So this is a bit fantasy and I know I can sort of fudge it a bit, but still I'd like to know the realities. I have a character who is a young boy but he has a certain ability when he touches people....so he's mostly been cut off from people touching him except when forced to use his ability. But, yeah, that means no hugs, no feeling his forehead when he has a fever, no acidental touches, etc. (He's not in a loving environment anyway)
If this manifested while he was still a baby he is unlikely to have lived.
There is a thing called "failure to thrive" which happens when a baby is not held and cuddled enough to meet his/her very real need for human contact and affection. These neglected babies stop growing and die.
I'm not sure how old a child needs to be before he/she is out of the danger of failure to thrive due to never been touched and cuddled, but children who are denied affection generally end up with some degree of mental disturbance.
Maybe not totally relevant, but the question reminded me of the monkey experiments conducted by Harry Harlow. Warning before clicking: worst cases displaying very, very disturbing behavior (including cannibalism, but I'm not reading that again to check). I'm not sure the "partial isolation" experiment is quite what you're looking for, since it sounds like they may have been denied social contact, but it might be a starting place for some research. I'm not familiar with the area since I myself just happened across the Wiki article some time ago.
Thanks for all the feedback everyone. Just some additional notes to clarifiy:
- The ability is him being able to see the future or the past of the person he touches, so I imagine they wouldn't know about the ability until he had some way to communicate what he's seen...so as a baby/beginning toddler he was most likely touched
- He's often kept in a room (a normal-ish room) but he does have interactions with people. I think it's more of neglect case where it's taken to the extreme because touch is removed.
- At the moment I just see him as distrustful, withdrawn, and not speaking much. And naturally shrinking back when the kids he encounters touch him.
Research attachment disorders, Romanian Orphanage Study, and Maslow and his monkey experiments. There are videos and documentaries showing the monkey's reactions/behavior, as well as the response to neglect in Romanian orphanges, and the way children react to neglect in their own families. Good luck!! My main character is physically abused, verbally abused, and neglected as a child, and I too have been having a hard time (despite having BA's in Psychology and Sociology) writing a character that is true to form.
fenderboarder wrote:Research attachment disorders, Romanian Orphanage Study, and Maslow and his monkey experiments.
Seconded. Physical touch isn't a necessary requirement of survival -though it sure as heck helps. The classes where we looked at the Orphanage studies were some of the most depressng I ever took :(
But this character's over-all mental, emotional, and physical health would depend on a couple of things. How old was he when he was sold/bought? Was his upbringing fairly normal before that point?
Basically, if he experienced genuine care and affection -even with little to no physical contact- from his parents, he would be significantly better off than the poor kids in the above studies (think ala "bubble" children; kids born with severe auto-immune disorders).
Best case scenario though, he will be withdrawn and distrusting -of everyone. Even with a good basic upbringing from a loving family, they would have sold him into an incredibaly horrible life. That would be enough to destroy anyone's trust in others for the majority of their lives (if not their entire life). In addition, (and again, tempered somewhat by the age at which he was taken) he may shrink away from his captors, or show absolutely no reaction (not even to indicate he's aware of their presence). Interactions with other people would be tinged with suspicion, mistrust, and possibly even dislike or hatred. It would be likely that he would blame his parents and/or the individuals he's being forced to "read" for the miserable conditions he lives in. He might blame his captors, but more likely he would cringe and jump to obey their every command, lest the abuse (emotional and psychological mostly, obviously) intensifies. Especially likely if they chose to punish him using deprivation techniques (i.e., taking away his food, water, leaving him in total darkness, a combination of these, etc.). If they are particularly cruel and creative, they could physically beat him as well through distant means (thrown objects, through an intermediary/lackey, etc.).
Depending on age he might have problems communicating with anyone. If he has next to no language skills he might have to draw pictures of what he sees (ala the painter from the first season of Heroes). Even if he does know how to speak, the intense isolation may cause him to just not speak at all, ever. Plus, the fear/hatred that his captors have towards him would eventually cause him to internalize all his feelings of anger, frustration, hatred, etc. If he were young enough he wouldn't notice that behaviour (beyond knowing that he is unwanted and unloved); but an older child would recognize the emotions and come to hate himself. He would be disgusted with what he sees in a mirror (if he has access to one) and may even attempt to harm himself when left alone (either self mutilation to express his turmoil of emotions, or attempted suicides to try to escape his situation).
May I just say that this is a rather depressing topic and I wish you luck in your writing as I don't think I'd be able to write an entire book with a main character who had suffered so much, so young. :( Very, very sad.
One of the many reactions that can happen is the child will become extremely introverted.
If this is the case, you can expect him to be shy, silent, and often confused if not fearful of anyone's attempts to touch him. As long as he wasn't physically abused, he will not understand body language of others that includes contact. It will be completely foreign and upsetting.
