How to Deal With Feeling Touched Out

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.

About The Author: Amy

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Amy Phoenix is a gentle yet direct mom of five and author of Presence Parenting, a space to address the presence we bring to parenting, especially when feeling frustration, anger or rage.

13 Responses to How to Deal With Feeling Touched Out

  1. jane

    Hmmm, this is very interesting. My little boy is 7 and has autism. He was diagnosed at 2 and I made a decision then to keep him by me as much as I could. I didn’t want him sitting stimming in the corner all day so bought a sling/hip seat thingy and carried him with me. He also sleeps with me and I sometimes feel this “touched out’ feeling. Like being drained by a vampire 🙂 When I feel overwhelmed (when he’s all over me with his sharp little elbows and knees!) I have him sit or lie down and we play a game where I pretend to be a baby and I put my head in his lap – he then peers at me and laughs and touches my face. Another thing we do is lie end to end with just our heads touching. This way I don’t have the overwhelming feeling of being mauled 🙂 But on the whole I LOVE the fact that my supposedly aloof child who ‘shouldn’t’ like being touched is soooo connected with me x

  2. Emily Bartnikowski  

    This is a great article! Also, I have just had it confirmed that shortly after that picture was taken, I escaped into a warm bath for about twenty minutes and emerged refreshed. Luckily, my sick baby slept through the whole thing 🙂

  3. Natalie P.  

    Wow, this is just perfect timing. Just a week ago I was posting about being touched out, and here you are, writing about how to handle the feelings!

  4. Jessie

    Great article. I’ve got a husband, a 4 month old and a sick mother in law who are either demanding my attention, or leaving a war path in my house that demands my attention. My husband is having a VERY difficult time understanding this concept of being ‘touched-out’, needing mom time, and not immediately responding to the new sounds my son has discovered he can make.

  5. Kong Choon Yen

    Thanks for sharing. I do feel overwhelm at time when my sons become so clingy to me. Hope to come back to this blog again. Great info not to be missed.

  6. Crystal

    I have two super-clingy kids. I am SO touched out, especially because our daughter (adopted, and has been with us for 3 years) has an, ahem, *innappropriate attachment style*…and trying to teach her appropriate methods of affection (at already 7!) is draining the life out of me. My husband does NOT get it (but to be fair…she’s only ‘weird’ with me…and I have my own issues with this topic already). I have a therapist, a support group, and anxiety meds…but it’s the day-to-day that makes me feel ill and wasted. DCF did not know this was part of her history. 🙁

    • Amy  

      Crystal, it sounds like you’re surrounding yourself with support and the day-to-day is really getting to you. Feeling touched out and frustrated with the needs of our children can take its toll. I’m curious about any trauma in you or your daughter’s past. Sometimes issues from the past surface in the parent-child relationship and it can be disconcerting. If any of this applies, you might benefit from reading the book Healing Trauma by Peter Levine. It’s short and there are some practical exercises that may help. Take gentle care.

  7. crystal

    Thank you, Amy!

  8. Bradley

    Well maybe husbands can also get advice. We have 3 children. Our daughter is 8, is a talkative very loud uninhibited girl, our 4yr old son is quite opposite in ways. He has a develolmental delay that affects his speech & understanding so as a result he is much more independent in terms of being able to get himself food and a drink or operate the tv or DVD player because he has trouble communicating what he wants. Then we have a 4 month old boy that is breast fed. My wife sent me this article & while i understand it to a degree i find other parts hard to get. I sleep in the same room as baby not her she sleeps alone in the bedroom. I bring baby to her if he wakes up. He pretty much sleeps through the night for the last month or so. She goes to work out at the gym 3-4 days a week as time to herself which she enjoys. I have a nanny/housekeeper come 3 days a week for 3 hours to help her in any way she wants. Yet i feel neglected and she says she loves me but needs her space or is tired & frustrated with having the kids all day. I feel she doesn’t miss me. When i come home i immediately get changed and start helping with homework or baths or holding baby or getting kids tucked in. What she says would be most helpful. Yet come our time, it is either left out or cut down to a minimum to where she gets a massage while we watch part of a show and then she wants to go to bed. Yet she has time to message people on Facebook including another guy that I’ve found flirting with her. I feel like i am just a chore on the list and i guess i don’t get why after being with kids all day why you wouldn’t welcome your hubby with open arms longing for adult company. I compliment her & try to do whatever i can for her but i feel she should want to be around me, especially seeing i pull my weight & even cook supper or sometimes order out when i know she has had a tough day. However nobody says anything about the husband but that they don’t get it. Well we work hard during the day, shop for the home, look after kids too. The good ones dont come home and check out. They come & help get kids supper & to bed, get themselves supper many times and even lately cook for their wives. So when do they get their turn. They are up from 6:30am to get both kids to school while wife only had to feed baby at 7am and got to go back to sleep. We have to go to work. Then at 6-7pm when we get home hungry & tired we help with kids and supper then hold a fussy baby while she is getting her time in the gym to get her frustration out & recharge while we dont have boobs so no way to calm baby but rock him & sing & when that stops working we just have to deal. Then after massaging her and maybe getting 15-30 min if he’s lucky he goes to the couch. Sorry but it works both ways. Any husband that came home after a hard days work & is stressed and yet if he comes in, expects food on the table & then sits on the couch & checks out in front of the tv for the next 2 hours he would be labeled asshole of the year. Sorry i know you will not like me but when does the spouse count.

    • Amy Phoenix

      Hi Bradley, I’m really hearing that you are trying to be understanding, accommodating and helpful in regards to your partner feeling touched out and yet you have needs also that you’d like to discuss. I commend you for coming to read, and for commenting. The willingness to keep the conversation going with your partner may help you both come to more mutual understanding as well as solutions.

      As a response to your question about where husbands fit in, I think the first step is both parties working to be honest and willing to communicate and get support if needed. I don’t know all of what your partner is dealing with, and there aren’t really any “should’s” that fit everyone. It’s more important to connect and find ways to mutually keep the love alive in ways that work for both. If mom’s feeling touched out, possibly working with boundaries and exploring new ways to connect meaningfully as partners can help. Getting to what’s underneath the disconnect is essential though, and therapy or coaching can help when two parties are willing. Sometimes having an objective third party assist when communication is strained can really make a difference.

      The early years of parenting, and marriage alone, can be intense and exhausting, for all involved. Doing whatever we can to maintain or restore the health of the partnership will yield beneficial results and is worthy of attention. Honesty and a willingness to work together towards solutions are the foundation for getting through the challenges, and utilizing them for growth, both personally and in the family.

  9. Lynnzee

    I feel this way a lot. My youngest 11 months co sleeps and nurses on demand. She nurses sometimes 6 times a night. I get angry and I need to find a way to channel it when she wont go to sleep with out nursing. My husband works 7 days a week so he doesn’t help a lot. She has never slept through the night. I’m just exhausted and find myself getting frustrated Easily. I never get any time to myself.

  10. Amy Phoenix

    Hi Lynnzee, it can feel intense when we don’t get time to ourselves and/or we are nursing on demand. Sometimes this is a sign we need to make some gentle changes to bring more health to our lives. Some moms choose to night wean, or bedtime wean, to create a bit of space at bedtime. Others continue to nurse, and establish other healthy practices that help them find more space to themselves. Having a mom’s helper, nursing a bit less often by checking in with what feels right inside and saying no sometimes (but offering appropriate foods to an older baby) and engaging in some activities you love can help. Motherhood can be consuming, yet we can learn to rediscover ourselves along the way.

    Here’s a resource for dealing with frustration in the moment also…