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Tuesday, February 17, 2009


> What do you mean by skin hunger?

Skin hunger is a documented physiological condition recognized by medical and psychiatric organizations. I don't recall the formal Latin name.

Essentially it's the adult version of failure-to-thrive syndrome. Early in this century, social workers at city orphanages discovered that babies who received no physical contact -- cuddling, rocking, kisses, tickling -- beyond the bare minimum of daily maintenance became withdrawn, sickly, and finally died. The conclusion seemed to be that human beings require a certain level of daily skin-to-skin contact in order to survive.

Skin hunger is the condition that applies to later life. Older children and adults may have received adequate contact as babies but, for various reasons, no longer receive that same level of touch. They become isolated and defensive, suffer intense feelings of loneliness, and may develop a number of neuroses and personality disorders such as schizophrenia or multiple personality disorders (Remind you of someone?) They're also hypersensitive to temperature changes because their blood circulation deteriorates; also, loss of tactile sensitivity is common.

In sedentary subjects, skin hunger also causes muscle damage, particularly in the shoulders and back, in theory because the subjects are always tensed in order to ward off either a harmful touch or rejection of their need. Physically active subjects seem to suffer less of this, simply because a regular exercise routine keeps the muscles from becoming atrophied and teaches them how to work off the emotional stress locked in their bodies.

Skin hunger is very common in victims of physical and sexual abuse -- for obvious reasons, I should think. The most effective therapy so far is a regular schedule of full-body massage by a monitored, licensed masseur in addition to mental health counseling. Therapists usually have to prove their trustworthiness before any progess is made; trust is a BIG issue with skin hunger patients.

The condition also occurs in people who have suffered a major accident or contracted a communicable disease that requires quarantine. Ever been in a full body cast and felt like nobody loves you? Social isolation can also trigger it. If you've broken up with your loved one and withdrawn from the world, and suddenly you feel as if there's this aching void between your empty arms, you're experiencing rudimentary skin hunger.

Written by Dawn Lee

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