No Touching Please! On Social Distancing

by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on April 3, 2020

Six feet, one meter, two meters –whatever the new required distance is to be safe and not contract or spread COVID-19 social distancing asks us to stay away from each other the required distance. To not touch each other.  To choreograph our movements within a certain distance.

To be aware that any of us could make the other sick.

As a way to keep us safe, social distancing is putting a stop to touching, to being close. 

In the interest of stopping a world epidemic, we are being asked to be mindful about where we move, how we move and what and whom we touch. How is all this distance affecting us?

Touch is the first of our senses to introduce another person to us. Our physical sense of ourselves comes alive through the touch of another. Through the way they touch us – handle us, hold us and take care of us. From the very beginning of our lives.

Touch is essential to all of us as human beings.

We touch to comfort and soothe each other

To greet each other

To love each other

Even, to hurt each other.

Needless to say, we do not do well without it. We are not wired to be alone. We are relational beings and need to be in relation to one another. The envelope of our skin, while holding us together and allowing us to feel the way people and objects feel – their particular smoothness, firmness, shape – also transmits tactile information to us about us, and our response to the touch of another. Social distancing has inadvertently interrupted this loop of essential information in order to protect us.

Lest you think that this is only true for those who live alone or find themselves that way during this pandemic, think again. The notion that this virus is very contagious and can be transmitted easily and to the power of 4 has infiltrated our psyche. We now have to consider who we spend our time with, and for many, the question of whether to be with parents, children, friends and lovers involves considering the fact that our contact with them might put them at risk. That being healthy and asymptomatic does not necessarily mean we are not carrying the virus. To be afraid to touch someone we love or care for because we might infect them and bring a potentially deadly virus to their body is not something any of us have ever had to contend with or think about. This is where social distancing and social isolation hook up, and in so doing highlight the link between our body and our psyche. 

Being mindful about how we move and physically negotiate in the world does indeed have psychic consequences – for now, those involve developing a sense of connection through virtual means, and this in turn heightens the importance of our other senses. This is a time when our relationships and our need to stay connected is of utmost importance.

Be well.

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