Healing Touches: The Hug Theory

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch,
a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment,
or the smallest act of caring,
all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
— Dr. Leo F. Buscaglia

A Goodnight Hug. Mary Cassatt (1844-1926). Pastel On Brown Paper.

A Goodnight Hug. Mary Cassatt (1844-1926). Pastel On Brown Paper.

During a recent radio interview, the show’s host asked me a final question relating to the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on my life. She queried, “What do you think helped you most to heal from the PTSD?”

Without a moment’s hesitation I responded, “human touch.” The response was so automatic it actually surprised me, just as it did the radio announcer. Yet when I think about all of the medications I’ve taken and therapies I’ve undergone to try and abate the PTSD symptoms and ancillary illnesses, I am amazed at how the touch of a loved one seems to do more to help ease the emotional and physical pain than any other remedy.

Over these many years since I was first diagnosed with the affliction, I have experienced my share of negative responses to situations. Many are spurred by a violent event which caused the hidden memories in my mind to reemerge. The “props,” as my doctor calls them, are the elements of an incident that bare a similarity to the episode that initially caused the trauma. In my case, it was Sept. 11, 2001 at the Flight 93 crash site. There, along with other representatives from the law enforcement profession, I first stepped onto that hallowed field. As I looked out across the barren wasteland of that landfill, I viewed pieces of objects that were once a part of the plane. In those initial moments of response, my heart broke and my mind frayed into scattered pieces of the whole. Over time, the effects of the trauma became embedded in my psyche and soon it seemed that the PTSD overcame my entire being. And, all too soon, the physiological and psychological aftermath was undeniable.

In the years that followed the diagnosis of the illness, there appears to be only one element that gives me complete solace. In the middle of some foreboding or dark memory that escapes from the passages of my mind, a touch or a hug from loved ones has immediately brought me back to the present time. The pain and sorrow dissipate with the warmth of human contact that reminds me all is well. Contained within several chapters of my book, In The Shadow Of A Badge, are examples of moments when a gentle touch brought me back to reality. I wrote about how in the midst of one particularly grim flashback, my granddaughter’s soothing hands ended the terrible remembrances of the tragic events of 9/11 and the field that haunted me instantly disappeared. The warm touch of humanity prevailed over the distant memory that tore at my heart and obstructed my ability to see past the anguish.

Since the radio interview, I had the occasion to talk with others who have been affected by PTSD. During each conversation, the individual has related the same thoughts about healing touches. So in my experiences, a hug can do more to quiet the mind and uplift the spirit than any other treatment administered. If these reflections are not just a theory and a hug is indeed a therapeutic method of healing, it is my hope that others who suffer from PTSD will find some comfort through the soothing caresses of their family and friends. Perhaps then, they too will find a way to mollify their despair.