Don’t Touch Me I’m An Empath

It’s nice to meet you. Really it is. You seem like a lovely person, male, female or transitioning. But no, I don’t want to shake your hand.

If you insist upon it (which for some reason you often do) I will go with an awkward fist bump. No, we are not seven years old, and no, we don’t have to follow it with the Dap explosion. Frankly I would prefer if we didn’t touch at all, let alone hug and kiss on first meeting, but if you get grumpy, I will try to be polite and offer you my fist. There you go, have at it. Now we are both less likely to catch whatever disgusting permutation of flu is going around. Go lick your fist and leave me alone.

I live in California, a touchy feely state to be sure, and mostly I enjoy that. I am extremely social and magnetize people daily. So every day someone gets bent out of shape about me not shaking their hand. I feel motivated to explain to you (as if you were seven) that I have no obligation to touch you, or to be touched by you. As I read to my children when they were three, you don’t have to let anyone touch you, or tickle you, or kiss you in any way that feels uncomfortable. So why do grown adults, men and women, have such a hard time with this?

The reasons are not important. They happen to be myriad and all viable to me. One of them is that I am an empath– as a Sexual Intuitive all can now have the benefit of the gifts those who know me well have had for years. Only now, am I transitioning to being able to work with people in person in my own office, not just on Skype. And if you are like me, you will know why…

If you have ever related to the show with Anthony Michael Hall where he has a huge psychic download every time he shakes someone’s hand, you know what I am talking about. His character (and that of his original namesake played by Chris Walken in the genius 1983 film “Dead Zone”) awakens from a long coma with a special gift. While it is a gift these characters did not want, I relish in it. But in order to receive it, my channel has to be open, not clogged by whatever another person has gone through that day, or that lifetime. (Should I just wear mittens?)

I was not in a coma, though I was married (Ha!) Also medicated for many, many years, for depression, mood swings and to a lesser extent for social anxiety. (I spent half of my wedding hiding in the bathroom, and it wasn’t about the marriage part.) Part of what drove me not to want to be around people, besides massive sensory overwhelm, is that I didn’t want to be touched by someone I didn’t know and hadn’t energetically vetted. And yes, this included family. Now that I no longer take meds, I have to be a big girl and stand up for myself. In writing this I am standing up for you too. No, you do not have to kiss or hug your creepy aunt Betty. Nope. Betty can get her thrills elsewhere.

For some reason I am always having men want to shake my hand, or even hug and kiss me, immediately upon meeting, or if we barely know each other. This is partly why I don’t go to AA anymore, except rarely to women’s meetings. I don’t want to hug the old sober coots. Sorry. Don’t have to justify it. Just not into it. So please stop leaning in for a smooch. Blech. This is when the personal gets political- an argument about women’s bodies and why you think you are entitled to them.

From some men, the download I get is “I want to fuck you.” Guess what? I know you want to fuck me, I don’t want to feel that in my body. While I am not under the delusion that every handshake is an act of sexual aggression, I am incredibly intuitive and I know your motives before you do. Most women do, they just don’t want to deal with the fallout of being assertive. And who can blame them? I have gotten so much crap for this, and I am a tough broad, so I get the instinct to just suck it up and hug the guy. I have turned away to hear people loudly complain that I didn’t want to shake hands, one went as far as to call me a “cunt.” Okay. Sure. But you say that like it’s a bad thing…

Even if you don’t want to fuck me, what is the reason, in a social and not a business setting, for you to touch me? Go touch your wife, or your girlfriend; she’s dying for you to touch her, off you trot. I do not owe you my skin. I do not owe you anything. What makes you think you have any right to it?

It always surprises me when my instincts align with those of Orthodox Jews. I went to Orthodox Jewish Day School for the first eight years of my life, and while I think most of their edicts are full of shit, and have no trouble scarfing down prosciutto and getting a tattoo, on this subject I am in agreement with the Bible-bashers. Men and women who are not married to each other, do not touch. In fact, according to Kabbalah it is an energetic thing- the polarities are kept separate to preserve their unique qualities and thus be more effective and centered. When I was married I was more protected from this. As a single woman, it seems that as I am not someone’s “property,” I am fair game. However, I am reminding you, that I belong to myself, and you can belong to yourself too.