Usually women (in the US) will communicate with small touches as they speak, showing trust and friendship by coming close and accenting their conversation with a gentle hand on the shoulder or upper arm, or if sitting, on someone's knee, arm, or back. These would be distressing to the boy because he would be distracted by the interruptions of contact and not know the hidden meaning, nor that it was positive.
He may develop a dislike for touch if he cannot adapt by his late teens, and if hugged will stiffen his body uncomfortably and not hug back. You could either have him shift away from all touches, or even just stand still until the touching is over, with no defenses developed yet.
All that, and potentially being skittish and jumping whenever anyone touches him because the sensory input is a complete shock to the system. He would either stiffen and shut down as a defensive reaction, or have a fight or flight response.
Does any touching (even through clothing etc.) work for his future/past reading skill, or must there be direct skin contact? If the latter is the case, the effects might be a bit less pronounced, as people could still safely touch whatever part of him is clothed at any given moment, or might be able to touch him while wearing gloves. (As an aside, if clothing works as a conducting medium, you probably need to decide what other things have that effect as well - i.e., if someone hands something to him, would touching the same object at the same time establish the critical connection already? Would standing on the same rug etc.? If so, isolating him is going to be quite difficult ...)
Just out of curiousity, why haven't his "keepers" just have him go the Rogue route (of X-men fame)? Rogue's power was a lot more devestating, a single touch could take away someone's life force, or, if they were a fellow mutant, their powers. For her, she's simply covered pretty much head to toe. She wears gloves and long sleeves, even in the summer. Her head isn't covered (though the first movie did put her in a hoodie).
Depending on this child's age when he discovered he had the gift, he could have simply been taught that he needs to keep his gloves, etc. on whenever he touches someone.
Because his keepers are somewhat afraid of him and treat him with overall neglect. He was bought for his ability, and their desire to use it, but they don't want to deal with him otherwise. He's just kept away. They don't want to risk him deciding to touch them and find out their secrets, and he's very much not in control of his life. He isn't afraid of his ability per say, but he is super uncomfortable with touch. He will learn throughout the course of the book about how to control his ability, but the way he's treated has very little to do with making his life ok or humane. If that makes sense.
The first thing I thought of, too, was failure to thrive. But what about children who have little human contact but have contact with pets? Dogs, cats, hamsters? My mother did not believe that children should be touched or shown any affection. She thought they'd get "spoiled." Luckily for me I had grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who made up the slack. But we also had pet cats ever since I can remember, and they'd often choose my bed to snuggle into, so there was always a cat around to hug or pet.
So I wonder if there are any studies that focus on child/pet contact and interaction. And if your character's gift extends to animals or if he could show affection for them.
I know that if kittens aren't shown human contact and affection while they're very young, they'll grow up feral and never be able to trust humans or get close to one.
Could the effect of his or her abilities be limited by intent to look for the person's past or present? Or perhaps the ability can increase with age or experience? Or maybe with more touching, the sensitivity wanes? Thesea are all possiblities for altering this talent, and maybe an emotionally saving grace for the child in adulthood. I think to a baby or very young child, knowing others' past and future might be mentally damaging. Or perhaps it could be a matter of who touches whom. Maybe the child must initiate the touching, not vice versa, or, come to think of it, vice versa.
This may be too extreme for your purposes, but I'll throw it out there anyway. In the early 2000's, the police found what we call a feral child down in Florida--cut off from human contact almost entirely due to neglect, and therefore possessing animal-like qualities. She doesn't respond to affection, doesn't cry, doesn't respond to touch; they say in the article about her that she looks through people, rather than at them.
Why this happens is because during her developmental years, she was never cared for--never touched, never played with, never sung to, etc. She was literally just fed the bare minimum and left to hide in a dark room with a single crusted window. She was not allowed outside.
I'll let you read about feral children further to see if they meet your needs; there are a bunch of cases, as well as a few studies (I think) on the internet. The case I'm referring to above is of one Danielle Lierow; her case has the most coverage of all the feral children, and might be the best choice if you want to study her resultant personality test from her severe neglect.
This reminds me of something I read a long time ago. I think this took place in the middle ages or something. There was this orphanage run by nuns. They decided that, absent human influences, an infant could grow-up knowing the language of heaven because they had never learned human ways. So they placed infants in cribs, in darkened rooms. They never said anything in those rooms, and gave them the absolute minimum touching they could get away with. All of the kids died within a year, if I recall correctly.
I think that, if a person survived such a childhood, he would be very much like a wild cat- paranoid and hostile.
I think a better case study might be David Vetter, better known as the boy in the bubble. He had no direct skin-to-skin physical contact for his entire life due to a severe autoimmune condition, sullen and withdrawn are pretty good ways to sum it up