As kids we were amused with a plant named ‘touch me not’. We discovered it one fine day through a visiting ‘uncle’ who introduced the shy plant to us. It was part of our huge garden and lay in one corner which became our favourite spot for some time at least! We would touch it one by one, in fact, we three siblings took turns to touch it and watch the amazing effect. The moment your finger touched it, it would shrivel up, curl up its leaves and close itself. We loved the ‘game’- we also discovered the Hindi name for it- ‘Lajwanti’! Very appropriate indeed! The botanical name is ‘mimosa pudica’.
The dilemma arises when humans behave like ‘touch me not’s’. There is no fun and no game to be played there –there is only shock, frustration, sadness and strange feeling of being invalidated. A ‘touch me not’ person creates problems for self and the other as well. One personal incident that happened in my youth still stands out in my memory. I accompanied my parents for a lunch invitation to a relative’s home. Considering the table manners that were taught to us, I was passing the servings around to others and out of sheer innocence made a comment at their teenage daughter ‘you are so thin and you have not eaten anything so far…’. We were all rudely shaken as the teen threw a tantrum, shouted at nobody in particular, stood up and walked out! Her embarrassed parents tried to lighten the situation to cover it up and continued with their hospitality. Ironically I was the guest and she was the host actually! Her mother explained that she was sensitive about her weight and her diet and many people made comments in a natural way. How many of you have experienced that an innocuous remark made by you was blown out of proportion that shook you up! You will meet such people at workplaces and at social gatherings and you will soon become wary of them!
Sometimes people could be sensitive to a specific condition but for some it could be a generic condition and a part of their overall personality. If we look at specific conditions, let’s say a war widow could be sensitive to war stories and would avoid listening to them; or a parent with a divorced daughter could be sensitive to talks of marriage or a trauma victim could be hypersensitive to narrations of others trauma. This sensitivity is due to a high level stressful experience that brings up the suppressed emotions that have been lying beneath. This also indicates that healing has not taken place and the wounds are still raw. People who heal their traumatic experiences do not show such hypersensitive reactions.
The group of ‘touch me not’s’ are a different category altogether and display more generic hypersensitivity to social situations and social interactions and are especially reactive to comments related to criticism and rejection. This leads to a state of emotional fragility and consequently leads to a behaviour known as ‘avoidant behaviour’. The set of coping skills in the social area for such people is small and inadequate to handle simple transactions of the unsavoury variety. The subsequent affects of such long standing behaviours only culminates in a pathological state of personality known as ‘avoidant personality disorder’. Such people avoid situations and people whom they perceive as ‘rejecting, critical, hostile and adverse’ to them. Their sense of self is very poor, suffer low self esteem and remain in fear and anxiety of being ‘attacked by others’. They can also become slightly ‘paranoid’ of people who are actually harmless but are perceived as a ‘threat’.
Such touch me not’s are more or less unfit for marriage and for living in families especially joint families. It might be a wonder if such people can manage even a nuclear setup.
The deficiency is too high to allow them to bridge the gap with another person and to communicate freely and make a bond. The deficiencies are many, such as, heightened sense of anxiety, fear of ridicule and criticism, low self confidence, social inhibition, failure to communicate freely, poor conflict resolution, feel lonely and unwanted. The causative factors besides the genetic component of temperament, can be caused by faulty patterns of training and nurturing by parents and traumatic experiences. Although the signs are visible from teens they are likely to get highlighted after marriage. If the female spouse is a ‘touch me not’ the entire family may be disrupted and thrown out of gear. Not only the spouse but the children suffer along with the in laws who are at a total loss.
Personality disorders can create havoc with marital life and are not understood by people at large as it does not show up as a stark illness which needs treatment but remains in the grey areas of interpersonal relations. Since interpersonal relations always remain a two-way process, it can be interpreted in a very subjective way by both the people involved who make allegations and accusations against each other without the truth being revealed. Only a trained eye of a psychologist can read behind the behaviour and see through the veil of misinterpretations and misrepresentations to make a diagnosis. Long term therapy can help cure such disorders.
Strangely, the mind has many shades and the truth is covered under the layers of subjectivity, deception and illusion.