Do you ever get so overwhelmed from being touched all the time that you just want to scream? Do you want to run away when your child needs a hug? Does your husband’s gentle caress in the evening make you want to smack his hands and yell at him to leave you alone?
This is what “touched out” feels like.
“It was explained to me as being like a cup… there is a limited capacity for touching and when you reach that capacity, it overflows and makes you feel like you’re drowning in touch! As for hubby, he missed out for many years because my cup was filled by kids…” – Kerryn
“It feels like you have scarab beetles crawling all over you and you’d like nothing better than to jump out of your skin and run away from it.” – Bree
This feeling appears to be common among parents, but especially mums, and especially breastfeeding and/or bedsharing mums. Feeling “touched out” can be trigger intrusive thoughts, such as:
- inadequacy as a parent because you feel unable to meet your child’s emotional needs
- guilt because you don’t want to kiss and cuddle but feel like you should
- confusion of why you feel these negative feelings towards people you love
I am not an overly affectionate person. I am a loving person, but affection and touch don’t come naturally to me – I show my love through kind words, support and acts of service. That said, touch is essential for raising kids, and am trying very hard to learn to be what they need.
My son is one of those kids who needs a lot of affection and love to keep his cup filled. He is nearly 5 and when he’s not sitting all over me with his arms around my neck, he’s treating me like his own personal gym, swinging from my arms, clutching at my legs and generally climbing all over me. Sometimes as I lie in his bed waiting for him to doze off, he’ll impulsively sit up and climb on top of me, lying all of his 18.8kg over the top of my body, head in my chest and arms around my neck.
Take into consideration I am a mum of 2, tandem feeding, bedsharing and at home with my kids almost 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (neither are in daycare or have regular time away from me) combined with the fact that, as stated, I am not a touchy-feely kind of person and you may be able to grasp the overwhelming suffocation I feel when I CAN’T HAVE FIVE SECONDS ALONE WITH EVERYONE KEEPING THEIR BLOODY HANDS TO THEMSELVES!
When I feel touched out, I actually feel like my kids are trying to grope me. I feel shame as I read those words back to myself, but it’s true. I feel like I’m at the movies next to a horny teenager who wants to take something from me that I don’t want to give up. I feel suffocated.
Sometimes I love kisses and cuddles and snuggles, but when I have had enough, I feel powerless to stop it. I want to recoil, to protect myself and to sometimes lash out, but I can’t. My kids just want to feel loved by their mama.
Maybe “touched out” doesn’t adequately describe the situation, because as it turns out it’s not the touch that’s upsetting me, it’s the “take”. When I am not meeting their needs by using my touch to make them feel loved, they find ways to satisfy the urge. This is the climbing, jumping and clutching at me that I struggle to cope with. My frustration is now my cue to start giving out touch so that that my kids don’t need to take it from me. I become proactive in displaying my love. My kids need to feel my skin on their skin, and that’s OK. I can meet those needs, but I don’t have to relinquish my bodily autonomy to do so. Instead of gritting my teeth through their touches, I meet their needs on my own terms, by:
- giving them a backrub/massage
- keeping them close in a sling or carrier
- bedsharing (my son sleeps in his own bed in his own bedroom, but during recent hot nights we’ve camped out in the lounge room under the air conditioner, and he’s significantly more easygoing the day after he’s slept next to me all night)
- actively engaging in roughousing
- chasing the kids and wrapping them up in my arms when I catch them
- playing games like “paper scissors rock”, thumb wrestles and “Snap” with cards
My natural instinct is to withdraw and avoid all touch, but this only exacerbates the problem. By taking the initiative and actively giving my kids what they crave, they don’t need to demand it as much. And once the demands dropped off, so did my “touched out” feelings. I am still learning to initiate affection, but for now I can at least follow their leads and give more when I need to. It’s exciting to see an improvement and to know I have made personal progress as a mum. The satisfaction of changing the situation to something that I can not only tolerate but celebrate is an empowering and welcome change.
If you are struggling to maintain healthy relationships with your children, you can talk to your GP about looking after your mental health, and you can visit PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia).
Do you sometimes feel “touched out”? How do you manage it?