Language Translation

Sunday, October 30, 2011


I used to hate, and I mean HATE hugs.  I wasn't sure what it was, but something about people touching me really made me frustrated.  There was a "DO NOT TOUCH!" sign on my forehead, and if you did touch, you may have gotten slapped or at least I would swing at you.  As a very young child I don't think that was my issue.  But as I got older it definitely became an issue.  It wasn't until I spent time trying to understand it that I was able to overcome that problem.

So now, I will attempt to convey what I know...although this is one thing I've never tried to explain to anyone before, so it may be a pretty rough post.  Hold on with me and we'll get through it, hopefully with the right words so that what I mean is understood.  Here goes.

Do you remember how we talked in the very first post (It's Not What You Think It Is) about how I feel everything around me?  And then later I clarified in another post that I don't feel the surface stuff, only the deep down things that are really pressing on a person emotionally at that moment.

I'm doing this backward.  Sorry.  Start over.

Touching was very abhorrent to me.  I didn't know why.  I just didn't like to be touched.  I didn't want hugs, I didn't want to shake a person's hand, I didn't want a back rub, I didn't want any form of human touch.  Period.  It always bothered me.

One day I heard someone reference C.S. Lewis' book about the Four Loves that made me start thinking.  I was probably about 14 or so.  Then, the summer before my senior year I was introduced to a book called the Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.  Adding the two truths together, I learned that my secondary love language, even though I couldn't stand the thought of it, really was physical touch.  That was hard for me to swallow.  I decided though, that I was tired of never feeling truly loved and if I needed to accept my love language to feel loved, then I'd better just get on it already.

So when I left home for college I decided that I would just be a huggy person, whether I really was or not.  It was awkward and uncomfortable at first.  I bothered me, a lot.  After about 6 months or so, I had grown to stomach my way past the initial reactions.  I still didn't enjoy hugging, but I knew that it made me feel better even if it still was not something I enjoyed.

Fast forward a couple more years.  I'm married...yeah.  A whole new set of physical challenges there.  But anyhow.  I started to learn more and more about myself.  I had not been diagnosed with Asperger's yet, and I'm glad of that.  I don't think I would have come to understand it the way I do if I had been diagnosed...I probably would have said many of the things I hear around me.  It's part of me and I cannot ever climb out of the box, I'm stuck in it.  My brain just works differently, etc., etc.  But because I had no diagnosis, I just assumed I was supposed to be like everyone else but just wasn't.  It made me search and ask more questions and want to find the answers.

Anyhow.  So I discovered, consciously, the gift I had of being able to feel what those around me are feeling.  It was an accidental discovery that happened one day while I was talking with a friend.  She was really struggling with something and wanted to talk about it.  I found that everything she was about to say went through my mind just before she said it.  At first that really disturbed me.  As time went on I discovered that I was "hearing" her feelings and that she and I had such similar ways of expressing ourselves, that the words I used to express an emotion were usually the same words she would use.

Through this experience I discovered that I wasn't hearing her thoughts (something that almost rocked my spiritual foundation because of the beliefs I had), but that I was feeling her emotions.  Then I began to wonder if it was just with this person or if it was with everyone.  I paid attention.  I tried to sort out how I felt, but it seemed an impossible task.  I didn't learn how to sort myself out until years later.  So I spent many years feeling things from people and thinking it was the way I felt.

Here we come to the point.  When I touch people, it "turns up the volume" on their emotions.  So if a person is hugging me, it's almost like I can't hear anything but them...sometimes I can't even hear myself, depending on how emotionally tangled up they are.  If I had a sense of myself and who I was, I don't think the physical would have bothered me.

But I had no clue who I was or what in the world was going on inside of me.  So my gut reaction was to pull away when someone touched me, it was a was like they were trying to subdue me.  I know that was never the intent, but it felt as though I could not be my own person.  A feeling like....I'll figure out how to describe it in a moment.  We'll come back to this.

Anyhow.  This feeling, whatever it was, made me want to run away from physical touch - the one thing that also made me feel loved and connected.  It was a hard thing to overcome.  AH!  That's how to explain the feeling.  Imagine this:  You are sitting outside on a lovely fall day, enjoying the slight breeze that makes an occasional leaf float to the ground.  The colors are gorgeous!  The trees are aflame and the air has that almost-crisp smell to it.  It's the perfect temperature, cool enough for a nice, light snuggly sweater, but the sun is shining down on you with a gorgeous blue sky as a backdrop to the glowing colors of the trees.

Suddenly someone comes up to you, yanks you up from where you are serenely sitting, and drags you inside of a dark, gray-walled closet.  They shut the door and then proceed to yell at you.  They aren't angry at you, per se, but their anger and hurt and frustration are all pouring out at top volume and you can't get away from them because they are blocking the door.  You're trapped while they just yell and yell and yell.  After what seems an eternity, they open the door.  They feel lighter and go on about their day refreshed from the release.  While I stand there in the closet, the door is now open, but I'm in such shock that I can't move.  I'm not sure what to do.  Am I supposed to do anything with all that they just yelled out to me?  Am I supposed to be hurt by all of that, because I am a little.  Should I pretend like nothing happened and see if I can regain my composure and serenity outside?  What?!?!!?!?  What do I do with that?!  Frozen panic.

