Thursday, 20 June 2013

Can Lack of Affection Really Cause Death? Yes!

Like every other day, this morning's routine was in full swing by 05:36.  Five little fingers tickled my toes from the bottom of the bed (I must remember to keep them hidden under the duvet) urging me to 'rise and shine'.  I trudged down the passage and into the kitchen to get my little one's milk ready (bottle it, warm it) whilst my wife got her dressed.  Although the routine was like every other morning, for some reason, this morning, I took the time to stop for a brief moment just to stare at my little lady as she lay on the couch drinking her milk.  (I'm so in love!).  I said to her as she lay there: “I love you so much my girl.” She replied: “Daddy, don’t say that!”   Rather perplexed I asked her why not; her response, “because it’s boring.”  Boring?  Heck, if she is bored with me telling her how much I love her already, what are her teen years going to be like?

This little dialogue has been at the forefront of my mind all day.  It makes for a great story, but besides that, it made me reflect on the importance of showing my girl all the love and affection I possibly can and to let her know just how much she is loved every time I have the urge to do so.   But why is it so important that I do this?  Does it even matter if I do or don't?  The short answer is “yes it does matter”.  Without physical contact and affection, children will not develop neurologically as they should.  In fact, research has shown that children who are offered the basics, i.e. food and water, yet lack human touch and affection, will die.  Statistics show that more than a hundred years ago, 99% of babies in orphanages in the United States died before the age of seven months (this phenomenon occurred a few years later in Romanian orphanages too).  These orphanages were equipped with enough food and more than adequate sterilising and antibacterial procedures, yet the infants continued to literally waste away (a condition called Marasmus); neither disease nor malnutrition were the cause.  Sterile surroundings couldn't prevent these deaths nor could having enough food.  These infants died from a completely different kind of deprivation: a lack of touch.  When orphaned infants were removed from these large, clean (yet impersonal) institutions to environments where they received physical nurturing along with formula milk, the marasmus reversed. The result - they gained weight and finally began to thrive.

A lack of touch not only affects survival rates in infants, but it also plays an important role in the development of neurological pathways in the brain.  Research shows that those infants who lack affection fail to fully develop the frontal cortex of their brain, leaving a “black hole” in its stead.  This area of the brain is what makes it possible for humans to handle their emotions, connect with the sensitivity of others and to feel emotions such as pleasure. In conclusion, this level of neglect left children permanently brain damaged.

So these are all biological issues associated with a lack of affection – what of social implications?  We are all familiar with the term self-esteem, yet few of us may know its origin.  In Rogerian terms (famous psychologist Carl Rogers), self-esteem is our actual self (who we currently are) versus our ideal self (who we would like to be).  The closer these two are in reality, the higher one's own self-esteem.  Children who are loved, liked and shown unconditional affection get the message that it is okay to be me. This will in turn have a huge impact on them liking themselves, increasing the likelihood of a higher level of self-esteem as they grow into young adults and beyond.


1 comment

  1. My wife and I have two young boys and we talk about this, how much hugging and affection is too much. I probably veer toward the giving a little too much too them. For one, I won't always be able to. For another, they don't necessarily get what "I love you means", but a hug, they can get.

    And let's face it. The teen years are going to be rough no matter how you slice it.


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