The Healing Touch



I had dinner last night with a couple I’ve been friends with for some time. It was a pleasant evening, made more so by good food and wine, not to mention a lively conversation. As we were leaving, my friend, an ex-Navy pilot and a tall, imposing man, gave me a big bear hug instead of the customary polite handshake, and his wife did the same. There was nothing awkward or strange about the gesture, except for its relative rarity in our current society.


I was born and grew up outside of the United States, and both my family and their friends were accustomed to greeting each other with hugs, as well as kisses on both cheeks. When we moved to this country, I quickly learned that such outward displays of affection, while not completely taboo, were considered “acceptable” only amongst people in show business (where they were delivered with an obvious and, for actors, surprising lack of sincerity) and those foreign born such as myself. Despite some scattered pockets such as certain church groups and followers of Dr. Buscaglia’s hug therapy, physical touching of another person was done at your own risk.


For those of us who grew up in a culture where appropriate physical contact between and amongst the sexes was the norm rather than the exception, it took an act of will not to touch a child’s head, touch a friend’s hand or arm during conversation, or give someone a hug if they were being met, departing, or just looking “down.” Well publicized stories about child molestation, while horrible and sadly true, have had the chilling result that no teacher or coach will today dare to put an arm around a crying boy or girl who fell down and is hurt for fear of being accused of being a pedophile. I won’t even touch the landmines of the workplace, where the need to protect employees from sexual harassment has resulted in a compartmentalization that, at least in some companies, also removed some of the humanity from the job.


One of the things we teach our medical students is the healing power of touch. Physicians throughout the ages have learned that even when there are no medicines to cure an illness, the “laying on of the hands” by the doctor has the power to offer comfort and solace, much as a parent’s touch does the same for their child. Experimental psychologists have shown with monkeys the negative effects of touch deprivation on development. The need for some kind of physical contact seems to be hardwired into our makeup.


I doubt that people have fundamentally changed much in the last 100 years. How are we going to regain what many of us seem to have lost – the healing power of the human touch?

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27 Responses to The Healing Touch

  1. Unknown says:

    You never get to lose it around me because I am a hugger and a toucher. My grandboys know that Grammie needs four hugs a day and they assure that I get them… and because they are small boys, I get four EACH.But I sure do understand the caution about children and being thought a pedophile. It\’s a bit easier for an old woman, I\’m sure. I keep hugs in my pocket for small children and I fish them out, shake out the wrinkles, and spread them out wide in a sort of pantomime and they love to collect those hugs or see if they have one in their own pockets.Some of my Aussie friends were leery of me at first, even writing HUGS in a chat put them off… but they got used to it and now they wait for it and even join in on occasion. My dad pretended that he hated demonstrations of affection, especially hugs… he was a very reserved person… but he would sidle up to me if I looked like I was going to forget to give him his hugs when I was leaving.Thanks for your nice comments on my blog about the Blog Dictionary. I\’m working on a good word for you.Esmoochicitos y Abrazos,MuMo Note: Esmoochicitos is another of my made-up words.

  2. Marie says:

    Ohhhh, I grew up with hugs, too – then found myself in a country where they don\’t even shake hands – Japan!! My children grew up with hugs and arm links and when we first moved to Japan, my husband\’s relatives were shocked at how I used to walk hand in hand with my children down the streets of our neighborhood. But after a few months, they, along with our neighbors and friends got used to our ways and pass them off as one of our "gaijin" (foreigners) ways. So, here are some great big hugs for you,Marie

  3. Patricia says:

    My granddaughter is a hugger…groups hugs are a big thing with her now…it\’s a natural thing for her to show affection this way…how fortunate for me, because I\’m on the receiving end of a lot of it…Wonder how that became lost as we came across the ocean…did the Puritans do it?…how lucky you were to have been raised in a culture that accepted the warmth of human touch…and thank you for leaving kind words for me to read…means a lot…Pat

  4. Jaime Campbell says:

    Hi Jorge,I\’m a major hugger. Greeting, saying so-long, saying thank you for something. And I touch a great deal, also, during conversation. A way to comfort or to receive comfort. A way to show caring, affection, or love.I agree that there is need for caution regarding situations and pedophilia, but I, too, feel sad about what is being lost. A hug and kiss on the cheek by a neighbor who sees that a little girl has fallen off of her bike? These things are important and are remembered for lifetimes.I heal a great deal through touch. Massage is one of the wonderful ways that I get that need met. They are so expensive, though!Anyway, I appreciate the thought-provoking entry. I just hope our culture doesn\’t "careful" itself to death.J.

