Trusting My Own Touch

“…the ability to distinguish between self and others is extremely important. During the first period of life, new-born children develop an understanding of where their own body ends mainly through being touched by those who care for them. Problems with the self-concept, such as the ability to recognise one’s own actions, are common in several psychiatric disorders. Most people cannot tickle themselves, but some patients with schizophrenia can, suggesting that their brain interprets sensory perceptions from their own body differently.”
“We saw a very clear difference between being touched by someone else and self-touch. In the latter case, activity in several parts of the brain was reduced. We can see evidence that this difference arises as early as in the spinal cord, before the perceptions are processed in the brain”
“The researchers showed that the ability to experience simultaneous sensory perceptions was damped when the participants stroked their own arms. Maybe this phenomenon can explain why we, for example, rub our arm when we bump it against a table.”
Fascinating. What I get out of this is that our brains are less scared of our own touch. When it is not us, we’re immediately working harder to understand what is touching us. Is it a bug? A snake? A human touch? Is it safe? Is it welcome? WHAT IS IT.
It seems to me that familiarity with something, knowing what it is, gives a feeling of safety. I think that’s why we so often try to repeat the same experiences with the expectation of the same positive outcome.
I think it’s so beautiful that we can comfort ourselves with our own touch. It’s like one less thing in the world we need to figure out. Except for when our arm falls asleep on our chest in the night and we wake up like WHO’S ARM IS THAT.
I wonder how the brain looks when we are being touched by someone we know and love.
Looking at the study itself and not the article, it says: “It remains unclear how the brain differentiates self- and other-produced slow, light skin-to-skin touch—the kind of touch people use to stroke their loved ones.”
But it goes on to say that even though they don’t know what the brain looks like during this loving touch, behavioral studies suggest that both touch from others, especially the loving kind described above, and/or self-touch “contribute to establishing the bodily self.”
Establishing the bodily self. Amazing. It’s like touch reminds me I’m alive. That’s wild. Firstly, that I need a reminder, and secondly, that touch is a potent reminder. Loving touch from others feels this important to me as it’s happening, but I’ve never included my own touch as something powerful for myself.
I recently went to a meditation workshop about self-compassion that reminded the attendees that we have the option of soothing ourselves by the simplest actions- maybe resting our loving hand on our chest, our belly, or our arm. If a negative emotion comes up, we can be there for ourselves. It’s new and foreign to most of us, and most of us have to get past the obstacle of the fear of judgement. But it was nice to be reminded and to practice in a room of others being that accepting and loving with themselves too.
I think of the brain calmness that comes with self-touch as a natural reassurance, like “If it’s me touching me, I must be safe.”
But then… I think of a person who cuts themselves, or of a person who takes their own life. In those times, there is a lost trust of ourselves, and a false trust in our own touch. In some ways, suicidal people may perceive those last touches as their only form of comfort. Or in the case of cutters, those cuts are in some way a release of or a distraction from the mental pressure and pain being experienced.
Even when those feel like the only options, there are a slew of others. Ones that return us to trusting that we can exist in this world, ones that renew a true trust in our own touch. Often, we haven’t experienced these options enough, or at all, to believe in them or trust them at first. But they’re there.
As I do my own therapeutic work, I’m learning to have a better relationship with myself. And with that comes a trust in myself I never had. I feel like when self-trust is more thorough, addiction, depression, anxiety and harmful habits lessen. That has been my experience.
It’s nice to know my brain and spine already feel comforted by my own touch. I love the idea that before my brain registers who I am, my body intuitively already knows. Somewhere, my heart is starting to listen, to know me too, and to trust me.

Distinction of self-produced touch and social touch at cortical and spinal cord levels | Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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