Oxid & Oil or how does self-touch help my self regulation in dance movement therapy

oxid and oil

This is an excercise to learn how to write a critical literature review based in a personal experience.

Oxid & Oil

How does self touch help my self regulation in DMT

Love is the harmony of two souls and the contact of two epidermes.  (Anom)



This paper is based upon my experience of the use of self-touch during my DMT lessons. While preparing a presentation I used my hands to press, grab, grip and caress myself in different parts of the body. In the next presentation I also felt the urge to touch my skin and consciously decided not to do it. These experiences made me aware of the tendency I had to touch basically my face and abdomen with the palms of my hands in stressful or difficult situations within DMT and daily-life. The paper offers examples of how self-touch has helped me to stay in contact with myself and recover when emotions as anger, shame or sadness were leading into hyperarousal situations.


self-touch, self regulation, emotional arousal, self-soothing, touch, DMT



The main theme developed through my research along the following levels. Self touch as:

Self-adaptor – Contact with the Inner self – Self regulation – Self-punishment – Self-soothing – Constraining the core

Why do I feel the urge to touch my skin when I deepen in a movement experience, when I am really in contact with my body and inner self?

This question was the clear opening of the Pandora box. During the preparation of different presentations and in a developmental laboratory of my education in DMT I felt the need of self-touching, for instance; rubbing my thighs, pulling out of my hair, scratching and pressing my hands, and caressing my cheeks and abdomen.  What was self-touch providing me?

According to Ekman and Friesen (1974 cited in Harrigan 1985) “the most common interpretation for self-touching is the affective explanation. According to this view, self-touching produces sensory stimulation and is performed to relieve self or bodily needs, to comfort or irritate, to release emotional arousal or otherwise provide ministration to the self.”

Touch indeed is broadly used by humans as a tension reliever, as a self-adaptor to relieve from momentary  and punctual nervousness, tension, anxiety or stress, for example when we have to show ourselves in public.

Anchoring my inner self

Moreover, while reflecting about my personal use of self touch, I recalled some recent intimate experiences with a male partner when I suffered a strong emotional hyperarousal. I felt a mixture of rage, anger and sadness together with a total split between my mind and my body. I felt literally that my thoughts and emotions were stronger than my conscious will. I had the inner sensation of being swept along by the torrent of a furious river of intense emotions.

In the Subjective Units of Distress Scale of Behavioural therapy it would correspond to a 9: “Feeling desperate. Feeling extremely freaked out to the point that it almost feels unbearable and you are getting scared of what you might do. Feeling very bad, losing control of your emotions.”

At that point the use of self-touch was crucial. My abdomen and cheeks were claiming the touch of either my hand of his. Self-touch provided me in that situation of an anchor to stay in the here and now, to feel my body boundaries, the reality, to remind me that I was here. Ultimately, as in the early development of the infant, the touch was a proof of my own existence.

That is why in the beginning the research question was “How does self touch help me stay in contact with my inner self”. However, while sharing reflections in the research group of “Inner Self”, the concept tend to be too abstract and broad for me, totally the opposite of what I needed. I needed more concrete, tangible and physical approaches to the matter.

Self-regulation appeared to be a more accurate concept.

(Lapierre 2006) Because neuroaffective touch speaks to the sensory aspects of emotion, it can intervene at the physiological level in the unfolding and regulation of affective states and directly address neurological deficits, dissociation, dysregulation, and chronic bracing and collapse patterns present in states of self-fragmentation.

Moreover, in the experiences with the male partner I did experienced a slightly sense of self-fragmentation, when one part of myself wanted to inflict physical damage in my body as punishment for another side of me. I even had momentary thoughts of willing to be punished by him.

Covering the Pandora Box

Later, in a developmental laboratory I explored the research question with two of my peers. The levels of anger were rising and I was grabbing constantly my dress and hips. “Why you don’t let it go?” asked me one of them while I was moving. “Let IT go”. What was IT? What did I need to let go? What was I trying to suppress with my hands?

I could not let it go. I would loose myself in that torrent of emotions. I was afraid of what could happen, I was afraid of hurting someone with my rage.  In order to avoid a violent explosion As Montagu (1971:155) expressed, I needed my own touch.

“In an effort to defend themselves against the autonomic discharge of feeling, they will bite their lips, grow rigid, or clash one hand with the other in a firm grip. This is a method, like keeping a “stiff upper lip” of preventing one’s emotions from expressing themselves, of holding back the tears, of bracing oneself for the blow by employing muslce tension.”

I ended laying abruptly and exhausted in the floor with my hands pressing the floor and the soles of my feet pressing the wall.  I was definitely constraining something inside of me.

Building the bridge through art

At that point, I had the body experiences very clear, but it was difficult to cognitively understand the connections between the two main concepts of the research, touch and regulation. In order to create a bridge between my body and my mind I went through an artistic journey.

I felt there was more to discover, like concentric circles I was just grasping the surface of the issue. Self-touch was a behaviour and I wanted to find the inner origin. Seeker is my main quality so I kept digging to find what was behind my touch, under my hands. I draw three circles in a big paper and I started to move.

Imbued totally in the movement I saw a rusty plate laying in the terrace of my house. And I touched it. Scratching and grasping I created dust, which mixed with olive oil turned to be a good material to paint.  In addition, I had found the most concrete metaphor for explaining my touch qualities. After painting I journal the experience.