  5. Gelert says:

    Yes indeed. I have to say, I have a strange reaction to being hugged. My family never went in for it, and when I met people who did, I\’d shrink in their arms like they were burning me. People who know me well and are \’huggers\’ know I don\’t like it, but one insists, gently hugging me. She says, \’One day you\’ll want me to\’. I have to say, I know there\’s something wrong in my antipathy to it, but then there\’s large parts of me that are shrink wrapped, as a kind of protection I think. Otherwise, with those close, I am very physical. I like to hug, to lie entwined, to stroke hair, hold hands. It\’s not something I understand. I also am aware of insincerity. People who hug because its \’what you do\’. Thought provoking, and spot on about the healing aspect.

  6. Cheryl says:

    In my family the only time we ever touched was to hit each other. Just a bunch of Swedes. I think they brought it over on the boat back in about 1700. I didn\’t touch my kids much when they were growing up and I feel bad about that now. My grandkids…well I can\’t get them off me and they are to old for that. I remember in the 60\’s studying Skinner and concepts around touching. I guess I became a Skinner!Good subject….thinking………………….

  7. Sue says:

    Hi, Jorge. I located you on Debbi\’s blog. Thought I would stop by.I hug most of my friends. The workplace is another, situation, however. I think people have to be careful there. As for the "healing touch," I am a great believer in it. Repeatedly I have experienced healing with a touch from a friend or a doctor. If I close my eyes, I can still remeber my mother\’s touch on my forehead when I was sick as a child.Sue

  8. k says:

    Interesting observation Jorge.. society sure has changed – some things for better some for the worst.. I think hugs have a different meaning at different stages in life and they definitely depend on the type of relationship both parties have … to hug even a neighbor\’s child who comes to your door to just sell candy would not be such a good idea in my opinion! I never received hugs from teachers or doctors – and never even expected them either… their reassuring words were more than enough.. your entry reminds me of an incident.. I was very young then (may be around 6 or 7) and a very close friend of my father\’s was visiting our home – for some reason my eyes rested on his hands as he was drinking his cold drink and I had such a strong repulsive reaction I couldn\’t forget for a loong long time. I didn\’t know what it was, but something about this man\’s hands made me not want to go close to him.. some gut reaction!?!? He did give hugs to my brothers and dad, bade a bye to my mom, and when i was asked to say bye and give him a hug by my mom, I refused and stood far from him in a corner… very much loved and cared by my own family and relatives, almost given preferential treatment, at that age I had no clue about anything "bad" could ever happen in this world! So the threat of innocent and powerless children falling for someone\’s bad intentions is very real.. adults cannot always see that… my parents were upset for a few minutes at my defiance, but i felt they couldn\’t see what i saw, neither could i even explain what i saw! what a shame though… we are a family of huggers at meetings, departings or even to give each other affirmations of support – even amongst friends… but with children its always different.. and i think it should be..

  9. Debbie says:

    I was never a hugger until my forties. Now I am a hugger. I hug my kids at school \’shoulder to shoulder\’ unless they hug me first. It\’s all I can do not to pinch their cute cheeks. Remember when old aunts and grandmas asked us to give them some \’sugar\’? Maybe you don\’t remember that if you\’re not from the US…and maybe only people in the South did that. I think you just love people more when you get older and you want to hug them all. I know I do!

  10. Lakota Clay says:

    Good hugs I treasure–they warm the rest of my day. Perfunctory hugs are a turn off–I figure, why do through the motions unless they mean something? L.

  11. SANDRA says:

    Ohhh Dearest Jorge..again..another wonderful thought-provoking post. I am a toucher..a hugger…a kisser..and have always been that way, made even more so as I became a wife, a mother..a grandmother..but always as a nurse, I learned that the human touch can heal so much more than any medication we can give to those who are ill. The very act of holding one\’s hand, or hugging them when they are in pain, creates a healing from somewhere within… And so, it is alien to be to be otherwise..I still hold my daughter\’s hand when we are walking in the mall..I have her hand in mine, and my granddaughter\’s hand in my other hand. I never fail ever to kiss my grown children hello..goodbye…and in between. My parents were like this as well…they always told me how much they loved me..they never failed to kiss me good morning..and good night. All the goodbyes were always done with a kiss and a hug. And so I have done this through my life with those I love…my children, my grandchildren, my family…my friends…and I send to you and your loved ones…a hug and a kiss my dearest friend…Eternally..Sanddee

  12. Kathryn says:

    I\’m sort of a "touch-a-phobe" I suppose – when people hug me, I freeze up ….even at times with family and friends- it\’s visceral response-one that takes me by surprise. I\’m getting better at accepting touch, but it\’s been difficult. That said, everythingyou wrote is true…the fear now of touching or saying the wrong thing. Sad. At the same time, as one who has good "reason" to at times cringe at touch – there are reasons for parameters – so it\’s difficult for those who would never do harm to anyone to have to edit their natural want to hug and touch and be close.I\’m not sure I even made any sense!

