Contact Hunger, for Eric Berne refers to our need for contact with another human being, skin to skin. At its most basic level, it describes the need newborn babies have for human touch; we see too many examples of what can happen when they do not have this hunger met – it is at least as devastating as not receiving food. There is a wealth of research (for example the work of Rene Spitz) that shows that babies brought up without touch experience physical and emotional difficulties.
There are lots of ways in which we get our contact hunger met, for example shaking hands in greeting, intimate touch with a family member or close friend, playing certain kinds of sports, massage and ‘pampering’, and physical banter.
As I write this, a link has just dropped into my inbox, to a TED talk in which Abraham Verghese talks about the power of touch and how it has got lost in the modern medical profession. You can view it here. I was about to write a short paragraph about how disturbing touch can be when it does not acknowledge our humanity but is somehow purely functional. Maybe this video says it more eloquently…
Contact hunger can be particularly significant in relationships if each of you has a different level of need. It is important, then, to recognise that the person who needs less is not necessarily ‘rejecting’ and the one needing more is not necessarily ‘needy’. In this context, the notion of contact hunger can be very liberating: our appetite and need for physical touch varies just like our appetite and need for food.