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20 Types of Physical Touches and What Each Touch Means

types of physical touch

Body language can tell you a lot about a person’s intentions, but did you know that communicating with touch can tell you just as much?

Everyone who’s ever liked someone has one thing in common: they all want to know what their partner is thinking. Since reading someone’s mind is impossible, we use other methods to decipher what someone is really thinking.

The most common, go-to method for mind-reading today is social media. Researchers, however, have discovered that most of what we post online is hardly a reflection of how we really feel or what we’re going through in real life.

That’s why scientists are researching other ways of knowing how a person reacts to basic situations and what these reactions mean. One of the areas of study is body language. You can find out a lot of things just from observing how people act, such as how they feel, if they’re lying, and what they’re going to do next.

Studying body language takes time and it’s not as accurate if you’re not proficient in relating it to context. This means that not every action means the same thing. The same goes for interpersonal touch, another method to gauge what a person is thinking or feeling.

Still, knowing these things can give us a little peace of mind and can even help us make informed decisions when interacting with strangers. Knowing someone’s intentions can save us a lot of trouble and it can also urge us to make positive changes in our own lives. [Read: 10 clearly noticeable signs of body language attraction]

What is interpersonal touching?

It’s basically touching someone physically, while trying to convey a message, a thought, or a feeling. Not many people are aware when they do this, but some know exactly what they’re trying to accomplish with the way they touch.

Touching is a normal daily occurrence, especially when you are surrounded by people. Interpersonal touching is possible because, as humans, we are programmed to connect and interact in any way we can. Any form of communication is welcome. That includes talking, waving hello, leaning in, and even smiling. The most powerful messages of all can be conveyed through touch.

A recent study found that emotional communication can exist through touch, and people are capable of identifying what those emotions are, as well. These include both positive and negative feelings.

The researchers found that their subjects were able to identify emotions like happiness, sympathy, gratitude, and love. They also found that the people were able to identify fear, disgust, and sadness. It sounds impossible, but we’ve subconsciously been doing it all our lives.

Physical touch is a primal communication method. A hug, a pat on the back, a heavy grip—all of these are very obvious signs that something is up, but it is up to us to determine the context, credibility, and purpose of it all.

How to know what someone’s touch means

In order to find out what a certain kind of touch means, you need to know what the basics are. In order to fully understand the meaning of a certain touch, you have to consider the location, the pressure, and the duration.

Apart from that, you need to determine the context of how the touch should be perceived. For example, if you’re with a date, some types of touches might be attributed to affection. If you’re with a stranger, it could simply be a move to establish familiarity and trust. [Read: 10 super-subtle gestures that reveal someone’s really into you]

As for negative situations, you’ll know the answer based on your instinct or by how a person acts and speaks. If you don’t like what they’re doing or what they’re saying, the touch that you receive might not be meant for establishing a connection. It could just be a way for them to get what they want, i.e., a favor, their own security, or a way to alleviate their fears.

#1 A pat on the back. A commendation, showing sympathy, an expression of pride, or an act of comfort.

#2 A hug. A greeting, a request for intimacy, or a gesture that denotes comfort.

#3 Gripping the arm. Fear of external forces, a request to stay put, or a way to acquire security and guidance.

#4 Rubbing the arm. A signal for more physical closeness, wanting to be warmer, showing sympathy, or a gesture that requires complacency from the receiver.

#5 Hitting. Anger *duh*, surprise, fear, and panic.

#6 Squeezing hug. Need for closeness, need for intimacy, fear, a request for protection, and comfort.

#7 Pushing. Disgust.

#8 Arm over shoulder. Protectiveness, affection, need for closeness.

#9 Arm around waist. Protectiveness, affection, familiarity.

#10 Both hands on shoulders. Persistence and wanting to convince someone. With shaking, it alludes to anger.

#11 Forehead against forehead. Love, affection, a plea for closeness.

#12 Cheek to cheek. A sign of closeness.

