article further discussed the importance of powerful stress chemicals called glucocorticoids that can cause, among other things, "impaired growth and damage to brain cells."
Michael Meaney, a researcher at the Douglas Hospital Research Center at McGill University in Montreal, "discovered that when baby rats are handled during the first to third week of life, they develop many more receptors that control the production of glucocorticoids .." Meany further reports that "...receptors produced by touching in infancy remained throughout the rats' lives...rats denied touch as babies suffered memory loss and brain damage in old age from exposure to glucocorticoids...Human brains have the same kind of chemistry and cell receptors as rats regarding glucocorticoids  so it seems possible that our response to being handled as infants is similar."
More evidence points to the physical development as being hindered remarkably by the absence of touch. In his book, Touching, Ashley Montagu points out that, "The early development of the nervous system of the infant is to a major extent dependent upon the kind of cutaneous stimulation it receives. There can be no doubt that tactile stimulation is necessary for its healthy development...The evidence indicates clearly that the skin is the primary sense organ of the human infant, and that during its reflex attachment period it is tactile experience that is critical for continued growth and development."
Montagu further states, "It was in 1915 that Dr. Henry Dwight Chapin, the distinguished New York pediatrician, in a report on children's institutions in ten different cities made the staggering disclosure that in all but one institution every infant under two years of age died...it was customary to enter the condition of every infant on the admission card as hopeless."
Lack of "mother love" was discovered to be responsible for the high mortality rates in these institutions. "At Bellevue Hospital in New York, following the institution of 'mothering' on the pediatric wards, the mortality rates for infants under one year fell from 30 to 35 percent to less than 10 percent...What the child requires if it is to prosper, it was found, is to be handled, and carried, and caressed, and cuddled, and cooed to..."
Helen Colton further supports this evidence when she relates an experience of Dr. Rene Spitz, in her book, The Gift of Touch. In comparing an unsanitary orphanage where babies were rocked, affectionately fondled, talked to, and sung to with a highly sanitized hospital where infants were well-fed but suffered from a disease called marasmus (a wasting away of the flesh without obvious physical cause), Spitz found that "Touched babies thrived, while those who were left alone in bassinets tended to become ill, their cells dying of touch starvation."
Awareness of the value of caressing in relation to the development and flourishing of the child was found as early as the thirteenth century. As Montagu relates, "It is recorded of Frederick II (1194-2350), Emperor of Germany, (that) he wanted to find out what kind of speech and what manner of speech children would have when they grew up if they spoke to no one beforehand. So he bade foster mothers and nurses to suckle the children, to bathe and wash them, but in no way to prattle with them..."
In this way the Emperor hoped to discover the language the children chose to speak, but "he laboured in vain because the children all died."
The thirteenth-century historian Salimbene, the recorder of this information, further concurred that "...they could not live without the petting..."
According to Ashley Montagu from his audiotape, Ashley Montague Speaks...On Man's Neglected Sense of Touch, cutaneous stimulation may be the most important factor in the birthing process. Montague states that contractions stimulate the skin to signal organ functioning. He believes that this hypothesis is based on observations made of animals licking their young when they are first born.
Humans used to (and many probably still do) think it was a matter of cleanliness, but evidence now supports the hypothesis. Montagu believes that in humans, contractions serve the purpose of stimulating the infant's organs: the prolonged period of labor in humans and apes with long periods of contractions of the uterus on the skin of babies activates all of their systems. Studies on preemies delivered by Cesarean section show that their organs are not as fully developed as those delivered vaginally; preemies exhibit lack in respiratory functioning and later, difficulty in bowel and bladder control.
The effects of touch deprivation are clearly illustrated in Montagu's recapitulation of findings from Harlow's experiments with monkeys. The monkey's attachment to a soft, warm, but unresponsive dummy indicates that tactile nourishment, even with a surrogate, is as important as the need for physical nourishment. Montague claims that even when they were in intense physical distress, baby monkeys clung tightly to the surrogate.
Like monkeys, humans require touch. Colton relates that "to thrive, newborns must be fed touch as much as food."
In his audiotape, Montagu spoke of the ability to express affection; he quoted 18th century philosopher Sebastion Chamfoot who said, "Love is merely a manifestation of the sense of touch."
Is it any wonder that sexually abused individuals have a distorted perception of love? According to Bass and Davis, the abuse "permeates everything; your sense of self, your intimate relationships, your sexuality, your parenting, your work life, even your sanity."
Because the only true research conducted on the negative effects of touch is related in books such as the one written by Bass and Davis, it is here specifically that we find the survival techniques associated with abnormal behaviors. Although many victims resort to minimizing, rationalizing, and forgetting to deal with the abuse, others resort to behaviors that fall within the range of abnormal.
Sexually abused victims may "split" their abusers into two separate identities. Because, as children, they did not have the capacity to recognize that good and bad aspects can belong to the same individual, children split the abuser into the "good abuser" - the one they had to live with or see often - and the "bad abuser" - the one present during the abuse. That survival mechanism allowed them to cope with the abuse.
Survivors also split themselves in two. As recorded in The Courage to Heal, while the abuse is happening, children "...often numb their bodies so they will not feel what is being done to them. Others actually leave their bodies and watch the abuse as if from a great distance."
If the only physical touching people receive is abusive, it stands to reason that they are neglected when it comes to positive, affectionate touch.
At the extreme end of abnormal behavior, we find self-mutilation, suicide attempts, addiction and isolation. As one survivor related, "...the way I usually think of (hurting myself) is cutting myself with a knife. It's a feeling that the pain inside is so bad, that if I cut myself, it'll come out."
Demonstrations of genuine affection play a positive role in the establishment of healthy self-esteem in adults as well as in children. Denying loved ones appropriate, genuine physical affection can have disastrous consequences for not only the receiver but also the giver of affection.
While it is true that death is a consequence of touch deprivation and abuse, other forms of death result as well. Nobody attends any wakes, nobody plants flowers on any graves, and you can't discern victims from non-victims by the way they look. They carry their scars on the inside and only through behavior can their abuse or neglect be detected.
The amount of data available on the subject of touch and the consequences related to its abuse and/or absence is staggeringly small. The subject of touch requires and deserves a lot more research. Our focus now, while maintaining vigilance over abusive touch and its effects, needs to be on its neglected aspects.
We are only just beginning to discover the healing effects of touch on physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual disorders. The Bible relates many instances in which Jesus healed with touch. Maybe it's that simple.
Maybe if everybody embraced their children with love, and demonstrated appropriate warm and tender physical affection, children who are not abused or neglected would know, with certainty, that they were loved.
Have you hugged your loved ones today?

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