Is There a Downside to Cuddling?

Cuddling CatsI often go to T-Group, a weekly sensitivity or authentic relating practice group.  The idea behind T-Group is to talk about your feelings and in so doing you become aware of your deeper desires or motivation behind our actions, then share that with others in the group.  With awareness of our inner experience we gain mastery over ourselves and thus enable us to grow in our ability to appreciate, enjoy and love what life is offering.

As children we gain self-mastery when we learn how to detect our bowels or bladder tension, which indicates we need to relieve ourselves.  Then we develop an additional self-mastery when we learn how to relieve ourselves by either releasing the muscle that is holding back our bladder’s contents or activating the muscles of peristalsis.  This ‘potty training’ greatly enhances the overall quality of our life experience.

As infants we need our parents or caregivers to feed us, change our diapers and soothe us when we are stressed.  But as we mature we develop lots of awarenesses and skills beyond potty training, such as walking, riding a bike, thinking disciplines and the like that all increase the overall quality of our life.  The more self-mastery skills we obtain the richer our life experience becomes.  Those who fail to develop these awarenesses and skills have a diminished quality of a life experience.

T-Group in particular and many other types of authentic relating exercises are there to help us practice and grow in our ability to care for ourselves and be honest with both ourselves and others.  As we sit in group the intention is to feel what we are feeling and share that with one another.  If we are feeling anxious or depressed then we share that with the group.

Our body can release various chemicals, hormones or neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin that counteract the stress in our body and have an anti-anxiety effect or are ‘soothing’ effect.  Science has shown that these chemicals contribute to “pro-social behaviors” and healthy emotional responses such as “relaxation, trust and psychological stability.” (Oxytocin: the neuropeptide of love reveals some of its secrets. Neumann ID, Cell Metabolism, 2007, volume 5, issue 4, pages 231-233 (DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2007.03.008).)  These chemicals can be released by touch, affection and cuddling or they can be released naturally in the body via positive emotions.

When we are feeling stress, anxiety or depression we have the opportunity to go deeper into the desires or wants that are creating these feelings.  As we keep exploring our feelings we will discover that beyond the anxiety or depression is the deepest feeling and/or desire to be independent, happy and healthy.

If we are constantly asking others to help us manage our emotions or feelings then we fail to develop our own self-mastery skills.

The first step in this process of authentic relating is to fully FEEL what you are feeling without needing to act on those feelings.  If we use T-Group and other social opportunities to become aware of our feelings this will give us an opportunity to develop skills of self-mastery by practicing positive emotions, thus we create a greater sense of self-confidence and an opportunity to develop love-based relationship.  If we fail to develop these awarenesses and skills then our relationships will be fear-based, fearful that we will lose our source of chemicals that soothe us, a chemical addiction.  This chronic fear or anxiety has been shown to be very unhealthy in the long run and greatly reduces the quality of a person’s life experience.

As infants and children we need others to sooth us when we are stressed.  Parents touch and cuddle us, which releases these chemicals allowing our bodies to relax and create a sense inner peace.   As we mature some people learn how to ‘self-sooth’ by practicing positive emotions and thus no longer NEED others to help them sooth themselves when life produces stress.  Others never learn this self-soothing behavior and thus are dependent on others for affection to produce these necessary chemicals in our system to help us deal with stress.  This dependency on others leads these latter people to seek out relationships that end up being very co-dependent, unhealthy and in the long run destructive to the well being of the co-dependent person or people.

T-Group is about first gaining the awareness of our feelings and second about practicing self care by developing the ability to address them ourselves so as not NEED others to address them for us.

In one of my recent T-Groups the other 4 members of the group immediately cuddled together on the bed while I sat opposite of them alone.  There was not much talking about feelings in that group, they were mostly just cuddling.  At the time, I felt ok with them cuddling but later I felt something was ‘wrong’ with it.

When I looked further into what I was feeling I found I felt a sense of ‘distaste’ about their cuddling.  I had to ask myself, “What is behind that distaste?”  What is ‘wrong’ with people enjoying the affections of other people?  And why was I not interested in joining them, even when I was invited to do so?

The other four group members immediately went to cuddling together on the bed; they addressed their neediness the way that had since infants by seeking out touch, affection and cuddling without first looking at their feelings or motivations.  I realized I felt disappointment because those cuddling seemed to be seeking to avoid talking about their feelings behind their desire to snuggle or cuddle.  The cuddling seemed to be distracting people from their deeper feelings that was motivating them to cuddle.

This neediness is the crux of the challenge here. 

I can see that sometimes giving someone a hug or other form of physical contact can help calm them down so that they can look deeper into what they are feeling.  Yet, when people rely on the affections and physical contact with others to soothe them when they are troubled then this tactic of affection or snuggling becomes co-dependent and unhealthy.  In so doing we are denying the very purpose of T-Group and other authentic relating exercises.

What are the signs that a person is co-dependent?  Science has shown that obsessive compulsive, depressed and anxious people are constantly seeking out these co-dependent type of relationship and this is often defined as a kind of addiction. (http://neurology.about.com/od/NervousSystem/a/The-Brain-In-Love.htm)

If when we are feeling anxious or depressed and the discomfort of this motivates us to seek out affectionate or cuddling then we are not going into the deeper feelings and desires and thus not learning how to be independent; we are only enhancing our co-dependency tendencies.  We fail to develop the awarenesses and skills necessary for love-based relationships.

When T-Group or other social functions leads immediately to affection or cuddling it is actually hurting those involved, not helping them.  It is ENABLING co-dependency. Often those who are most addicted to co-dependency passionately reject to this assessment, just as most drug addicts tend to reject any idea of addiction.  Change is frightening so keeping the status quo is much more acceptable.

This is not to say that an honest and healthy person would never enjoy or even seek out affection with others.  Life is a balance of independency, interdependency and co-dependency.  It is very difficult to be fully independent of others.  Historically some monks or yogis, living in solitude or isolation, work on their skills of self-mastery.  These future Buddhas and Christs were working on developing a level of self-mastery that most people have no desire to develop.  But some level of self mastery does greatly enhance the quality of the life experience.

T-Group is an opportunity to start working in that direction.

Do we want to turn T-Group or other social opportunities into enabling sessions for our co-dependency or do we want to continue to use the opportunities to create the skills for love-based relationships?

The choice is ours; the power to choose comes with practice.  We can practice emotional self care via practicing positive emotions or we can continue our dependency on others to soothe us.

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3 comments on “Is There a Downside to Cuddling?

  1. Many of us may be touch deprived in this dehumanized society, however deep within we are harboring an even deeper hunger…that of spiritual recognition. Once there is spiritual communion between an infant and mother through loving eye contact the infant’s brain learns how to fill up, self-regulate and self-sooth. If for one reason or another we failed to have adequate “quality eye time” with our mother in the first few years of life our self-parenting and self-deterministic skills may be sorely lacking. http://www.pattycogenparenting.com/a-guide-to-articles/eye-contact-between-parents-and-children-a-calming-connection-between-two-brains/

    • Interesting point. Thank you for posting it. I still feel that anyone can train themselves to emotionally care for themselves particularly by practicing positive emotions.

      • My “work” is all about self-care…for in order to be sovereign we need to be independent of other’s opinions and agendas. Thus the Biology of Kundalini exercises and the Inner Arts exercises are all about self-reimbodiment and self-regulation. Even spiritual connectivity between the heart and eyes, along with self-compassion can be improved through practice…eventually moving from a state of deficiency to one of self-empowerment.

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