What is skin hunger, how does it affect us and how is it overcome?

Spain and Australia They have started to implement meetings of no more than 10 people. Countries like New Zealand, Belgium and some provinces of Canada experiment with the calls system “Social bubbles”: small fixed groups of people whose members agree on a mutual interaction for a time. It would be a way of receiving visits and “bubble up” -one of the many terms created in this new context. In NY There are squares in which the authorities have drawn circles, keeping the recommended distances, within which people can be located without having contact with others.

They are experiences that serve as transitions until the moment when the reestablishment of “normal” social contact can take place.

Beyond the success or failure of these measures, what they indicate is that there is a concern not only for the physical but also emotional health of individuals, which – without a doubt – has begun to resent social isolation. And the importance of links between people is coming to the fore as factors of high incidence on mental balance. These days specialists have talked about “Skin hunger” of the possible psychological consequences of the lack of hugs, of the negative connotation of “missing”, etc..

I have noticed that people who have been able to experience any of these “relinkings” have experienced great relief. Another restorative aspect of these changes is that they are experienced as advances and compensate for the traumatic feeling that time is stopped.

What is “skin hunger”?

They are rules designed to avoid contagion and they only work if they are followed by everyone. They are based on the conception of society as a collaborative scheme in which the result depends on the collective effort. They are presented as ways to impose controls on certain habits and automatic behaviors of people, so that they are devoid of spontaneity. For example: the obligation to restrain the urge to kiss, hug or shake hands with someone with whom we cross paths and with whom we have a bond of affection. The obligation to stay home, to wear masks is repeated. Hygiene and disinfection measures are emphasized. Everyday life is filled with virtual perimeters. The population is informed about the distance traveled by virus particles that may be contained in the breath if someone runs, bikes or walks. It would seem that part of our “I” begins to “robotise” …

In what state will we get out of this confinement situation?

Humanity is going through a totally new situation. We do not have experience as a kind of a pandemic of such magnitude, nor of such a prolonged situation of confinement and lack of social contact.

In Argentina, especially -and luckily-, there is no “pandemic” culture, nor experiences of catastrophes that have allowed us to learn to use protocols, drills, practice evacuations, etc.

We are just learning; transitioning from the Initial “stupor” (confusion, denial, paralysis, rebellion, difficulty thinking) to a phase of greater understanding and awareness. The development of processes like these, in the mental sphere of any human being – under normal circumstances – would take considerable time. But for two months now, our minds have been exposed to permanent information bombardments. Added to this is anguish, economic uncertainty, fear of illness and death, the experience of an uncertain future, etc. In psychology the term is used “Over-adaptation” to designate the need to quickly incorporate guidelines that come from the outside without the necessary time to process, understand and make them their own.

In some cases, confinement is experienced as submission, because it implies an adaptation to norms that we feel we carry out not by our own decision but by imposition. The confinement can be experienced as a loss of freedom or as a health gain. It depends on the perspective at stake.

A very positive change is observed when a person can understand that confinement is a way of caring for oneself and others, and does not mean being a prisoner. Thus, the choice is made to stay at home. This is a fundamental psychological change that does not occur in all people, or not at all with the same times.

In some cases, the running of the bulls highlights or accentuates “Previous running of the bulls” such as suffocating relationships, addictions to substances, violent actions with risk of self or heteroaggression or self-devaluation processes (which generally affect self-esteem).

In other cases, on the contrary, enriching aspects can be found in the others – discovering new things even in those that we have known for years – that allow “Choose them again.” We can also find resilient behaviors in ourselves, if we know how to rescue them.

What impact will this period of extreme “protocolization” of behavior have on our psyches?

The impact of what has been lived will depend on the personality characteristics of each person, the emotional support that is available, the ability to preserve or create an interior life (read, write, think, carry out some creative activity) and the possibility of build protection barriers against the flooding of traumatic stimuli from outside. Of course, housing also plays an important role: It is not the same to spend the confinement in a situation of overcrowding and darkness than in a place where you can have some contact with nature and some physical space. Those of us who are lucky enough to live as a family have an “extra” support at the moment.

We have a frame -of which we often do not even realize- that organizes our daily life. Life with others establishes domestic rituals and habits (sleeping and waking up in synchronized times, eating together, sharing common stories, etc.) that even regulate biological and emotional rhythms. The presence of “the others in us ” it is essential to preserve and maintain these rhythms, in circumstances where we run the risk of feeling that time goes by the same.

In times like these, the need for a “Good attachment”: the type of unconditional bond with the other that allows us to feel accompanied and contained, to reduce anxiety. Especially if they work as pain relievers and not as fear amplifiers.


Increasingly, the effects of quarantine in the face of the coronavirus pandemic are being analyzed from psychology.


For those who live alone – which is not the same as being alone – I highlight the importance of having our loved ones “inside” the mind and knowing that they also have us in the same way. Missing – with the sadness that usually comes with it – should not be interpreted as an alarming indicator or an illness. On the contrary, they are normal and expected affections before certain separations. They serve to revalue a bond, to become aware of its importance and learn to care for it. Missing also means that we have been able to create in our minds an image of someone significant and that we take it with us to make a “good use” from her when we need her. And that this image is not diluted by the fact of not being able to share the same physical space.

In this sense, virtual life today gives us great help. It is the resource that we have and we must consider what it does provide us, not the damage that could be produced. Especially knowing that it is temporary and that tomorrow it will perhaps complement face-to-face meetings or, in some cases, it will even be chosen as the means of communication. This can also be experienced as a restriction or an opportunity …

Paradoxically we verify that -the “fashion” of the virtual meetings and giving us greater permission to use them – we can have access to people and events that are in distant places, with frequencies that we never imagined before. I consider, without a doubt, that it is the installation of a new era in human communication.

We have no knowledge of the future consequences of such a prolonged confinement, which involves the entire planet as a result of a disease of this nature. I reiterate that I think it is an unprecedented experience for Humanity, which will undoubtedly bring profound transformations at the individual, family and social level. Yes, we have as antecedents what has happened after some of the great pandemics in history (the Spanish flu, SARS, syphilis and AIDS, etc). And the world ran its course …

Social changes question the relationship between order and disorder in each age. Traditionally, disorder was associated with chaos. Today there are approaches that consider chaos, disorder and crisis as “complex” information, rather than as an absence of order. Chaotic has appeared as one of the perspectives within science that understand that order emerges in chaotic systems through processes of self-organization. From this point of view, the universe, culture or society in “chaos” would not go towards destruction but would have the capacity to renew themselves permanently.

(*) Lic. In Psychology. Psychoanalyst. Member of the Dept. of couple and family of the Argentine Psychoanalytic Association. Author of the book “The family and the law. Conflicts-Transformations ”.


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