June 14, 2013

If we begin to consider the impact of memory on our relationships we have to ask the question: “In part, how are memories triggered?” With my patients this answer is both simple and complex. What happens in the brain is neural pathways are formed which are strengthened or weakened with use or disuse, so repetitive actions or behaviors either strengthen for good or ill. If a neural pathway is not used it will weaken and some of those connections disappear. In the human body there are two primary chemicals released with skin touch, one of those is related to common B6. Without appropriate levels of B6, there can be defects in processing and transmitting sensory information. From the initial touch to transmission to the brain requires 0.01 seconds. That is important. What is more important is the heart beat responds to the same touch in 1.0 seconds and respiration responds in 4-5 seconds. This sensory information moves to the brain and back to heart and lungs in tiny amounts of time.
Let’s look at how this works in relationships. The beginning of all relationship starts in the uterine environment. Before we are born it is here we float, interact with our surrounding and develop responses to sensation through the skin. And then this sensitivity to skin stimulation persists after birth through our connections or lack of them with parents and persons within our environment. The simplest view of this has to do with touch. How we are touched, stroked, cuddled, or not shapes our brains and bodies. We know in the mind/body interconnection these two aspects are so woven together they are inseparable. This is part of how we understand attachment. If a parent cannot touch a child appropriately, that child will not learn emotional attachment to the parent which shapes all of adult attachments in later life. What is communicated through skin touch is attachment and intentionality. We learn a sensory response to the act of being touched, AND we learn to read the intention of the other through the quality of the touch. We learn emotional responses to touch based on our conscious and unconscious awareness of what the touch means.
So, in our parenting relationships if we touch, we must touch with clear intentionality because the response physiologically in the heart and lungs is less than 5 seconds. If we touch with anger, abuse, violence or compassion, love and support, the process is the same. There is a mind/ body effect where the brain receives the impulse and the body is responding just as the meaning is assessed. There are other factors at play here but this short pathway is the most common for understand the body response.
This becomes very important in the process of building adult relationships. Research indicates that male children are touched less than female children and that persists over their adolescence until they are infrequently touched except for sports, or fights, or male bonding play (punching each other’s arms and wrestling!) Then we expect them to become capable of tenderness, touching other than for sexual contact and parenting their children. If we become what we learn and experience then lack of touch is a serious matter. Link that to the cardiac and respiratory response times and it becomes obvious that on just a physiologic level there are serious consequences.
In babies, failure to thrive is linked to lack of touching and appropriate meaningful cradling; in the elderly there is a similar phenomena called “skin hunger” where the senior adult fails to thrive because of the lack of touch. The truth is ALL human beings need to be stroked, cuddled, touched with warmth, affection and liking. The need is present across the lifespan.
If you would like to ask a question about something in this article you can email that to: discoverycenters3@gmail.com I cannot answer emails individually but will address the educational issues in the column. If you would like to visit our website www.drkathleenquinn.com
Or for an appointment for psychotherapy with me in San Antonio, you may call our main number 601-467-0041 to schedule the appointment.


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