Traces of Abuse

Scientific research usually takes tiny steps — inches at a time — rather than quantum leaps. Makes sense. It’s easier to get buy-in for a small gain in knowledge than for a large jump in understanding. Buy-in is essential if new information is to be used.

A research study from the University of Bonn finds that people who have been abused as children find less comfort in close physical contact with others as adults.(1) We know that some people are “huggers” and some aren’t, but the importance goes far beyond personal style.

There is a literature relating touch to physical and mental well-being.(2,3,4) Touching contributes to health and happiness.

The research doesn’t say that everyone who is adverse to being touched has abuse in their background. It does suggest vigilance and sensitivity. It might be true with an individual. What other signs might the person give that there’s a story to be heard? Are there certain phrases that draw a reaction in body language that would be sign of a history of abuse?

Ultimately, we’re talking about “being in the moment” and focusing on the person with you and not yourself. That’s great advice when meeting someone new, whether at work, in school or on a date.


  1. Ayline Maier, Caroline Gieling, Luca Heinen-Ludwig, Vlad Stefan, Johannes Schultz, Onur Güntürkün, Benjamin Becker, René Hurlemann, Dirk Scheele. Association of Childhood Maltreatment With Interpersonal Distance and Social Touch Preferences in Adulthood. American Journal of Psychiatry, 2019; appi.ajp.2019.1 DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2019.19020212

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