As a small child I had several “self-soothing” behaviours. I used to rock myself back and forth gaining comfort from the slap of the wall, chair or couch against my back. I would press soft materials to my cheek and “snuggle” them. Most of all I would squeeze soft material between my thumb and forefinger for hours on end making a clicking sound as the tendon in my thumb snapped back and forth.
Somewhere along the line I stopped “snuggling” soft materials and, after marriage, I stopped rocking myself but I never stopped the habit I call “clicking”. It was something I could do anywhere as I could always use a piece of my clothing if there was nothing else available.
I’ve always attributed these behaviours to stress and this seemed to be confirmed when I stopped doing them for several months after my divorce. I always thought the fact I was left with a home free of debt, cash in the bank, no husband, children or job to worry about and no stress of any kind was the reason why I didn’t need to self-sooth at that time. As soon as I got a job I started clicking again and the behaviour increased in line with the increased stress of taking on a mortgage and so on.
The more stress I was under the more I tended to “click” and the calluses on my thumbs and forefingers would get thicker or thinner depending on how much I was worrying.
After I was attacked in my own home and subjected to an hour of terror some old self-soothing behaviour returned and I began to “snuggle” soft material again now and then. The frequency of my “clicking” went to almost non-stop and my daughter informed me I was even doing it in my sleep.
When I got the job I have now and moved into my own place these behaviours settled down a lot but, lately, I seem to be doing them more and more.
I have become worse than I was as a child because now I find myself drawn to soft toys which I never cared for as a child. I’m always stroking soft materials and snuggling blankets, stuffed toys, the big collar of my new dressing gown and so on.
I’m at a loss to understand it because I am not stressing much at all any more. My job is secure, I’m free of debt, things are going well with my kids, I am gaining ground in my battle to free myself of my gambling addiction and I am feeling more self-confident and happy than I ever have in my whole life so far.
As a psychologist I am, of course, concerned that I am responding to things going on in my subconscious so I have been trying to dig around in there to uncover what is causing it. So far I have had no luck. I’m feeling fine and doing good.
The other day I asked God what was going on and why I was getting worse and worse instead of better and better.
He said the habits were not just about stress they were also about affection.
It made a lot of sense. I have always been deprived of affection.
Any attempt to obtain affection during my childhood almost always resulted in either rejection, criticism or being molested sexually.
During my marriage I was not only deprived of affection I was also subjected to a lot of criticism. After the divorce I felt so good just being away from the criticism I didn’t even notice the lack of affection.
I’ve been away from critical people for a long time now. I have become the one who rejects instead of the one who is rejected. I avoid people and close relationships of all kinds apart from those with my children.
In a few months time I will have been celibate for 11 years. That is a long time to live without human touch. I get hugs and kisses from my children but only on special occasions such as Christmas or my birthday. I guess it isn’t enough. I thought I was doing fine and had no need of human touch but it seems I was wrong.
I can’t put my cheek against the cheek of another human being and snuggle them so I snuggle the collar of my soft velour dressing gown. I can’t stroke the skin of another human being or have my skin stroked by someone so I stroke material that feels as soft as another person’s skin. I can’t squeeze another person’s hand. I can’t hug or be hugged so I squeeze soft toys and wrap myself up in substitute hugs from my blankets.
I can’t help wondering if, far from being a sign I am becoming more dysfunctional, my increased need for these things means I have become more “normal”. I’m finally reacting to the lack of human contact in my life. Other people react to this lack by seeking out relationships but I am not ready to do that yet. I am still too frightened of rejection and criticism.
I’m responding to the lack of human affection the only way I can right now but, the more I “snuggle” with soft toys and things, the more aware I am becoming of my own humanity. I’m finally realising affection is something I actually do need and, more importantly, it is something I want!
Perhaps, some day, the desire for affection will grow strong enough to overcome my fear of criticism and rejection and I will let other people back into my life.