Holding Someone’s Hand During Painful Emotional Processing Can Lessen Their Long-Term Emotional Pain

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I grew up feeling like there was no one who was really in my corner. Part of a large family of introverted perfectionists, I felt like I couldn’t do anything right. And I always felt kind of extra, unwanted. Like an extra mouth to feed, another obligation my parents had.

I made friends at school pretty easily. But even then, I often felt like the odd one out. In my very first friendship, for example, I befriended a girl in kindergarten who already had a best friend she met in kindergarten. I was sort of her backup best friend. Her next-best friend.

I typically had other people around growing up, but did I feel like anyone’s first choice? No.

And I certainly didn’t have anyone I felt comfortable going to when I was really struggling emotionally and expecting them to help me through a difficult time. No shoulder to cry on. No one to hold my hand while I talked about what was bothering me.

That would come later on in life — after I set out from the place where I grew up and went on a strange journey that led to my eventually finding my people.

These days, I do have people I can talk to. And my partner is especially good about holding my hand — or holding all of me in a hug — while I talk about what’s wrong.

Does that mean I never go through painful experiences? Not at all. But it does seem to help me get through them — especially in the long term.

And a research study I stumbled onto sheds a little more light on what might be going on here.

Holding Someone’s Hand During Painful Emotional Processing Can Lessen Their Long-Term Emotional Pain

The study found that physical contact during emotional processing could help the emotional pain not last as long.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the individuals who had physical contact while sharing painful memories with their partners didn’t experience immediate pain from doing so. They did actually. In this study, handholding didn’t seem to affect the immediate pain of emotional processing. However, in the followup surveys later down the road, participants who had their hands held had lessened pain versus those who didn’t.

According to the study authors, “These findings suggest that touch does not decrease the immediate experience of emotional pain and may instead support adaptive processing of emotional experiences over time.”

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

Featured Image: CC BY – Waithamai