The experience of feeling touched out can be a common experience among parents of babies and young children. It may be particularly noticeable for parents who choose to breastfeed, baby wear, co-sleep, or have children who benefit from close contact and nurturing touch.
When a parent feels touched out, she may not want to be close to anything or anyone. She may not even want to be in her own skin! Many parents may feel a conflict with the thoughts and emotions that surface when feeling touched out. The parent may want to be close to the child in one sense and in another want to be out in the wilderness (or just about anywhere) completely alone. It can be a confusing experience.
An interesting phenomenon that often accompanies feeling touched out is an increased desire in the child to be close to the parent. So while the parent may have the “heebie jeebies” or some other uncomfortable sensation, the child is longing for closeness and connection. This can further compound the experience of the parent and result in frustration, guilt, or worse.
It is my intent to shed some light on how feeling touched out comes to be, why children respond the way they do, and how we can work with how we feel in such situations.
Possible Origins of Feeling Touched Out
Body autonomy, or feeling like one has control and space with their own body, is not always respected. As children we often have people touching us in ways we’d prefer they not – whether that is other children or adults. When we become parents, there is a pretty likely chance that some residue from childhood is still present in regards to feeling like we would prefer our bodies are touched only when we’d like. This may differ from person to person and be more intense for some than others.
In the context of the parent-child relationship there are also other factors that play into feeling touched out. If we’re tired, hungry, thirsty, need to eliminate, or some other basic bodily function/need isn’t being addressed, the last thing we may want is to feel like we need to care for another. As we are probably all aware, there aren’t too many parents who don’t experience at some point a sense of exhaustion and the figuring out of whose needs to meet when (thus putting our own on the back burner at times).
Parents who have a history of sexual or other bodily abuse may also be likely to feel touched out. It’s possible this stems from not having body boundaries respected from a young age and some emotions still being present surrounding violation through touch. There are ways to work with these feelings, so certainly consider helpful assistance if you are having this experience.
Sometimes, too, parents just need space – emotional and physical. If you’re constantly with your child and sleep near them at night, some space can be helpful at times. Trust that if you are feeling touched out it is a signal to honor and that you can work with it to bring about a different experience.
Touched Out Parent, Clingy Child
Children, and adults, seek connection. The ways young children often seek this connection is through touch. When we are pulling our energy and attention in or away because we feel we don’t have more to give, children often feel unsettled and search for more. They can sense that something feels “off.”
A potential solution to this is learning how to feel in charge of our emotional and physical space while we choose to connect. Instead of closing, we open, allowing our children to feel our love while honoring our own personal boundaries. It may be necessary to really work with one’s own mind, emotion, and body space first, though, to recognize that we have control of how we feel in response to the needs of those around us.
Working With How We Feel
Along with tending to our basic needs and establishing body boundaries that work for us personally, here are some in-the-moment examples of how to deal with feeling touched out.
Honor how you feel. This may look different from any previous experience you have with emotions, depending on how you usually deal with uncomfortable feelings. First, welcome the sensations or feelings. Notice your breath and allow your attention to come into your body. If it helps you can imagine your attention coming down from your mind into your body and where you feel any emotions presenting (if you’re upset this may be in the throat, chest, or abdomen – even the skin).
As you acknowledge how you feel, breathe deeply into the sensations in your body and then consider how you want to move forward. You could transition some thoughts like this: I feel completely frustrated right now, don’t want to be touched, and all my child/partner wants is to be near me. Okay, I am sensing how I feel, choosing how I respond, and want to feel a little differently. Maybe I will in time, possibly I can just sit with this feeling for a little while and respect the signal it is providing about the way I am looking at life.
Play with your ideas. The beliefs we hold influence our experience. If we have strong beliefs that we must not leave our children, that we must attend to their every need, put our needs last, or allow touch that doesn’t feel good to us so they can have what they want – we may benefit from loosening the adherence to those ideas. See them as just ideas – neither fact nor fiction. Notice how you feel when you think certain thoughts when you feel touched out. Can you transition from a thought that feels pretty awful to one that feels just a little better? Make a list of what you think and what you’d like to think instead. Sometimes examining what we think can provide an opening to a new experience.
Create emotional space. One way to create emotional space can be to begin choosing how we direct our attention through pulling all of our energy into our own minds and bodies. Try this “energy in” exercise and see how you feel (it may just change the experience of feeling touched out).
Notice your breath as it cycles, really feel it come in and out of your body just as it is, then bring your attention to this moment. Where is your attention? You may think of many things you have on your to-do list, conflicts that are not resolved, people you care about, etc. Now, imagine energetic cords or threads going out of your body to those things that have your attention. This is your emotional energy. As you sense how it feels for you to have energy extended in this way, intentionally pull or retract all of the cords of energy back into your own body. With each breath, notice how much fuller and calmer you feel with all of your energy inside of you. Next, practice directing your attention to specific tasks, requests, or people in the ways you choose. If you feel scattered again, start over – it only takes a few moments to draw your emotional energy back in.
Another way to create emotional space is through simple meditation. We are primarily made up of unmanifested space. Some would call it empty, although I feel it is more of a nothing-everythingness with an intent to thrive. Acknowledging and tuning into the inherent space in our breath, body, cells, and surroundings can help us feel more at ease so we can make choices from that awareness instead of feeling like there’s simply not enough space to be had.
Create physical space. If you need space around your body, honor that. Ask for that. Take time to yourself, whether it’s five minutes behind a closed door or a walk outside. Maybe you can benefit from even more time to yourself. Learn what works for you and allow others you trust to care for your loved ones.
Another way to create space in the midst of parenting is to consider that many children will be happy to be near you physically, but not on you. It may not be necessary to carry the baby or have the child sit on your lap to feel your love and closeness. Lay the baby down on a mat near you or invite a child to sit side by side, while acknowledging to yourself or out loud that you need a little space around your body right now and that you would love for your child to be near you while reading a book, playing, whatever. As you honor your own needs the people around you will learn to as well.
Attachment Parenting, Body Image, Breastfeeding, Continuum Parenting, Cosleeping, Feeding With Love, Gentle Discipline, Healthy Living, Nurturing Touch, Parenting Philosophies, Responding With Sensitivity, Safe Sleep