The Orthodoxers, along with bat-shit Christians, have turned this into some kind of fucking purity doctrine, which I want no part of. (Some of those Duggar kids had nothing more than a side hug before marriage. Um K. Good thing that repression didn’t lead to anything negative…) I am a grown unmarried woman who is lucky enough to fuck whom I please, so why should I have to touch someone, even their hand, or their pinkie, if energetically I don’t want them in my field? Because it’s socially acceptable? Should I fuck everyone who wants to fuck me too? Because I certainly don’t want to hurt anyone’s “feewings.”

Many people are unaware of the fact that they use their bodies to violate other people’s space. A close friend calls them “body bullies,” and they are often physically large people who will brush particularly close to you, or stand in your way when you are trying to get somewhere. They might be people you know, and who think they know you, who are trying in vain to find a way to get close to you by encroaching in your space. Guess what? We are not on the subway in Tokyo and there is no earthly reason for you to stand that close to me. It does not make me love you. It does not get my attention. It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up; if I had balls they would shrivel into pine nuts.

Sometimes I will say lightly, “You’re in my bubble,” which almost invariably causes folks to get sulky and churlish. If someone told me I was in their space I would be thrilled they had told me, and apologize for making them uncomfortable. They didn’t ask to be inflicted with my breath and my perfume (if I wore any) and I certainly do not want to intrude on their senses. There is a difference between friendly and overbearing, and only the latter impinges on others.

In Western culture the acceptable place to touch someone is on the arm, from somewhere above the elbow to somewhere below. But why, if you do not know someone, should it be acceptable to touch them at all? Someone who was once close to me was extremely touchy feely, and while I knew him to be “not a creep” I constantly had to remind him that the waitress/sales lady/cashier didn’t ask to be touched. (Fortunately this is no longer my problem.)

And it is not just men but women! If you are female and I don’t want to hug you, it could be for many reasons, none of which are personal to you. Maybe I don’t feel well. Maybe I don’t like you (still not personal.) Maybe I don’t feel close to you and hugging you feels phony to me. Maybe my history with you makes me leery of your touch. Maybe I felt like you violated my boundaries in the past and I want to break that cycle by asserting my right to my own space. Maybe I just don’t fucking feel like it. The question is- why do I have to write 1749 words here to justify that?

So please, don’t pout. Don’t make a big deal. Don’t rear back in offense. “Oh you don’t want to hug? You don’t want to shake hands? What’s wrong with you, what’s wrong with that, this is all wrong…” Are you that conventional and thin-skinned that you can’t accept that not everyone wants you draped all over them? Why must we all be in love with your magical touch, especially if you are drunk or high or in some other way impaired? Are you not an adult?

I may not be gracious in the way I express it but what can I say? “I’m not a hugger?” This is untrue. I hug the people I want to hug, because I know them and love them and feel safe with them. I hug my children, when they are receptive to it, not when they aren’t. Sure sometimes I want to be touched- I am an affectionate person, and sometimes the lack of touch makes me feel lonely. But I would rather touch NO-ONE, than someone I don’t want to. I am highly sensitive and unconventional and perfect the way I am- and if you relate to this- then you are too!

In the past people have encouraged me to lie and say I am coming down with something when I don’t want to touch them. Also in the past, I spent a lot of time sick, constantly sick in fact, and I am not that person anymore. I have faked a sneeze before to avoid hugging someone. Why on earth must I fabricate illness to protect your ego? Just, no.

