There are some things a hug won’t fix.
Like when you’re desperate to jump out of your own skin because it feels like everyone wants a piece of you — everyone from the kids to the husband to the family pet. And all you want is a piece of your goddamn personal bubble.
“I’m done, just DONE!”
“I just want to be left alone with no one touching me.”
“I need my own body back.”
Oy, there I go quoting myself again! Let’s defer to an expert. Clinical social worker and Momaste blogger Charlotte Porter describes being all touched-out as “the physical and emotional sensation of wanting to hatch out of your own flesh at the touch of another. For me it manifests as an internal itching and crawling of my skin. It comes from the never-ending demands our little ones place on our physical and emotional being, since conception.”
Is she on point or what?
Let’s paint a picture. When your husband (partner/baby daddy/I trust you to replace with the appropriate pronoun) gets home from work or school or wherever he went while you cared for the baby, it feels like he immediately needs you. He may not actually immediately need you at all, but I assume you have high expectations of yourself because, you know, you’re a mom, and if you’re not ten steps ahead then you’re way behind. Your husband doesn’t burst in demanding that you rub his feet or get his dinner ready or claim that he can’t watch the baby yet because he’s got things to do. Nope, he’s perfectly awesome and he simply wants to embrace you and kiss you “hello,” to hug all over you and, my goodness, cuddle on the couch while you talk about how your days went. He needs a nice transition to normalcy after working all day.
But to you, this sounds like the worst kind of torture! Embracing?? Kissing?? Hugging?? That’s been my job ALL day!, you think. What about MY transition to normalcy?, you wonder. Will I ever get a break?
Then you question if you even make any sense. You do, because…
You’re. All. Touched. Out.
Yes, it’s a “thing!” It’s the thing when you’re just fucking done!
I was done talking with faces always thisclose, done with touching, done with demands of others upon me and my breasts and my hair as a pull-toy and my freely-given kisses and hugs and my hands that make dinner for everyone and my legs that chase after a tiny person in the house picking up messes he’ll never realize he left behind. And I was done with every previously cherished item in my brain’s thought-scape being burglarized by someone I’d only known for a fraction of my life, as my mind was constantly fixated on my baby’s every movement, noise, facial expression, and suspected intention. And most of all, I wanted to be done feeling so “done” because I had an endless amount of love to give.
If you’re feeling all touched-out, you may be incredibly confused by your emotions especially if you’ve always been the touchy-feely type. I’m not especially touchy-feely; in fact, I’ve always known that I need lots of alone time to be able to recharge my energy and vibrancy of spirit. Still, I was alarmed that the mere thought of physical touch had become repulsive to me.
I love (I should emphasize…LOVE) the strong physical connection I’ve always had with my son and I’ve never even considered placing restrictions upon my affection toward him. I wanted to want to give all of myself all the time, because that’s what “good moms” do, but sometimes… I just wanted to be done for a while.
Not a majority of the time but a memorable percent of it, I felt like I was just trying to “get through it.”
I had to get through the guilt of not wanting to share my body with others. My body worked for my son when he wanted it, any time and place on demand. And my body was a tool for intimacy with my husband in moments when the baby’s needs were all met. With no time to reconnect with myself alone, my body stopped feeling like mine.
I had to get through the panic that I was a bad mother for fantasizing about running the hell away. There were times when I didn’t think I could handle the life being sucked out of my breasts all day and night anymore.
I had to get through the hesitance to even write the words “I had to get through…”, a hesitance born out of fear that I’ll sound like a martyr. It should feel wonderful and fulfilling to physiologically attach closer and deeper to your family as you all grow. And it does — but it’s a sacrifice of self in many ways. Mothers aren’t martyrs, but it’s okay to acknowledge that we do have limits and sometimes we’re just all touched-out and what we want most is not for everyone else to go away, but knowing that we can go away… alone and unmolested… with no one to answer to, to think about, to give all of our hearts and all of our bodies to. No one to kiss “hello” at the exact moment we were wishing we just had our faces to ourselves for a minute.
So, I had to get through it. But that doesn’t mean I wallowed in resentment and frustration, silently counting all the times no one asked me what was wrong just to see how high the number could get. No. I recognized what was happening, and I asked for space.
I tried to explain my feelings (as best as I understood them) to my husband. I explained how it can be tooth-grittingly frustrating, angering, guilt-inducing, and depressing to be “all touched-out.” I needed more space, more time to be alone and feel like an individual human being, because I didn’t want to be a frustrated, angry, guilt-ridden, and depressed mother. You see, the chemicals and hormones in my body were in charge then, and my silly emotions and I had become the awkward third wheel.
This touched-out thing can be difficult to describe to someone who can’t fathom reacting with aversion to being “loved on” constantly, or how it can so easily break down your identity (years or decades in the making!) to entertain these intense feelings of responsibility and loyalty and physical synchronicity with another developing being. It was even harder to explain why, if I was so truly burned out on physical intimacy, I refused to take a break from pouring out as much affection as I had to give.
I explained how even when our child separated from my body at the moment the umbilical cord was severed, I still felt as though we were a unit displacing the same atoms in space. It took my brain longer than my body to realize that our child, at some point, was no longer a physical extension of me. Such a revelation can be pretty rough and even dangerously abrupt for the exceptionally sleep-deprived, hormonally-fired emotional psyche to handle.
Still, you continue to offer yourself for touching-upon, and the cycle of emotional drainage persists. Are you plagued with guilty thoughts that your loved ones require your immediate attention and love and constant touch because they deserve that much? Because they deserve for you to suck it up, to ignore the physiological reaction you’re having to over-intimacy, to just get over the aversion?
I believe there’s an easier, better way to heal. The truth is, feeling “all touched-out” is so common for new mothers, especially those who exclusively breastfeed or who breastfeed multiple children. What everyone involved deserves most is for you to keep an open dialogue about your emotions. Let them know this is something a hug can’t fix.