As an adoptive mom one of the more soul crushing things I have witnessed is failure to thrive. This happens often in third world countries, usually in orphanages where there are not enough people to take care of the massive amounts of babies that are left there. These infants may have all their needs met in the way of food and a place to sleep, but in the way of human touch they get just what it takes to sustain them nourishment wise. These infants will cry and scream to be held, but the only time that even might possibly happen is when they are given a bottle. That basic need of human affection is not met and they wither. The saddest part is when they stop doing their instinctual communication of crying because they have learned that it will not bring them what their body craves. I have heard stories where the baby ward of some of the orphanages is eerily silent. The effect of this can literally cause a brain to not form in the right way and the infant stays an infant in mind. Their body will grow at a much slower rate or not at all because they are lacking human physical affection. Sadly this in not uncommon even in the United States in cases of neglect and a google search on this will have you sobbing.
In foster care you find that affection gets twisted. More often than not affection is exploited in a child and that physical craving for touch is turned into something sadistic. This can create the opposite effect where they want nothing to do with touch. Grooming takes innocent thoughts and muddles up a developing brain in the worst of ways. Or they misconstrue affection with sex. I saw this more often than not with teen girls. They craved to be wanted and their brain had been rewired to think that if you care deeply for someone that equates to sex. This is how you end up with babies having babies. I once had a foster child who had been groomed and raped by her stepfather from the age of 11 ask me, “What if it felt good?” She was wondering if what he did to her was still wrong. Too often we want to think of these situations as a major struggle when its often small manipulations, small metaphorical bites they take out of children’s minds and bodies to get them circling a drain and saying to themselves, if they participated then they must be guilty too.
So what does all that have to do with women’s self defense? Quite a lot actually. My sole goal is to get women training. To seek out as much as they can for their own personal safety and physical touch, in its rawest form, is a need that is met in martial arts. Too often we hear how parents do not want their kids in combat sports because they think its too violent or they don’t want them to learn to fight. The funny thing is its actually the exact opposite. When you know how to fight you tend to not have to fight. You end up being trained in avoidance techniques and gain a self confidence that you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone. You have already proven yourself to yourself. You understand the gravity of violence and therefore the desire is deescalation more than anything. You seek out peace first. You see this with kids that are at risk youth; they are put in a martial arts program and they thrive. You see this with veterans struggling with PTSD, there is a need that is filled only through the gym. I have heard so many stories of people saying their lives were saved through martial arts. Those that once had suicidal thoughts and felt broken, healed though the grit, determination, and community that is built while battling personal demons with a friend on the mat.
Dr. David Ley, Psychologist and BJJ Black belt says this, “Contact triggers the release of neurochemicals in our brain and hormones throughout the body, which make us more aware, focused, and connected. Oxytocin is one hormone often called the “cuddle” or “empathy” hormone, which is released in the body during physical contact. It is likely one reason why friendships develop so quickly and deeply amongst BJJ students.” Basically martial arts can rewire your brain. This has happened in my women’s jiu jitsu class, at first its awkward especially when you are boob to boob, you don’t want to get as close as you need to at the beginning, but very quickly there is giggling, likely a dirty joke, and pretty soon you are rolling around as if you are in a tank of JELLO. Both of you are trying new things out, there is a mild competitiveness, but everyone wants everyone to succeed and be a better version of themselves. It’s quite a high. “During intense exercise, our brain releases a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, or BDNF. This protein protects and repairs neural tissue, and yields a powerful feeling of euphoria.” Dr. Ley, Psychology Today.
During a class ideally two people are not sparring at 100% with their partner. Out of mutual respect you are going at maybe 50% unless discussed previously. People coming from abusive or traumatic backgrounds might see the physical aspect as always harmful and always coming full blown strong in anger. They have never seen punching, kicking, or aggression in a healthy quest for learning and self discipline. This is what youth at risk experience when starting a martial arts program. They witness a camaraderie of people trying to better themselves so they can be a champion to others. They learn moves that harm, but are taught with grave understanding and consequence; and a physical touch that rewires their brain in a positive manner from something that has only been understood in harm or negativity. I have personally seen my trainer, Aaron Kimball, nix certain people sparring with each other because one may not have the self control just yet needed to compete with the other. He wants people pushed to their limits, but not hurt. Being able to gauge what each person is capable of and what they need to succeed is an art in itself.
I was recently reading an article from the CDC that said they are seeing the largest increase in, “excess” deaths from previous years in young adults; literally a 26 percent jump. They are attributing this rise to “despair” due to lockdown measures, (August 14) CDC. Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb mentions in a CNBC interview on October 21,2020, that there are major spikes in, “drug overdoses triggered by some of the implications we’ve gone through dealing with Covid 19.” There has been a major increase to suicide hotline calls due to isolation and health agencies in several states are reporting aggressive upticks in suicides. Dr. Tiffany Field of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine says, “Touch is ten times stronger than verbal or emotional contact, and it affects damned near everything we do. We forget that touch is not only basic to our species but the key to it.” (May 10, 2020) psychreg. We are not made to be alone, our brains are fed on touch.
I saw a meme the other day that was meant to be funny but instead just broke my heart. It was joking about how social distancing at six feet is amazing and how everyone can stay six feet away from them forever. How they were glad handshakes were not part of the new normal and the idea of masks forever was fabulous because no more forced smiling. I know this was meant in humor….I think, but the lasting implications of this are devastating and the proof is in the pudding. People are wasting away and drowning in mental illness in a world where touch is so extremely frowned upon.
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Author- Christun Erwin
"Thank you for your words. They make an impact and its important that, human to human, woman to woman, mother to mother... you know that you make a difference, even to those you never knew your words" -Krystal