You are entitled to marinate in your own space. Whether male or female, you can and should ask for that. There will be a time, I promise, where you can hold space for yourself in a way that makes you feel safe enough to touch whomever you choose. By giving yourself the dignity of checking in with your own body and setting boundaries, you set up a lifetime of being able to choose who touches you and when. And if that ain’t some magic, I don’t know what is…


Susanna Brisk is a Sexual Intuitive® who once went 6 months without shaking hands with anyone, a necessary precursor to becoming energetically stable. If you need help setting boundaries or tuning into what your body is trying to tell you, you can email her HERE.


  1. Cunts as good things, feewings as perfect accompaniment to a head cocked, wide-eyed baby pout, and “Just, no” as the most sensible, clear antidote to most anything unnerving, unnecessary or uncomfortable…..I like it!!! A slight head bow, smile and “nice to meet you…” as kind approval and acknowledgement to shared meeting and shared space is in my mind always quite lovely and acceptable! At least it’s not Europe where there are the multi cheek kiss greetings and goodbyes around every turn….wow, that always throws me. First, is it two, three, four, what side starts first, forget it, I’m already uncomfortable! Lastly, Body Bullies tend not to like their own medicine….a last resort should things get just too close for comfort! Xo

    • I like the head bow! Maybe move to Japan- they bow- I like the bow. I like hands together in prayer and then a nod for Namaste. The divine in me salutes the divine in you- that is absolutely a given, no matter who you are. That I can run with. Also- I love you and would hug you all day long- does that make me a hypocrite? Or just a person with extremely good taste?

  2. I was introduced to a woman on Friday night who immediately wanted a hug. I had never met her prior to that, nor had I ever written her or talked to her. It was a, “This is my friend…” and BAM, hug. I grew up in California, so it’s not unusual, and I am used to hugs. But, I could tell she was an over-hugger.

    As the night and conversations went on, the woman who had invited me in the first place kept pouring more wine, and the woman I had just met kept drinking it. Of course, then there were the slight brushes of the palm along the upper arms when addressing some random topic (which I never get–was she flirting, or was she just rebalancing herself because of the wine?).

    More people arrived. More hellos and hugs. By 10pm, I had touched everyone in the room at least twice and “restabilized” at least two of them. The person I was there to initially meet was now on the other side of the room, talking to a guy in a hat (a fucking fedora, mind you–because, after all, I was in San Francisco). Was he regaling her with stories about his week? His latest cafe discovery? His fuel efficient car? Maybe she was laughing at his witty comment to a Buzzfeed listicle that they both happened to catch that day.

    In sweeps my friend, “What do you think?”
    I respond, “About?”
    “Her, dummy!”
    “Oh. She’s nice. Thanks.”
    “That’s it?”
    “Well, I hadn’t really talked to her too much.”
    “Let me fix that.”
    “No, no, no…”
    [too late, as she flies away to interrupt Fedora Guy’s discussion on his recent listening of Phish’s “Junta”]

    At this point, I think I gave in to a second glass of wine. What I hadn’t mentioned was that while people arrived, as I said my hellos to all of these people I had just met, I had already been slowly and quietly edging my way to the front door–near where I figured my friend would find my near-finished first glass of wine the next morning sitting on a table.

    They both return, followed by a gigantic hug from “new girl,” followed by an, “Oh my god! I had wondered where you went!”, to which I think I think I actually said, “Oh, you know me.” To which I knew she didn’t, but I just figured by now, since we were on gigantic hugs, we were practically married…which come to think of it, if you take the three hours I had been there, convert those into years, and add four for the hell of it, is about when my marriage fell apart. Yes, I did the math for the purposes of this story. What does the math have to do with this story? No idea, but this is how my mind works at times, and probably what I started to think as we talked, because she started to tell me all about a tattoo she was thinking of getting. No, I don’t remember what the tattoo was supposed to be. I am just guessing something to do with Burning Man.

    So, beyond the bits of touching, you’re probably wondering what does all of this have to do with your article? Well, let me get there.

    I don’t think “bubble” or “space” is my issue. I am good with it, given the right circumstances. I may be very quick to judge a person—yes, possibly to a fault. I think “Fedora Guy” deserves to be judged immediately. But, the stories shared with me that night from at least 15-20 people all seemed to have one thing in common: not one of them felt real; not one felt authentic.

