17 January, 2012

I was just thinking about when my dad will touch me in ways I don't like to be touched like putting his arm around me or putting his arm on my back. Without having a clearly defined rubric, I guess my deal is that with most people, what I want from physical contact is something brief--really tight hug and let go, squeeze hand and let go. I don't like to have to go a long time with someone's arm around me, especially if they are bigger than me.

Sometimes I have just sat in movies having my enjoyment of the movie dampened by my dad's arm on my back. Sometimes I have managed to come up with excuses to move away supposedly to do something else but really just to get away from contact. And sometimes especially lately I just immediately move away, stiffen to an extent that my dad can't ignore, pull my shoulders in away from his arm, or shrug him off. When I do those things, it's obvious that I am saying NO.

What I think is interesting is that when I do things that say NO, a)my dad looks offended, and b)my mom tells me, "That was mean."

Even though I am disabled and a woman and those are two groups of people who aren't supposed to say no to touch, I don't really think this happens because I am disabled or a woman, I think it's really normal. But it's kind of messed up and I think people should think more about touch!

Should someone have to accept touch that they don't want, especially for a long period of time? Is it mean to display nonverbally that you want someone to stop touching you? I don't think so.


  1. Of course not. And of course not.

    And I know this isn't apples to apples, but my wife's family and family friends are huggers and kissers. I am only too happy to shake hands. Shaking hands doesn't bother me in the slightest, but I detest having to hug and (worse) kiss hello to people who, though very nice, I'm not comfortable touching.

    It feels funny and wrong and uncomfortable and so when you write about "the bad touch" that's what immediately comes to mind as something to help me imagine it.

    It has been noticed that I shy away from the kisses and the hugs, and some people are cool with it. . . others are militantly opposed to being thwarted because "they're just trying to be nice!"

    And now I hug many of them more comfortably than I once did, but I don't like it. And it IS considered rude by some of them, so I sort of make my peace with it, but I would just as soon they understood my reservations and honored them.

  2. I agree. I personally really like being touched/hugged (I guess it's my one manifestation of sensory-seeking).

  3. I don't really like being held or holding hands for more than like a second or two either. It feels like a restraint or something.

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  5. I agree you shouldn't have to accept touch you don't want and it's ok to display your objection non-verbally. I don't like being hugged or touched but have gotten used to it over time, but only if it's brief.

  6. To sort of tie into what Jim said when I saw my great grandmother the last time before she died, she made me kiss her on the cheek. Literally no one had ever asked me to do that before... but I knew from school, of all things, that people from spanish speaking countries often greet people that way (generally people of the opposite gender as far as I know). "From spanish speaking countries" happens to be my great grandmother. It can be a cultural thing.

    At the same time, even though I said she made me do it, I really just mean she expected it and wouldn't have understood why I had refused if I had. She might have been disappointed if she lived long enough to meet her great grandson only for him to refuse to just kiss her on the cheek, but she wouldn't have been angry. And I guess that's a pretty big difference to me. You can be disappointed if someone doesn't want to give you something that you want from them, but it's not fair to hold it against that person or be angry. It should still be their decision.

    I think I would be sad if my last memory of being with my great grandmother was refusing to do that, but with other kinds of "entitled touch" I don't feel that way at all. It's just scary and overwhelming. And even if what Jim says "isn't apples to apples" the implications of people being entitled to anything like that is scary.

  7. I think this has to do with the fact that, for people who do like to be in physical contact with people they love, the only reason they can imagine for someone not wanting to be touched in that way is if they aren't feeling affectionate. I think that my tolerance of touch is similar to most NTs, and I enjoy extended touch when it's from someone I'm feeling affectionate towards and do not tolerate extended touch from people whom I don't like or when I'm not interested in sharing affection at that time. So if a close friend or family member tries to put an arm around me and I move away, it means that I am either mad at them or otherwise emotionally unavailable at the time (for example, if I am concentrating on something else that I think is more important).

    Likewise I think a lot of other times when NTs say "that was rude" or "that was mean" in response to arbitrary things it's because they're things that, when done by an NT of the same culture, would have indicated that the person was not paying attention or not being considerate or not feeling positively toward others.

    It could maybe help to try to arrange an alternate expression of affection that would assuage their fears that you're just being distant. I remember when I was a little kid I couldn't stand being kissed so my mother had to come up with something else instead.

    (This is Twitchy Woman, a glitch is preventing me from commenting under that ID)

    1. I mean, I get your POV but I don't see it as innocent the way you do--I don't think it's this simple difference between two groups of people. Sure autism affects someone's tolerance of touch (sometimes), but some people without autism wouldn't want to be touched that way either. When I've posted stuff like this I've even had non-autistic parents comment and say, "yeah, I don't like being touched either, why are people so into it?"

      I don't think that if I wasn't disabled I'd be cool with it. I mean, let's say someone really isn't feeling positively toward someone else and doesn't want to be touched by them. Do they really deserve to be called "mean" for doing that? I'm all for politeness, tbh I'm probably the most passive-aggressive person you'll ever meet, but the idea that you should have to actually tell a lie with your body when you're not feeling close to someone is taking it too far. Physical contact is a special thing, it shouldn't be forced.

      (Also, my parents have known me for 23 years, so if they didn't know that I don't like restrain-y types of touch...well, in that case we'd have a lot more problems than just touch. So the fact that they've known me for so long and still say, "That's mean" makes me feel like it's not a simple misunderstanding.)

  8. My sister went through a time when all of her sensory issues started affecting her much more strongly than they had before and she didn't want any kind of touch initiated by anyone else for a long time. It was really hard on my parents because of their skill set as much as because of her comfort levels. They are not people who are comfortable expressing emotions verbally, and use touch for pretty much all of their emotive communication. So they responded to my sister shrinking away, dodging, etc. as if it was a set of codes that everyone had the same key to. So what my parents were hearing was:

    Mom, via hug: I love you
    Sister, via shrinking away: I don't love you back
    Everyone: ::sad::


    Dad, via hug: I'm sorry your day was so awful and want to be here for you
    Sister, via dodging: I don't want you around.
    Everyone: ::sad::

    When in reality it was going like:

    Mom, via hug: I love you
    Sister, via shrinking away: I can't handle someone touching my skin today
    ::terrible miscommunication::

    I think I was particularly alert when this happened because I'm actually on the opposite extreme as far as touch-seeking and my parents also had difficulty when I was much smaller parsing me being like WARM HEAVY COMPRESSIVE CONTACT ON MY LIMBS ALL THE TIME PLEASE.

    (None of us have diagnoses but observationally we all have sensory processing challenges.)

  9. Amanda,
    In terms of why they *still* don't know that you don't like that--

    I'd say that it might be willful ignorance. Some of my own relatives used to ignore me when I would be visibly upset/angry when they tried to hug/kiss/get too close to me, and despite the fact that I have repeatedly explained to them *precisely* why I don't like it, they continue to ignore that. So I either move away, yell, or push them away, which makes them feel sad and which I'm okay with.

    (To be clear, I'm not trying to tell you that you're doing something wrong. That is not what I mean, and I'm sorry if this comes out that way.)