“I’m a touchy-feely person.”
Some people say this a lot. Some of them are really, really scary and dangerous people.
Sometimes what people mean by this is “I’m the kind of person who is allowed to touch and feel people, and I don’t have to consider whether it is welcome”.
Sometimes this is physical. Sometimes it means people feel entitled to hugs. Or to stroke someone’s hand or hair. Or they think routine interpersonal touch is a basic necessity, and that the mainstream-expected physical boundaries are bad, and that they can make things better by unilaterally violating them and touching people.
Sometimes it’s emotional. Sometimes it means that they want to be an intimate part of people’s emotional experience. Sometimes it means they unilaterally share personal things, and act as though that creates a reciprocal obligation. Or they think that our society is too emotionally closed off, and by unilaterally imposing an intimate emotional tone to their interactions, they are making things better.
Sometimes people who do this think that people who don’t like this are just repressed. Or, worse, sometimes they think that people who don’t like this don’t actually exist, and that everyone likes it, deep down. That’s really dangerous, especially when people do this to people they have power over. (Which is really, really common, especially with people who work with children, especially with people who work with non-verbal children.)
It’s really important to interact with the person you’re actually with. You can’t do this by constructing an imaginary person you see as the Real Them, and by acting as though they want what the Real Them would want. You have to interact with the actual person, and respect their actual communication. Which means, if they don’t want you touching and feeling them, physically or emotionally, you need to take that seriously and back off.
Intimacy is a beautiful and important thing, but forced fake touchy-feely intimacy is a horrible thing.
If you want to be touchy-feely, touch and feel people who want that from you, and keep your hands and emotional feelers off others.
This is so important! Often times, in my line of work, I have to put a hand on someones shoulder or take someone’s hand an so on. It’s not my thing but it’s necessary; to reassure them, focus their attention for a moment or simply to make sure they don’t get lost. Most of them enjoy physical contact (much more than I do) but some don’t.
As supervisors or caretakers we’re in a position of power, so it’s our job to pick up on people’s boundaries and respect them! Sadly, not very many people in this job do.
How can you reassure someone through physical contact that they dislike?