    And, that’s where physical touching comes into play for me. Sure, in business, the corporate handshake is customary, so that is just accepted, and I let it go. But, if I have connected with someone? If I feel safe with them. If there is an unspoken and mutual respect for each other? Then, bring on the fucking hugs. Because, those mean something to me. Hell, I have a sister I can’t even hug, because I lack respect for her, and the hug would mean absolutely nothing. Yet, I have friends I have known for 20 years, and if I don’t get a hug from them, I feel I have lost something.

    But, when I spend several hours just meeting people, for the chance to meet one woman whom I already felt wasn’t authentic? I don’t need the hugs. I don’t want them. And, if I had just retreated faster to the door and left my wine glass behind, I might have been able to avoid half of them. If I did the math correctly.

  3. I too like the head bow, wish it was universal as a cultural “handshake”.
    “Should I fuck everyone who wants to fuck me too? ”
    Yes, you have to. It is mandated by Zeus.

  4. Hazelshade is dead on.
    I too feel uncomfortable when I’m the recipient of the inauthentic hug, or feeling that in-the-moment dreadful obligation of having to respond in kind.
    So I am recommending… the fist bump. I know. Your eyes just widened, or rolled, given your first associations therewith are thuggish black rappers, or black athletes, or perhaps even scarier, their white accountants.
    But think about it. A fist-bump is friendly-ish. It’s germ free relative to handshakes or hugs(inauthentic OR authentic). AND, your bubble space isn’t violated.
    So there you have it. My 2 cents…

    • I fist bump all day long. It’s all I can do because standing there staring someone down when they offer me their hand or goes to hug me doesn’t work. I’ve tried it.

  5. H-ly crap do I completely relate to this… I’m somewhat empathic, I think pretty sensitive, though I often don’t know how to translate it, but I never put together that this might be why I don’t care to shake hands and am very uncomfortable with people in my bubble. I do know that I’ve been that way forever. The parents have told me that I preferred to not be picked up as a baby. I wear hoodie jackets any time I can (when I’m not in imminent danger of a heat stroke) because it makes me feel more separated or protected from the environment/atmosphere. And ugh…. yes to the “body bullies” thing…

    • Welcome to Club Neurotic, glad you have you as a member 😉 FYI from everything I know from 25 years of therapy and psychology, there is no such thing as a baby that doesn’t want to be picked up, maybe you didn’t want to be picked up be CERTAIN people. Check out attachment theory if you haven’t already- it night blow you away like it did me.

      • I over simplified my wording, sure I wanted to be picked up, but I usually didn’t care for being held by Mom or Dad for a lengthy time (I can’t say for certain but I assume same goes for other people,) and would make that known with some kind of tantrum. My mother mentioned this in that it’s a behavior obviously carried over until now (I’m 29.)
        But this is rarely a problem with pets, Cats (my cat and other people’s,) dogs, a rabbit (Jeebus H they’re adorable little f’ers,) I’m very okay petting holding and squeezing the hell out of them until they (even some dogs) visibly find it intrusive annoying…

        I’ll look up that attachment theory thing.

  6. In recent years, I have gotten many virtual hugs, and I can’t help but think that I’m going to have to hug everyone’s virtual reality personas in the future too.

  7. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an incredibly long comment
    but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t
    show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

  8. Holy shit where do I begin? An irreverent little Maid of Orleans holding the line with a exquisitely sharp Pen of Truth. A Titan must have stroked out sending you here now; you’re nothing but energy and you’re dancing on a powder keg! Please be cautious and alert- more importantly safe. There is a vast hoard of dunderheads here and they tend to be erratic and dangerous as you and history have so poignantly and convincingly essayed. Do you have a tactical objective here or are you just fencing with the locals?
    Ugg, I’ve looked strait into the sun and my head hurts. No. I do not want to fuck you. Definitely, positively, um not. LMAO! bat-shit Christians, I’m rolling!

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