I think safe touch is SO important. I desperately needed it as a child and teen in school from a few kind teachers who saw my pain; it was the only place I got safe touch. I’m honored to be quoted in Jessica Lahey’s article “Should Teachers Be Allowed To Touch Students?” in The Atlantic. I hope you’ll give the article a read. (smiling) I think it’s a thoughtful, insightful article.
As an incest and torture survivor who was also bullied at school, I had no safe place–not at home, and not at school. I rarely saw kindness or compassion; most of what I did see I got from books. But I had two really kind, compassionate high-school teachers who knew I’d been abused, and one librarian in middle school who was also kind. All of them were women, because I was scared of men because of all the rape I’d been through–and all of them gave me safe touch. It’s part of what kept me from killing myself.
I desperately craved safe touch. I was starved for it on a deep soul level. At home and in the abuse and torture I endured–my parents were part of cults, and they also rented me out to men for money and “shared” me with their friends–I was never touched except for abuse, rape, torture. So to get it from these teachers in a safe way–a touch on the arm, a rub on my head, a hug–it met such a deep need I had to be treated with kindness and love and warmth and humanity, and it helped offset some of the abuse and torture and cruelty. It helped me feel like I mattered, like I didn’t deserve to be abused, like maybe someone cared about me a little bit. It helped me believe in people, that they could be kind, and that maybe, just maybe the abuse and torture I experienced every day and night wasn’t my fault. But it did more than that. Their touch–and their listening to me about some of the abuse and/or my pain–also helped me want to be here a bit more when all I could breathe and feel was pain, depression, despair, and bleakness.
I struggled a lot with wanting to die all of my life. Books helped me to be here–they gave me an escape–and I also used self-harm to cope with the pain and memories, and often cut instead of killing myself. And I also needed dissociation to survive the torture and keep me alive. But that safe touch I got? It was like a balm to my soul. It was healing, instead of causing harm like everything I had at home. It was affection when I had none. Sometimes it helped bring me out of triggered abuse memories. It told me my parents and other abusers were wrong to treat me the way they did, even though I couldn’t really believe that. And I just *needed* safe touch on a deep level.
I think as humans we need safe touch; I think it’s a basic human need, along with food, shelter, and safety. It lets us know we’re loved. (I know there’ve been studies, for instance, on babies not thriving when they don’t get touch.) And those teachers who used safe touch with me, and were compassionate and kind, helped create pockets of safety for me where for a few hours I could actually focus on something besides the terror I lived in–I could learn and love to learn and want to learn for them (and me). I could breathe a little easier. I could hope for safety some day. When I hear people saying that children shouldn’t be touched in school situations, it makes me sad, and it worries me. If a child doesn’t have any safe touch in their lives, it’s easy to get really disconnected from people and life, and to not want to live at all. I needed that safe touch desperately, just as I needed to be heard about the abuse and to (eventually) get safe. A kind, compassionate teacher may be the only safety and caring a child or teen has in their life.