I'm not a hugger. My parents and grandparents were not the touchy-feely type. Goodnight kisses were perfunctory and often skipped as my mother struggled to get three kids to bed on her own after a long day, so touch was not well known to me. When I had kids, I made it a point to be very affectionate with them, to normalize touch. But, it can get overwhelming and I find myself retreating at night, wanting my own space. But what does it mean to feel touched out? Is that even what it is, or is there something more insidious afoot?
Feeling touched out is that claustrophobic feeling you get after being affectionate for an extended period of time, even if that affection is welcome, noted La Leche League USA. It's especially true for new mothers who are experiencing this level of prolonged physical tactility for the first time. The very act of becoming a mother is an exercise in physicality and closeness that terminates in a relationship saturated with the need for touch, affection, and tactile comfort — even more so for breastfeeding mothers whose ability to maintain any level of personal space remains disrupted for a period of months or years. Frequently mothers report feeling touched out, meaning they simply can not abide any more physical contact for a period of time, needing those stolen moments to reduce anxiety and prepare for the next round of intimacy.
I truly love my children, and I love the snuggles and the kisses — they're the best parts of my day. They make me feel like I'm doing something right by them, even if I'm screwing up everything else. I've read the studies linking physical affection to future performance, so I started cuddling them the minute they were born, and I've kept that going for nine years. But sometimes, I can't. I just need a few hours where no one touches me, no one tries to cuddle, and no one expects contact. Thankfully, my kids are now in school, which has the tendency to produce the opposite issue — I get clingy to them now. But during the summer? It still happens.
I spoke to family therapist Ashlee Grubb, LCSW of Northern Maine, to find out about what it means to feel touched out, and if there's a solution. She tells Romper, "It's that feeling when your skin itches, or you feel like the room is closing in on you when someone touches you or you think about touching someone. It happens a lot in new mothers who begin to feel averse to intimacy with their husbands in the evening because they've spent all day with their kids hanging on them." She says it's perfectly normal to feel this way, and it's the brain's way of telling you that you need to recharge. "Humans do need physical touch," she says, "but they also need time alone. Time where they can zone out and be with themselves absent of any intrusion. It's like resting your voice after screaming all day. It's needed and healthful."
A lot of people expect moms to be everything to all people. A madonna figure to her children, a strong and social working woman, and a seductress in bed. While it is possible to be all three of these things, it can't happen without measures put in place for you to just breathe. Grubb suggests splitting night duties with your partner and taking a long walk or exercising alone. "The endorphin rush from the movement helps clear the cobwebs from your mind and the sense of claustrophobia that tends to envelop you as a mom." However, if the sense of feeling touched out escalates or contributes to a rising pattern of anxiety, you might want to talk to someone about it, if only to get a baseline reading of the situation so you can take steps to move beyond what's bothering you.
We all want to be good moms, and that means we need to be good to ourselves first.
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