The power of the pat: A healing touch that says much

Somewhere between a hug and a handshake, there’s the pat. And maybe it’s the solution for those of us who don’t like hugs.

Photo by: Son of Groucho

Sometimes I wonder if I go to acupuncture because I truly believe having a dozen small needles put into my scalp, feet, and hands can actually cure me of a malady, or if it’s because I get a pat.

After I am all cozy on the table, the acupuncturist, a kindly woman, has me whisper to her how I’ve been since my last treatment. We talk in hushed tones because there are other people on beds in the room in deep states of meditation, or just asleep. When I finish, she pats my arm and says, “I want you to be well.”

That pat often provides more healing than the needles. My parents have been deceased for many years, and even when they were around, they were not patters, or even huggers. I can’t think of a single time either ever just gave me an appreciative or casual pat and said all they wanted was for me to be well.

It’s a powerful thing, the pat.

I’m not talking about hugs. That’s a whole different animal…that’s the bear. I didn’t come from huggers, and I still don’t like or need hugs. My husband’s family are all huggers, which strikes me as peculiar since there’s such a history of fighting, divorce, kids being banished from the house, living in cars, hand-to-hand combat, all kinds of dysfunctional things. Yet he shows up at family gatherings to this day, which inevitably end in a round of bear hugs. I have gone on record since I first appeared in his family as Not Huggable: Don’t hug me, I don’t like hugging. And they do it, despite my protests. They do it gleefully, approaching me with the warning, “I know you don’t like hugs, but I’m going to hug you anyway!”

That just seems rude to me. Why do you persist in hugging me, crushing my unwilling and stiffly resentful body in your unwanted embrace? Why can’t you guys honor my request for no hugs?

Can’t we settle on a pat?

Because it’s only since acupuncture that I’ve realized the importance of the pat, the hand gently giving your shoulder a quick mini-massage while the body keeps a polite distance, a quick stroke of encouragement on my arm, with the ultimate blessing, “I want you to be well.”

How do I integrate more pats into my life? I came home today and told my husband we needed to pat more. When he’s happy about something, or tells a joke, he gives me a quick kiss. That is not the same as a pat. That is not wanting me to be well. That’s…I’m not sure what the quick kiss is. It’s kind of, “What do you think about that, special person in my life!” I think it’s more about him than me.

“I need more pats,” I told him.

“You don’t pat me,” he said. He’s right. To be a pat-ee, you should be a pat-er. But he too often misinterprets my physical touch—stroking his arm or rubbing his head—as an overture. We needed ground rules for the sexless pat. What is a pre-sex pat and what is a pat that just wants you to be well? Maybe a wellness pat is simply touch plus blessing. It’s not rubbing a head with a throaty “hmmmmm” growl—yes, that’s an overture. The powerful pat comes with the papalesque benediction of “I want you to be well,” as you pat the head…now that’s a healing pat.

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Mariane Matera

Mariane Matera also composts, which she considers dumping old food into the garden, but she suspects it might be more involved a process than that.

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