#13 Hands on face. Wanting to convey love nonverbally. [Read: 20 unmistakable signs your friend is crushing on you]

#14 Hands on neck. Protectiveness, wanting to increase intimacy, and trying to express comfort.

#15 Rubbing your palm. A way to comfort yourself, a way to get another’s attention or arouse someone.

#16 Clasping their arm with yours. Friendship, wanting security, or wanting guidance.

#17 Touching your hair. Expressing familiarity or a need to be closer. [Read: 15 ways to tell if someone likes you without asking them]

#18 Resting head or face on shoulders. Expressing familiarity and comfort, wanting to be closer, and asking for affection.

#19 Rubbing inner thigh. Oh, you know what this means. A request for intimacy, sating of physical arousal, and a sign of comfort. [Read: 13 lusty signs of sexual attraction to keep an eye on]

#20 Holding one’s hand. A plea for closeness, guidance, a need for security, solidification of a friendship or pact, and reaching out to make a connection.

Bear in mind that these are not set in stone. They are just the most basic and obvious motives for certain types of touches. It is up to you to determine whether there is weight in their meaning or if it’s just a reflexive reaction, brought on by the current state of your relationship.

If it’s not love, they could be asking for friendship. If it’s not intimacy, they could be looking for security. If it’s not about an expression of familiarity or closeness, they could be just trying to get to know you better.

How can this help me?

No matter what someone’s motive is, knowing what precedes the thought can really help. Some people don’t know how to express themselves verbally, which makes it hard to start a lasting relationship where you’re open with one another.

Now that you know what certain touches mean, you have a guideline on how to proceed with your communication. It lets you know what sort of questions you need to ask and when it’s appropriate to ask them.

[Read: The subtle art of flirting by touch without making it obvious at all]

Remember, the most important factors in a relationship are communication and trust. If you or your partner can’t say it out loud yet, you can still make do by hugging or by holding hands, or expressing yourselves through physical touches.

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Danielle Anne
Danielle Anne
Those who can’t do, teach. I can neither do nor teach as well as others, but I can try. Aside from being a writer, I am also a physical therapist. My dream is...
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DISCUSSION

  • jason

    Definitely the best interpretation of signs ever written. Now I know what this girl sitting next to me is up to. Haha. I think I’ll blush every time I notice the signs from this article. She’s oh-so-damn hot and hugs me every time she sees me. I thought of it as just a friendly gesture, but now I’m not so sure. Looking forward to her next hug :))))

  • Thomas

    As someone who is more introverted, these sorts of guides really help me to understand what’s lurking beneath someone’s thoughts because they’re not necessarily things I experience myself on a regular basis. I mean, I wouldn’t have thought hair touching is a friendly gesture. To me that’s really invasive and something I dislike because it messes up my hair that I’ve spent awhile prepping for a night out! Still, thanks for these sorts of guides. I’ll definitely be taking a far closer look before my next venture into the unknown world of socializing.

  • Chips Ahoy

    This is so true, I rest my head all the time on my close guy friend whenever we take the bus to work. I guess you can say that I’m kinda stuck in the friend zone and it sucks. I want to tell him how I feel but I’m too scared to know his reaction. For the longest time we have just been friends. Even my mom doesn’t mind him sleeping at the house. He sleeps next to my bed and when I’m at their house he lets me sleep in his bed and he sleeps on the floor. He is the most amazing guy I have ever met and I don’t want to see him dating other girls anymore. I want him to be mine.

  • all got the isliea

    I have a girl best friend and all the intimate touches that comes with real closeness, we have that. It makes us both feel warm and at home inside. It feels really important to you, that specific person that you don’t have a romantic relationship with but remains a constant thing in your life. It’s amazing that you can share a specific something with a person you don’t have sexual relations with.

  • targ

    I don’t really care much for the signs before because I was overly engaged in my own self. I am narcissistic like that and I hated that aspect of myself. It was a huge part of me that I never really let anyone in my life. I was always doing me. I was always talking about myself. Most of my relationships ended because I was a huge NARC. I really made a decision to really change my life. I did and I never felt better.

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