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A Touch of Love

Apr 17, 2024

Dear Souls and Hearts Member,

To touch can be to give life,” said Michelangelo.  And today, I bring you the third in our series on expanding and enriching Gary Chapman and Ross Cambell’s book The 5 Love Languages of Children:  The Secret to Loving Children Effectively by bringing in parts work and systems thinking.  Why?  So we can love even better.

In chapter 2 of their book, Chapman and Campbell discuss the love language of touch.  They described how touch is essential for children of all ages, from infancy to the teenage years.  Yet they point out how “It seems that many parents are unaware of how much their children need to be touched and how easily they can use this means to keep their children’s emotional tanks filled with unconditional love.” [p. 30].

And their pastoral and clinical observations are backed up by research.  Professor of psychology at UC Berkley Dacher Keltnerm Ph.D., describes how essential touch is in communicating experience in his article Hands On Research: The Science of Touch, describing some of his empirical research findings.

Healthy, wholesome touch

Chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer once wrote that “Nothing eases suffering like human touch.”  And we see this in the Gospels.  Jesus touches so many people, including those others found repulsive.  He touched the leper in healing him in Matthew 8:3; he healed two blind men by touching their eyes in Matthew 20:34. In Mark 3:10, we read how “all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him,” seeking that close physical contact with our Lord.  In Luke 6:19, we read that “…all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came forth from him and healed them all.

And in one of the most touching scenes in the Gospels, Mark 10:13-16, we read about Jesus connecting with little children by touch with hugs and blessings:

And they were bringing children to Him, that He might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”  And He took them in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands upon them.

Jesus touched Peter’s mother-in-law in healing her in Matthew 8:15. And even in the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22:51b, as Jesus was being arrested at the beginning of His passion, he healed the ear of the high priest’s servant Malchus by touch.  As Diane Ackerman has said, “Touch seems to be as essential as sunlight.

Being out of touch with touch

But Chapman and Campbell don’t discuss why touching their children is difficult for many parents.  They also skirt the issue of inappropriate touch by saying it is beyond the scope of their book [cf. p. 36].

Chapman and Campbell treat the issue of learning to touch in a loving way as though it is primarily a deficit in awareness and skills, to be remediated by practicing techniques they offer in their recommendations on pages 40-44.  These include, among other things, hugs, kisses, cuddles, strokes, snuggling, high fives, “touch-oriented” gifts such as blankets, playing games where touch is involved, and holding hands during prayer.

And these are good and very much worth doing, so far as they go. But they don’t go far enough.  Why?  Because these actions should not be done mechanically or algorithmically.  They need to be attuned to the child to be effective.  And that’s where the problems often come in because of the issues in the parents.

One of the central themes in Bessel van der Kolk’s excellent book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma is how trauma disconnects us from our bodies.  He writes that for those who experienced trauma, “The mind needs to be reeducated to feel physical sensations, and the body needs to be helped to tolerate and enjoy the comforts of touch.

In other words, we need to reconnect with touch in a good way within ourselves.  I firmly believe the capacity for attuned touch lies within most people, and it is up to us to find ways to release the constraints we have in speaking the love language of touch appropriately.  (N.B., the love language of touch may be more difficult for those with some types of neurodivergence).

Understanding why touch is difficult for you can help you so much in being able to be attuned and loving in the way that you touch others, including children.

Parts and touch

Part of the problem of identifying why touch can be so tricky for so many adults is that different parts of us react very differently to different types of touch due to different experiential histories.  And these parts of us are often not well integrated.

Remember, these parts feel like separate, independently operating personalities within us, each with own unique prominent needs, roles in our lives, emotions, body sensations, guiding beliefs and assumptions, typical thoughts, intentions, desires, attitudes, impulses, interpersonal style, and world view.  So naturally, they will have different responses to touch.

Often, different parts of you bear the burdens of different kinds of problematic touches going back to your childhood.  And it is these unprocessed, unmetabolized traumas and wounds, carried by parts, that make touch so complicated for so many people.

Consider for a moment – can you remember a touch from your childhood that was complicated and confusing for you – parts of you really wanted the touch from the other person and parts of you didn’t?  Many of us have experienced relatives imposing their own love languages on us – ostensibly to love us, but really to get their own needs for affection met.

And of course, in the case of physical or sexual abuse, things get even more complicated (see here for just one brief story and a response).

So it’s no wonder that your parts can be all over the board in expressing love to others via touch.  Here’s where the value of becoming more integrated by inviting your parts to come together under the leadership and guidance of your innermost self is invaluable.  It’s important that all of your parts be seen, known, and understood, that their stories be shared and heard, and their needs be met.  Why? Again, not just for your own healing and flourishing – that’s so important – but also so that you can better love others, including children and the childlike parts of adults, in an attuned, compassionate way.

And here’s the kicker – it’s not just your innermost self that loves others; your love includes those parts of you who are in right relationship with your innermost self.  But those parts of you who are split off, disconnected, exiled, or blended can’t be part of your love.  You need those parts to love others and God wholeheartedly, with all of your being.

Experiential exercise on touch

So here’s my question for you.  Are you willing to look inside and discover what might be holding you back from expressing love in a more attuned way through the love language of touch?  Are you willing to connect with the parts of you who might have had difficult, unresolved experiences with touch and hear their stories?