OXID: THANATOS – self punishing

The oxide is the metaphor of self-punishing behaviours that rise together with the anger while moving. They are clear tendencies of unconsciously self-harming my skin in order to punish myself for having aggressive feelings. Pressing and scratching are the most common gestures. Montagu (1971:154) expressed clearly how “unexpressed feelings of frustration, rage, and guilt as well as the strong repressed need for love may find symptomatic expression in the form of scratching even in the absence of itching.”

OIL = EROS – self soothing

IMG_0433 “Somatic resources for self-soothing are autoregulatory resources that can involve either the core or the periphery of the body.  (…) Clients spontaneous attempts to soothe themselves through physical action when arousal is heading out of the window of tolerance.”  (Ogden 2006: 230)

Once my body is exhausted, self-soothing and self-comforting gestures appear in order to tolerate the sadness that lies behind the oxide. Like being my own caring mother, I provide the physical love and calmness that my body needs.

”Like all young mammals who are licked, nuzzled, cuddled and kept close to the mother, the human infant likewise has apparently a similar need for close bodily contacts, for patting and caressing, for tactual soothing which calms him and restores his equilibrium when hurt, frightened, or angry” (Frank 1951: 517 )

Self touch is therefore my tool for recovering from affect dysregulation, and re-establish the psychological and physiological homeostasis again.

Dark hidden core

At that point I could understand the behaviour and my personal uses of self-touch.  But I was still avoiding an important life event that was repeatedly appearing in Authentic movement sessions and other improvisation exercises in the education. When looking back to the initial question of my research:

“How do traumatic experiences change movement patters and how can dance transform them?”

I realise I could not evade the dark core any longer. The hyperarousal episodes used to appear during dance exercises, but also not senselessly were being triggered in contact with male figures in intimate moments, because my traumatic experience happened precisely in a previous relationship.

Trauma and PTSD are often the result of events that were in one way or another physically invasive: assaoult, rape, car accident, surgery, torture, beatings etc. Often it is loss of the sense of bodily integrity that accelerates a trauma process out of control. Restablishing the sense of boundary at the skin level, will often reduce hyperarousal and increase the feeling of control over one’s own body. (Rothschild 2000: 146)

What my hands were suppressing was the possibility of exteriorizing and revival of the traumatic episodes I suffered some years ago. And my body had intuitively found what trauma treatments already suggest doing:

In “Body remembers” for example:

To increase the sense of bodily integration (in opposite to the previously mentioned self-defragmentation feeling) I often suggest that a client physically feel his/her periphery /boundary – the skin. This can be done in several ways: Have your client use his own hands to rub firmly (not too light, not too hard) over his entire surface. (Rothschild 2000: 146)

Or in the book “Trauma and the body”:

Many clients have discovered types of touch (touching their legs to promote a sense of grounding, placing their own hands on their belly or heart, etc.) that they utilize in their daily lives. Numerous clients who have been sexually abused have explored self touch on their forearms and hands under the guidance of their therapist, and have been able to slowly appreciate their own sensual touch. (Ogden 200: 203)

The circle was closed.  What in the beginning intrigued me but avoided because consciously I did not want to explore its darkness and painful episodes, is still not solved yet but at least has already been addressed and made conscious.



Women that have suffered from physical violence, could find in Self-touch a way of exploring their body imprints, the story of their abuse, or simply a way to develop towards acceptance and body appreciation.

My function as a therapist could be to help them to explore their oxidated and rusty sides and finding the oil to heal and softening the cracks of the skin. And self touch could be a direct and decisive tool in the DMT practice.

Further research could be done about the influence of self touch with abused women.

My personal and subjective hypotheses are:

  • The way we touch ourselves is the way we treat ourselves. Therefore changing our touch can change the relationship with ourselves turning the punishing attitudes towards more caring ones.
  • Women who have been mistreated, are first of all mistreated by themselves. And perpetuate those tendencies even when the mistreating figure is not present anymore. The aggressor is embodied into themselves.
  • Through dance and touch women can learn to experience the dysregulating emotion and arousal without reacting self-destructively.
  • Dance can serve to identify, understand, express and replicate the traumatic experiences in a safe, more distant but also deeper way.

Love is the harmony of two souls and the contact of two epidermes.  (Anom.)


But also and first,


Love is the harmonious contact of our own epidermis with our own epidermis.


Ekman P. and Friesen W. V. (1974) Nonverbal behavior and psychopathology. In The Psychology of Depression: Contemporary Theory and Research (Edited by Friedman R. J. and Katz M. M.), p. 203 In: Harrigan J. (1985) Self touching as an indicator of underlying affect and languae processes. In Social Scientific Medical Journal. Vol 20. nº1. pp 1161-1168.

LaPierre A. (2003) From Felt-Sense to Felt-Self: Neuroaffective Touch and the Relational Matrix. Psychologist-Psychoanalyst Vol. 23 No. 4

Montagu, A. (1971). Touching: The human significance of the skin. New York: Columbia University Press.

Ogden P., Minton K. Pain C. (2000) Trauma and the body, a sensorimotor approach to Psychotherapy. New York. Northon & Company.

Rothschild. B (2000) The body remembers, a psychophysiology of trauma and trauma treatment. New york. Northon & Company