The researcher behind the thesis, Caroline Johansson, demonstrates that people who had an insecure attachment to their parents, and who did not feel appreciated and loved as children, are often more afraid of being rejected by others. Her studies also show that there is a connection between that fear and skills in verbal and non-verbal communication. Difficulties with physical contact can also cause problems with verbal communication.
The thesis is based on self-assessment forms, which asked 300 people questions about their upbringing and physical contact. Of these, 14 people were interviewed in depth, of whom half were people who tried to avoid physical contact and the other half had no problem with it.
The people who struggled with contact described how they simply didn’t know when and how to touch other people and that they felt great anxiety about their bodies and their appearance, explained Caroline Johansson. They experienced a fear that other people would discover their inability to deal with physical contact and thus worried about finding themselves in situations where contact could not be avoided. They also saw their fear of touch as a problem and wished they could feel differently.
“One surprising result was that these people couldn’t get enough of everyday physical contact in romantic relationships”, said Caroline Johansson. “This was because physical contact gave them such a strong sense of being loved and valued, probably owing to their feelings of insecurity that stemmed from their insecure upbringing.”
More studies are needed to investigate how these people deal with situations such as becoming a parent, and what society can do to facilitate good attachment between parents and children.
Caroline Johansson defended her thesis on 4 September at Lund University, entitled Perception of touch – developmental and personality factors in touch avoidance.
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