And if you find that the prospect of doing such an experiential exercise is daunting or frightening, let’s pay attention to that.  Can you get curious about your hesitation?  Why might it be so challenging for you to consider engaging in this work?  That might be a sign that you would benefit from being accompanied in the work by a therapist or counselor, perhaps a coach or a mentor, someone who can be with you in it.

If you are ready or willing, here is a link to a 17-minute audio experiential exercise to help you connect with your parts who might struggle with touch in some way.  I invite you to get pencils, pens, and paper, find a quiet place, and engage with the exercise in whatever way is most helpful to you. This is just an experiential exercise for your own information and exploration inside, not therapy, counseling, or any other clinical service.

Thank you for doing your internal work

One of the blessings I experience so often in my work for Souls and Hearts is to benefit from the beautiful internal work our members do with their parts.  When you do your internal work, when you love your parts, it lifts me up and helps me.  Why? Because we are all one body.  We are all members in the mystical Body of Christ.  We are all interconnected in the Communion of Saints.  So for those of you who did this experiential exercise and worked with your parts, thank you.  For those of you who didn’t, but are seeking other ways to connect with your parts, thank you.

Next up:  words of affirmation in the May 1 reflection

I will be taking next week off from these reflections, but will return on May 1. We will review chapter 3 of Gary Chapman and Ross Cambell’s book The 5 Love Languages of Children:  The Secret to Loving Children Effectively, all about words of affirmation, and we will bring in not only more parts and systems thinking, but some of the thought of Catholic psychiatrist Conrad Baars, the pioneer of affirmation therapy.

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IIC 136 just released: Spiritual Direction and Personal Formation with Fr. Boniface Hicks

The Interior Integration for Catholics podcast just released episode 136 titled Spiritual Direction and Personal Formation with Fr. Boniface Hicks (see video and audio versions).

What makes good spiritual direction?  What makes good spiritual directors?  And what gets in the way in spiritual direction?  To answers these questions, Fr. Boniface Hicks, joins me as we continue our series on the integration of personal formation for Catholics. Fr. Boniface is a Benedictine monk and the Director of Spiritual Formation at St. Vincent Seminary as well as the Director of the Institute for Ministry Formation.  He is an accomplished retreat master, author of four books on the spiritual life, and a seasoned expert in what it takes to accompany others on their spiritual journeys.   We explore the formation that spiritual directors need, how you can  recognize when something is lacking in your spiritual direction and the most common human formation challenges and deficits that Catholic spiritual directors are likely to encounter in themselves and in those they serve.

Please like and subscribe on YouTube – if you comment on the video, I will most likely respond.  With our new Souls and Hearts video pro onboard, our production values have gone way up, and the video is worth the watch to see how Fr. Boniface and I connect.  And please review us on Apple Podcasts as well; that helps us get the word out.

New search features on the Souls and Hearts website

I am excited to announce that we have installed powerful search features throughout our website. Click on the familiar magnifying glass icon in the upper right hand corner on any page to search for what you’re seeking. Page-specific searches are available on our resource page, the IIC podcast landing page, and the archives of these weekly reflections as well.  Check it out!

The Resilient Catholics Community reopens for new applications on June 1

If the experiential exercise resonated with you, you might be interested in joining the Resilient Catholic Community. For the past few years, we’ve been building content for those on the journey of human formation with us, and now, we have hundreds of experiential exercises in the RCC archives. Join the pilgrimage with me and hundreds of other faithful Catholics learning to be loved and to love wholeheartedly. Our goal is to flourish in life through loving ourselves, God, and one another more fully.

We onboard now cohorts twice a year; the St. Gertrude the Great cohort will open in June 2024. Currently, we have 222 on the interest list. The entire discernment process begins with the PartsFinder Pro report, which is a 5- to 6-page personalized report written and reviewed by at least two of our staff members. The report offers personalized goals and objectives as well as hypothesized parts and their relationships to help you start or continue your human formation and personal integration journey. Signing up and completing the PFP does not obligate you to join the RCC; it gives both an opportunity for further discernment. For those who do continue into the first year of the RCC, programming will begin September.

Spread the word about Souls and Hearts

Our best advocate is you.  We’ve found through trial and error that personal recommendations of our Souls and Hearts offerings are the very best way to connect more faithful Catholics with the human formation resources they need.  If you resonated with this weekly reflection, share it with one or two or more people you believe would benefit.  Forward the weekly reflection emails, share the podcast episodes and let’s connect with those who might join us on our pilgrimage to flourishing together.

Conversation hours

As you may already know, I host conversation hours every Tuesday and Thursday from 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM Eastern Time on my cell phone at 317.567.9594.  I don’t do any clinical consultations or provide any clinical services, but it is a chance for a 10 minute private conversation about any of the themes in these weekly reflections, the podcast episodes, the Resilient Catholics Community or anything else that Souls and Hearts offers.   Just FYI, conversation hours for April 25 and 30 are cancelled due to my travels.

Pray for us…

As always, please pray for us, our mission, and all our staff. We can do nothing without the guidance, support and strength of Our Lord and Our Lady. You are in our daily prayers for all of you.

Warm regards in Christ and His Mother,

Dr. Peter

P.S.  Don’t forget – find a time and place to do the 17-minute experiential exercise on touch if you think it would suit you…

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