The stories of the people who give and receive massage therapy showcase the Power of Massage (and touch) to tranform those who are massaged and those who give the massage.
Massage therapy changes lives.
Soothing touch, whether it be applied to a ruffled cat, a crying infant, or a frightened child, has a universally recognized power to ameliorate the signs of distress. How can it be that we overlook its usefulness on the jangled adult as well? What is it that leads us to assume that the stressed child merely needs “comforting,” while the stressed adult needs “medicine”? — from Job’s Body: A Handbook for Bodywork by Deane Juhan
While we most likely think of massage therapy in the terms of what it can do for pain, muscles and other myofascial issues, one of the biggest reasons that massage therapists succeed with clients is that Massage therapy, by its very nature is relational and interpersonal (Moyer, et al,2004). Massage therapists are skilled in touch and are able to feel very subtle changes in tension, tone, temperature and other qualities. People receiving massage will often say things like I didn’t even know that area was painful or Wow – you can feel that? Being able to follow the muscle tension around in the body helps bring more awareness of their body and self to a person receiving massage. What matters most is more about how that makes one feel than the actual changes in the muscles or tissues. When a massage therapist is able to detect tension and myofascial holding patterns that the client may or may not be aware of and provide an opportunity for the person to become aware of a part of themselves using touch, massage (skilled touch) has the potential for creating a healing experience for the person receiving the massage (as well as the therapist too). Massage therapy is a way for people to be able to feel without having to consciously process the feeling. The message that is sent through touch with a skilled massage therapist is one of safety, respect and acceptance. It does not matter what technique is used, the way a person feels what is being done is part of the healing experience. It can help people to become aware of their attachment patterns that are developed early on between a child and caregiver and bring more feelings of secure attachment which is the basis of healthier people and relationships.
Touch is the first sense that develops in the womb. It is the way the developing body receives input from the world outside that helps shape our personal boundaries and helps us develop our capacity for action. Our first sensorial experiences, which provide us with information about our own body and the surrounding environment, arise in the womb.
What happens when we touch or are touched?
You cannot touch someone without being touched yourself. Touch is a two way street. For massage therapists, the reason for touching/massaging is to create a therapeutic process for healing tissues. Using various techniques and methods allows the massage therapist to apply touch in various safe and comforting ways. People receiving the massage don’t know what kind of technique is being done and often don’t care except that they choose to receive massage based on what feels best to them. The person being touched perceives touch as being soothed, valued and cared for.
Attachment and Massage Therapy
The attachment system is developed in early infancy and childhood between a parent/caregiver and the infant/child. An insecure attachment system develops when a child receives inconsistent, rejecting or frightening responses when faced with fear. A secure attachment develops when a frightened infant/child are comforted and soothed in a way that develops security. This pattern is usually the way the infant/child/person responds the rest of their life. The attachment system is established by age 5 and becomes the wiring for future responses and interactions. When insecure attachment it the primary response to stress and threatening experiences and massage therapy that is safe, comforting and soothing is applied, the limbic (or reactive) brain experiences a new way of dealing with stress. It opens people up to a new way of being and allows them to experience something different. It is also something that can be experienced in a way that does not require thinking. It is just about being.
Touch and massage therapy represents a special tool to non-verbally communicate meaningful messages to patients’ brain. Massage produces a calming analgesic affect which also helps regulate emotions. Touch can communicate compassion and support in a way that words cannon. It helps people learn where they begin and end and where others begin and end – in other words boundaries. It enables us to distinguish our body from others and the environment. Massage therapists who are caring, professional and create a safe place, people getting massage often feel safe and respected. This is also what happens between a parent and child and the process of creating trust. People who have been brought up in an environment that was not so safe can experience it on the massage table and may begin to learn that they are safe. Touch and massage therapy help people to connect the feeling of your body from the outside with the feeling of your body inside which is part of the process of becoming self-aware.
Problems with touch
Touch also brings with it the many issues that most do not want to talk about –intimacy, sexuality and power. The way we are brought up teaches us about whether touch is seen as good, bad or indifferent. Physical and sexual abuse creates people who are afraid of touch or may even crave touch. People use touch to control others and it also teaches people to be compassionate.
Males are more same sex touch avoidant. Females are more likely to be opposite sex touch avoidant. Opposite sex touch avoidance increases with age. People with high self-esteem are less touch avoidant with the opposite sex.
Infants left alone without their basic needs for comfort, caring and touch are not met, can develop things like reactive attachment disorder which is a rare but serious condition. Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute has studied orphans in Romania and found developmental delays and growth deprivation due to the lack of touch. The kids were very autistic-like.
Skin hunger is a deep desire for physical tough that results from a lack of human contact. It isn’t even about sex. The skin is the largest sensory organ of the body. Lack of touch can lead to anxiety disorders, depression, loneliness and stress.
People who have experienced fearful or neglectful childhoods also may find massage therapy enormously challenging because the intimacy of the massage therapy treatment may evoke memories or a felt sense of frightening vulnerability.
Touch deprivation can be seen when infants are abandoned or left untouched in orphanages and it can also be seen in adulthood with our move toward technology. Cultural traditions vary around issues of touch. In places like South America, France, Italy and Spain, touch is a big part of their everyday life where places like the United Kingdom and the US have more hang ups around touch and being touched.
Smartphones and social media have become more prevalent and everyone is looking and interacting on their phones rather than in person.
People who have these various touch traumas, may be helped significantly with massage therapy. It can help normalize their experience of touch in ways that are not usually talked about.
The Power of Touch
While massage therapy can help with muscle tension, pain, headaches, insomnia and many other health conditions, there is way more to massage than we can ever know. People receiving massage have been saying things for a long time:
- I love massage because it helps me to feel the unconditional love I never felt as a child.
- I came in with bad neck pain and left feeling nicer to my partner and coworkers.
- I finally found the courage to leave my job and find the work that I love because I felt so much better—stronger and more resilient.
- I have been stuck in my book writing process and couldn’t get out of it until I found massage.
- Men who have problems being touched by men, find themselves discovering new things about themselves. Women who have problems being touched by men, can learn to feel relaxed and calm while they learn to trust touch from men again.
It is important to know and understand your boundaries around touch and communicate them to your massage therapist. Getting massage can also be a process of learning more about your boundaries and exploring any issues around touch as long as it is a safe environment. Your massage therapist should be able to provide that. In cases where you do not feel safe, feel free to leave even in the middle of a massage.
Be in touch, out of touch, In touch, Just a touch (a small amount), don’t touch me, can you touch your toes, touches my heart, touched by your concern, they barely touched their food, touched a nerve, touched upon this before, it’s touch and go, it’s a touchdown, touchpoint, retouched, touch screen, just a touch more or less, that was a nice touch, touch wood, personal touch, a touch of the flu, lose touch, touch on something.
“The real purpose of giving massage is to foster more depth of feeling for one another in order to bring out the love that often lies buried beneath the pain of everyday suffering.” ~Robert Calvert