  13. Amber says:

    I agree with you. I come from a non-huggy, non-kissy family, which made is strange that I am an extremely affectionate person. I lived in France and Switzerland for 18 months when I was 21 and quickly learned the "bisous"–a few kisses on the cheek. When I returned to the U.S., I was overcome with just how awkward and cold our own greetings are. Bring back the kisses!

  14. Jaime Campbell says:

    Just stopping in for a hello!J.

  15. the1stephzen says:

    I guess I take risks. I held a young lady\’s hand while she cried in my office last week. She is one of my students and had been through a very traumatic experience. She broke down in my class so I took her to my office. I do sometimes hug, but I always ask if it\’s ok. I hugged her after asking. Of course, I\’m teaching university students.

  16. susan says:

    hi nice space you have and thanks for visiting with me while i was off line back on now so come by any time for a visit to our home with big hugs susan

  17. Stephen Craig says:

    Jorge, Was it Carl Sagan that said, " It has taken billions of years and millions of generations, just for us to be here." Each and every being unique, and with a story that is inspiring. Touch sometimes between the words.As ever be well. Stephen

  18. Brian says:

    I come from a very tactile and affectionate Brazilian family and remember being appalled when an American friend greeted his father with a handshake. Living in the States and in England, open displays of affection, particularly between men, are something you have to gauge carefully. Having said that, I greet close friends of either sex with a hug and a kiss, touch an arm for emphasis, squeeze a shoulder in approval or sympathy. Physical contact like that seems to flow naturally from one\’s regard for people. I think being authentic is the key; phonies are easy to spot and if one is uncomfortable about being touched, their body language will make it unmistakable.

  19. Jaime Campbell says:

    Hi Jorge,Thanks for your support on the Dylan thing. Yea, it kinda sucked at the time, but writing about it has turned out to be very cleansing. Cathartic.I hope you are doing well, my friend.J.

  20. Michelle says:

    I am an affectionate person and hugger. But you are correct. I noticed that when Armando visited and gave the customary kisses on cheeks that I saw some people a bit awkward about this display of affection. It was interesting to observe. Some were honored by the affection; while others seemed totally awkward about it.I do think a simple healing touch means a lot. Whether it be when you are down or just a hug of friendship etc.ABRAZO, :)Michelle

  21. Marge says:

    Greetings, Jorge!Skin hunger is the lonliest, saddest most profound spiritual deprivation I can imagine.I have been there.It is like feeling homesick for for yourself and being unable to find the way back… It is like having a pillow held over your soul\’s face so it can\’t breathe… Like having your heart sealed in a grave with no hope of escape…My beloved and I touch all the time, as do my friends and family. Touch. A simple thing, but also the most sacred in the universe…Peace.Marge

  22. Shawn SKC says:

    hey, in asia there are a person who can heal human sickness with a touch + fee…

  23. Unknown says:

    You are so right. We are missing much by keeping our distance from one another. However, I grew up in an area with large Italian, Poryuguese, Brazilian, French, and Spanish populations, and I grew comfortable with being "huggy, kissy" with more ease than I expected. Makes me feel a part of something bigger, instead of an island unto myself. The world can be a very lonely place. Nora

  24. Ana says:

    THAT\’s Touching!! Thanks for sharing your feelings and the photos are incredible!! Have you been in Chile?? I live there now. What about Brazil?? If you ever come down here just drop a "line"…or two…and feel free to coem up with any criticisms…just don\’t be too harsh…I already have a self-critic inside of me which is quite "ana-oying" sometimes… LOL!!!Hope WE keep in touch!!!;o))Luv+Lux, Ana

  25. A Utah Woman Am I says:

    Jorge,First and foremost, thanks for the wonderful and nice comments. I apologize for my absence. Uni studies have kept me pretty busy as well as other responsibilities. But I am glad to be able to be back and read your blogs again. They always contain such insight and a great message as well.This post hit home all to well. It is strange indeed the way physical affection is looked at here in the US. Most people, generally only show it to closed friends and loved ones…and no one else. But your observations are correct."Touch" is one of the most powerful senses. It is almost as if the power of one is transfered to another through a touch. Much like the example of a hug, when we recieve a hug, all of our worries leave for one instant in time. A feeling, that in simplicity, is amazing.Very thought provoking Jorge, I thank you for posting such things. Keep up the great job and thanks again for the nice comments. I hope that you are having a fabulous week!Kelsey

  26. Jaime Campbell says:

    Hi Jorge!Came to give you a hug!Jaime.

  27. Tim says:

    I\’m pretty touchy-feely, and sometimes I embarass my son in public when I put an arm around his shoulder, but he also sees me hug and kiss my dad. I know that some day, my son will hug me back.Now that I haven\’t seen my family since June, and won\’t see them again for a few more months, those touches are especially precious, and sustaining.Have an unapologetic hug, friend.

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