Reflections on Multidirectional Touch

A post in which the blogger thinks too hard about tapping someone on the shoulder while being tapped on the shoulder.

Content note: this is a sex-free and kink-free application of the concept of paper mache/monodirectionality (based off of the concept of a stone identity).  Complex conditional touch aversion ahoy.

Today in choir class, the different sections of the ensemble were doing an unusually bad job of keeping time and staying in rhythm with each other.  We don’t normally have this problem, but today was a bad day, I guess.  So to work on the issue, the instructor had us each keep time by tapping on the shoulder of the person to our right.

After the whole song-and-dance of getting/giving personal clearance and dealing with the minor social awkwardness of being instructed to touch each other, we began the song again, tapping and being tapped on to the beat.  Initially, this was just fine for me, but around the middle of the song there was a rough patch where suddenly even this minor, simple form of touch felt… bad-wrong.

That’s what I want to explore for a bit here.

It’s difficult to explain the change in sensation, so I’m going to start from what I know:

  • In general, I don’t really mind the prospect of touching people or vice versa, depending on other things
  • At the start of it, the only difficult part of this process was keeping time correctly in synch with others
  • Whenever I noticed a discrepancy between the tapping I was feeling and the tapping I was doing, I made sure to adjust to match the former
  • And then… it’s like a switch flipped.  Or like my tolerance had been used up.  Or something.
  • ???

I don’t really know how to describe the sensation that resulted.  It’s not like being tapped on the shoulder inherently feels awful.  But for a moment there, I felt weirdly… trapped? stuck? overwhelmed?  Think of a scaled-down form of Chinese water torture.  The repetitive little taps were distressing not because of any innate quality of theirs, but because of they were a certain combination of continuous, palpable, and outside of my control.

…which is strange that that bothered me, all in all, because it’s not like I hate being touched ordinarily.

I have to figure that outside input activates in me some need to be static, or that giving output deactivates my ability to process input comfortably, or else I just really hate being tapped on the shoulder more than I thought.

Granted, I’m overanalyzing a very brief slice of time here, but it stands out in my experience since, in general, I don’t touch people a lot.

It’s not just that it was difficult to concentrate on both sets of beats and make sure they matched.  It’s that, while I was keeping time for the person on my right, the taps on my left shoulder began to feel more and more unpleasant until I tried to suppress the feeling by ignoring them altogether.  It really did feel… viscerally alarming?

…which sounds melodramatic, I know.  But it was enough to make me want to yank away.

I’d known for a while that I have a rather monodirectional brain.  This was, I guess, just an unexpected confirmation.

Based on abstract descriptions of paper/stone/paper mache, though, I would’ve anticipated that this processing style would have manifested itself differently.  Going still when being touched, maybe, or losing the ability to keep responding in kind.

Not… whatever the heck this was.

Maybe it’s because I started keeping time on the person on my right side before the other person started on my left.  Maybe it’s because I was so focused on the output that the input felt… disruptive.  Invasive.  Too much to handle.

At least we weren’t asked to perform the exercise for long.

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9 responses to “Reflections on Multidirectional Touch

  • queenieofaces

    I have something similar in that I can deal with casual touch for a little bit and then the sense of wrongness grows and grows until I feel like I’m trapped in my own skin–so I’m okay with someone’s leg brushing against mine on the bus, but if they keep it there, it’ll get worse and worse and more and more overwhelming. It’s not tied to monodirectional touch for me, and is much more tied with general touch-aversion. (Girlfriend thinks I am somewhat stone when it comes to certain types of touch and I am inclined to agree with her, so there’s that too.)

  • Klaraa

    Sorry, ugh, as in, I feel you, that must have been unpleasant. What do you think is a better spelling for that little sound one makes to not-quite-verbally express compassion for someone else’s annoying or gross or slightly painful experience? (like “aawww” and “eww” and “ouch” and “hm” and “oh”, only specific to this…)

  • Klaraa

    Most people get annoyed or distressed much more easily from being repeatedly touched on the same small patch of surface, like with a fingertip, than on a larger area with a hand, which probably has a lot to do with evolution and an appropriate reaction to harmful insects landing on skin.

    A friend of mine does this circular scratchy thing with their thumb on the back of other person’s hand when we join hands to bless a meal, and even though I know they don’t do it on purpose, I prefer not to sit next to them because I can be okay with that for five seconds and then bear it for another ten, but who knows if someone is going for a lengthy song…

  • epochryphal

    Hm! Really interesting that from the abstract descriptions you imagined something different like shut-down. Especially because I was nodding along the whole post: bad-wrong, yup, building, yup.

    That sort of, slow increase and when is the cutoff point and is it even happening

    And shuddery shivery ughhh feel shake it off. Yep.

    I’m pulling this more and more together with touch aversion and arcflux and all that crunchy stuff. Super glad to see you talking about it (condolences on the feel and situation tho ofc). Wtf touch.

    • Coyote

      Yeah, I… I don’t even know where I got that assumption. I guess because I hadn’t seen much talk of other possible outcomes before? Anyway, cool, I was wondering how much you would relate.

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