Two Sides of Touch

Human touch: something that has scared me since middle school. It came on slowly, and suddenly I wasn’t able to hug my parents without internally panicking. I struggled to explain why I didn’t like to touch people, my reason never seemed to fit one category. However, my touch aversion is double sided, with both past experiences and my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) coming into play.

One side of touch involves germs and contamination, which is where my OCD thrives. With a simple touch, like bumping into someone in the hallway or shaking hands, I feel contaminated. I don’t know where they’ve been of what was on them and now me. My OCD loves to remind me that they could have had drugs or alcohol on them and now I have traces of it on me, which is beyond terrifying.

For people that I know and trust (that I know don’t do drugs and have good hygiene), I don’t have issues with simple touches. I start having issues with hugging, when personal space gets violated. Part of my issue is related with my OCD, with breathing in the air that others breathe out and the germs, and the other part has to do with touching their skin. I start feeling that whatever they ate or is in their body is oozing out through their skin slightly and so when I hug them it is then on me. Plus they could have been sweating or spilled something and transferred it onto me.

I have put in a lot of effort to take some steps forward regarding touch and I can handle a one armed hug. I don’t necessarily like it and will not initiate a hug, but if in a calm environment I have minimum unease. However, with hugging I start to panic. I feel trapped, like my freedom has been taken away. While realistically I know that nothing will happen, I still feel afraid and out of control of what happens to me. In a hug the other person has a lot of power over me, and all it takes is one hug with the wrong person and I’m in serious trouble.

Part of the hugging issue deals with the other aspect of touch that scares me. It is centered around males and the fact that they feel attracted to females (most of the time) and could potentially want to kiss them (triggering my OCD with mouth germs). One very minor incident from my childhood taught me to fear people ever wanting to touch me in such a way.

I remember going to my grandma’s with my family for my brother’s gymnastics meet and bringing one of his teammates with us (let’s call him K). My brother, K, my cousin, and I were all playing upstairs when K decided that it would be fun to kiss me. I was chilling on the guest bed when he approached me and tried to kiss me. I told him to get off but he kept trying and I kicked him and went to tell my parents, while the rest of them were laughing and thought it was funny. Keep in mind that I was a huge push over as a kid (believe it or not I have improved since then) and saying no was very hard for me. So it probably wasn’t the most forceful, but for me even telling him not to was like someone else screaming and getting really upset.

I went and told my parents, expecting them to back me up and get mad at K for violating my personal space and trying to kiss me when I told him not to. However, they asked me what I did when he tried to kiss me. I told them and they asked how forceful I was, and if I was kind of nervous/laughing it off or if I was serious. I replied that I wasn’t serious (my brother and cousin were there and laughing so I was trying to downplay it to not cause a scene). They told me that I wasn’t forceful enough about telling K no and that if I really didn’t want him to do it then I should’ve been more forceful. My dad even mentioned that I should be kind of flattered that he wanted to kiss me.

My young self was very confused. I told him not to, granted not the most forcefully, but I still said no. I hated the feeling of my space being violated and not being in control, and I never wanted to feel it even again. At the time I didn’t think much of it and soon I was fine and back playing with them, but the memory sat waiting.

In middle school I started having issue with touch, and my contamination OCD had yet to surface. My best guess is that was the time when some people started dating (involving hugging and maybe kissing). The potential to date brought back the feelings from when K attempted to kiss me and how trapped and violated I felt, so I started to avoid touch.

The idea of a guy touching me was much more terrifying, knowing that guys typically like girls and will want to touch/kiss, but I avoided all touch to be safe. I felt much more in control without anyone touching or hugging me, and I continued to pull away, even from my parents’ touch. Pretty soon I would only touch people when absolutely necessary.

Both germs and control affect my ability to touch others, making it very hard to challenge my fear. I can challenge the issue with contamination, but then nothing is being done about feeling trapped and vice versa. I’ve gotten so used to not really touching people that I don’t mind it, and I don’t really feel like I’m missing out on too much.

However, I know that I have the potential to enjoy hugs, and to show people that I care about them through touch. I cannot just let my OCD and past incidents take away such a crucial part of relationships. My issues cannot go unchallenged, I have to accept the uncertainty of being touch, trapped, and contaminated.