A caress is a demonstration of love towards the other that is usually expressed through physical contact, but what happens when this action is not possible in a pandemic situation like the one we live in today?
When we want to express our affection to other people, we usually do it with our actions, according to what we think and what we want to convey to the other. Within all these forms of communication, caresses are not restricted only to bodily intimacy, but it is a much broader concept in which there are other types of caresses that are equally important and for which there are no distances.
Thus, Eric Berne, representative author of Transactional Analysis, understood caresses as: “any social stimulus that implies a unit of human recognition”. That is to say, that the person through verbal, physical, written or gestural gestures feels her existence recognized by another that gives her value and that makes her feel cared for, looked at and listened to.
This supposes one more need of the human being at the same level as the rest of the physiological needs (food, breathing, sleep …) and that we look for in different ways, replacing them when we do not find them. Positive caresses are those that produce an emotion or a pleasant sensation inviting the other to behave in the same line. That is why a child seeks that, for example, when his parents arrive from school, they express to him how happy they are for the drawing he has made or that an athlete seeks the look of pride of his family after a tough competition. All these displays of affection can be done in many ways, beyond the hug, words also have a powerful effect on our psyche.
Negative caresses, in contrast, would be those that generate unpleasant emotions or sensations and that can be expressed in an aggressive way causing pain and lowering self-esteem. It is so important that we feel “seen” by those we want that this leads us, in certain situations, to prefer any gesture rather than indifference or the absence of it. What causes situations in which we crave a cry to a show of total disinterest in that person in particular since that implies, erroneously, that he “cares” in some way. As Steiner said: “the sensation of living within an emotional void is infinitely more unbearable than any physical pain.”
It was this author, precisely, a disciple of Berne who developed within this perspective a theory called the “economy of caresses.” These being a set of culturally accepted and not explicit norms that are transmitted from parents to children, preventing a free exchange of social stimuli. These laws are:
1. Don’t give positive caresses, even if you have to.
2. Don’t ask for caresses when you need them.
3. Don’t accept caresses, even if you want or deserve them.
4. Don’t reject unwanted touches or negative touches.
5. Don’t give yourself positive caresses.
In return, he postulated other norms such as laws of the “abundance of caresses” that specify the following:
1. Give all the caresses you want.
2. Ask for the caresses you need.
3. Accept those touches you want or think you deserve.
4. Reject those caresses that you do not want.
5. Allow yourself to caress yourself and value yourself.
This change in perspective implies that we can relate in a different way with others and with ourselves since we tend to “accept the love that we believe we deserve.” Therefore, at this time of health crisis in which contacts are more limited, I want you to give yourself a
Time to think about some of these reflections: How do you think you could express to others what you feel? Do you think you say it often or do you take it for granted? Do you give yourself the love that you express to others?