So, that is kind of how it used to feel when a person would touch me.  I was not my own person because at any given moment anyone who wanted could just grab me and force me into this closet.  So I hated physical contact, even though my spirit was screaming out my need for it. 

Now.  How did I get from there to here?  Here, meaning the kind of person who not only loves physical contact, but seeks it out.  The kind of person who, if you're not careful, you may find giving you a kiss on the cheek as readily as a handshake.  How in the world did I move from the dread-fear of physical interaction to the enjoying-captivation of it?  I'm not sure how to put the process down on paper....but here we go anyhow.  :)

As I stated earlier, I forced myself to do it at first, even though it was repugnant to me.  I found my own voice.  That was a long process, but only because I wasn't consciously seeking it.  Had I known the path that would give me, I would have consciously sought it out years ago.  But, for better or worse, I took the long road.  Point, Tara, point.  Sorry.

I gradually came to enjoy my love language through several steps.  I had to hear my own voice.  I had to accept myself.  I had to be comfortable with me.  I had to give myself permission to be.  I had to believe that I was worthy of love.  Because when it all boiled down to the bottom there were two obstacles: the first, meaning easiest to see, was that I was overcome with the other person's emotions.  The second - and much, much harder to see and accept - was that I felt like I was worthless.  (I discussed this a little in my post Empowering Families to Heal Themselves.)  That is a hard thing to accept...the idea that to my core I am worthless to me.  Rough day, that.

Those two challenges are what kept me from enjoying my love language.  The first because it was so loud that I couldn't feel anything but that person's frustration, hurt, anger, etc.  The second because I believed I didn't deserve to feel loved.  I didn't deserve to hear anything but the pain and hurt and anger from others.  I didn't deserve the love they were trying to send with that physical interaction.

Okay.  Now, how did I get from all of the epiphanies to the shift?  Good question.  How did I?  I'm not certain.  Let me think back for a moment....

I guess the shift occurred slowly.  It started as me accepting that others felt horrible and that I could give love to them in that moment instead of just feeling boxed in and like I'm being attacked.  So I began to consciously think about how much I loved that person, or if I didn't know them that well, then I would think about how much God loved that person.  After a while I let God's love intermingle with my love and sent them both out.  During this God was healing my heart as cannot give His love without feeling it first, and it is always healing to anyone who feels it.

Next, I found that I was giving love, but I wasn't receiving the love others were trying to give.  I was still only hearing the heavy parts.  That shift has been a fairly recent one for me - I'd say within the last 2 years.  There are times I cannot hear anything but pain until a person has contact with me, and then I hear the other things too.  After a time I learned to balance.  Although there are still times I'm not able to balance.  Especially if I am with someone I care deeply about.  Then all bets are off.  For now.  That, too, is changing though.  Thank Heaven for a patient friend who allows me to learn and doesn't hold it against me.  She's a miracle worker in my life, without even knowing it.  But I think telling you her name would make her uncomfortable.  So I won't.

Anyhow.  So here we are, and not very well summed up.  I feel like the whole thing should be erased and re-written with some structure.  But, I will not.  I think maybe the inner workings of me are a little more evident in this post and that, too, may be helpful for those of you with a loved one on the spectrum.

As I leave you, I want to leave a thought through music.  Another Mindy Gledhill song.  I just love her.  Thank you Stephen and Tammy for introducing me to her...such a gift!  :)  The words to this song are exactly how I feel about the kids I work with, and I imagine it is how you feel about the loved one you have on the spectrum as well.  But more than that, it's how I feel about every person I meet - on the spectrum or not.  "It's all about your heart."  The pictures are of some of my closest friends and some of the children I have worked with.  Enjoy! 


  1. Tara,
    What you shared makes so much sense. I'm sure you noticed my initial slight discomfort with touch, though I didn't allow that to get in my way. But I am not a touching sort of person except maybe in a relationship. Not sure why yet, but I seem to isolate myself a lot from those around me, even though my love language is touch. I wish I had your gift of hearing others' feelings. Though I can pick up on very general attitudes, I usually only see people's masks, what they present to me, which is sad, because I do want to get to know and love people, but for some reason I'm not letting myself. It probably takes a good deal of courage to get outside of myself, especially when I've gotten slapped down so many times for doing it in the past.

    Anyhow, jumbled thoughts, but I am glad that someone else out there knows what it is like to isolate yourself from others in various ways, and how much it actually hurts, yet it's the familiar, comfortable thing to do. I have decided to learn how to love others. Wish me luck!

    I love you lots, Tara!

    Sandra H.

  2. Hi Tara, I just want to thank you for your post and sharing your perspective. Just wondering if you realize you are an empath? There are many different types of spiritual gifts, empathy being one of them (feeling others' emotions). Hearing others' thoughts is another one (it's possible you have both). I work with children with autism and suspect many children with ASD are sensitive to others' energy in this way. Energetic boundaries are important so you can maintain your sense of self and not get overwhelmed with others' 'stuff'. Good luck to you, and thanks again for sharing!

  3. I'm glad you learned how to give hugs! I remember when you gave me a hug when we blessed James! I needed it at that moment and you did it without my having to say it! And it was a fabulous hug!