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Touch is important in everyone's life! It is a basic need: "we need to be touched, to be stroked and have physical contact with other people to survive". A child which does not get touched in a loving way often enough, develops with potentially more difficulties. And as we mature we continue to need being touched and touching. The way in which someone touches others, touches objects and him/herself can tell us a lot about this person. For instance about his/her need to touch and also to be touched'. Touch can tell us something about respecting and trusting someone but also about power differentiations between people.
Examples of differentiations in power as a message in the body language are:
Touch and intimacy are very much connected. Intimacy is often expressed by the frequency and intensity of touch in combination with other signals such as: physical closeness, eye contact, smile and content of conversation. This cluster of signals gives us information about the desired level of intimacy.
When a change occurs in one of these signals, especially in touch and physical closeness, we will adjust the other signals accordingly to maintain the desired level of intimacy or distance and privacy (the opposite of intimacy). For instance, when the personal physical space in between is too small for us we will try to avoid eye contact.
The same happens when there is too much touching or when the content of the conversation gets too personal. The different signals for intimacy work in this way together to give a message about ourselves, our feelings at that point. If we definitely do not want intimacy and yet are forced to be close to others, for instance standing against each other in a full tram, we will avoid eye contact, stare at the ceiling or the floor, maintain a closed off/neutral expression on our face and avoid conversations.
text: Frank van Marwijk.
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