When smiles and laughter are no longer funny
I have a confession to make: I am horribly ticklish. The many ways that this carefully guarded secret has been used against me over 30 plus years has brought much amusement and joy...to others, not to me! Don't get me wrong, there are ways to tickle appropriately so that everyone involved can laugh about it. But that mischievous smirk on your face as your hand creeps toward me tells me that your intent may appear innocent, but the experience will be unpleasant.
Now when I say ticklish, I mean really, really ticklish. So ticklish in fact, that it is easy for me to tickle myself in places like the tender part of my feet. Sometimes, it can even be difficult to avoid - no matter how I steel my mind to the idea and exert willpower over my response. That little shiver runs through my nerves like electricity, traveling the length of my body, head to toe.
When I was a little girl, my cousins could make me crazy squeamish just by wiggling their fingers in the area near my neck and chanting "I am not tickling you, I am not tickling you." (As I pause to relax my shoulders which are subtly tensing up in mere thought of this memory.) And years later, at the composed age of - er - 27, I managed to slam my head into the passenger sidecar window when my aunt faked a lunge toward my neck to demonstrate for the backseat audience just how ticklish I am. The amount of laughter that ensued from her husband behind me was notable, but I can assure you that I personally spent the rest of that drive on alert! And more than a little tingly.
Admittedly, I'm just a little biased on this topic. But I feel inspired to educate all you ticklers out there about the pitfalls of inappropriate tickle tactics - and hopefully add a few chuckles along the way. Take my admonitions here as a good-natured, tongue-in-cheek reprimand...but you'd be wise to take it to heart, as well, in favor of all the ticklish loved ones in your life.
Predator v. Prey - Identify yourself in the tickle hierarchy
It's a dangerous sport, tickle attacking. An acquaintance of mine suffered a fat lip from his daughter the other day thanks to a tickle attack. It was a wound I believed he fully deserved! 999,999 for the ticklers in the world : 1 for the ticklish.
For the ticklish this is an all too common story: being pinned to the ground, rendered virtually helpless by our body's automatic physical response, while our pleas of "please stop" are summarily dismissed. It is not in any way, shape, or form pleasant for us. I know you think it is. After all, your ticklish victim is smiling and laughing uncontrollably, right? True enough, but that is not a voluntary or even accurate depiction of the experience of the ticklish. Why evolution saw fit to select individuals who laughed upon being touched at particular points on their body, irrespective of their pleasure or displeasure, I could not posit.
Quite honestly, being tickled aggressively is uncomfortable, disempowering, and in a vague and difficult-to-describe way: painful. It can even be a bit traumatic as a little kid (and here I'm picturing myself surrounded by a horde - yes, horde I say! - of adults around me, mercilessly tickling me as I writhe in pain). It is a mistake to think that tickling others excessively is enjoyable for you both. If you are going to persist in tickling that way, let it be with the understanding that you are doing it to derive pleasure at another's expense. And that your choice may win you an elbow to the lip - unintentional or well aimed!
Which best describes you?
Tickle Me No No - Guidelines for repentant tickle attackers
So how do you go about tickling someone without hitting that unpleasant mark? Well, the first consideration is your attitude - let's call it your "tickle-tude"! Are you stalking your prey, reading to pounce upon and exploit their weakness? Or is your intent light, playful and carefree? If it's the first option, then odds are about 99% that no matter what kind of tickling you do, it is not likely to be fun for the other person. It really is that simple.
However, here are a few rules I can suggest as a self-proclaimed recovering tickle victim, turned tickle defender.
- First rule: listen when you are asked to stop. YES, that means you! Right now, stop it. It sounds obvious, but this action alone would avert many a tickle disaster. All versions apply: "please stop", "stop now", "don't", "please don't", "it hurts" and so on are all valid variations of this request.
- Closely relevant to Rule #1: don't assume that laughter, giggling, or smiles mean that your ticklee is having a good time. It really is an involuntary physical reaction in a lot of cases. Barring getting angry or violent, your tickle prey will usually ask you to stop verbally even while they continue laughing. If you ignore that, few options are left but lashing out with elbows, arms, legs, and teeth. And a black eye usually isn't on anyone's list of fun! Well, ok, maybe it's a little satisfying to see my tickle attackers wounded...just an teensy weensy bit.
- Be gentle with your tickling, especially in the areas that you know are most sensitive. Tickling the nerves and getting a fleeting response is pleasant enough for everyone involved. But digging in to really render your victim incapacitated by laughter causes cramping in the muscles. I'm talking hard-boulder-of-immoveable-discomfort-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach convulsions! Trust me: not desirable. Remember that being tickled is about stimulated nerve endings. A little goes a long way. A lot usually registers as pain.
- Build in a rhythm or breaks to your tickling. A full force attack that never lets up feels a bit like standing in a pounding hailstorm. Once I've been tickled, my nerves remain pretty sensitive and prone to exaggeration. Psychological tickling like my cousins used with their wiggling fingers and taunting words were quite effective in making me goosey and giggly. Use that to your advantage by tickling in short waves instead of a full out onslaught that never ends.
- With kids, always consider that they may not be able to express their feelings of discomfort or frustration effectively while being tickled. It's important to try to see the situation from their perspective. Is it fun for them? Or are they likely to feel defenseless? Hmmm, on second thought this applies to adults too. Defenseless = Bad Tickling
- And just to reiterate again: watch your tickle-tude. Approach ticklish folks with an attitude of respect. Try to think of it less as "haha! I am going to get you!" and more like "hehe...is that the ticklish spot?" And watch for when and if the situation changes; you know: the moment just before my left foot sails into your right cheekbone? Purely accidental, of course, but oh so gratifying.
How ticklish are you?
There seems to be a wide variety of ticklishness amongst the global population, from those who have a few special ticklish spots, to those that are highly sensitive just about everywhere. And then there are the people who don't even know what it really means to be ticklish - kind of like the folks who don't believe in allergies because they have never experienced them personally.
I wasn't able to find any statistics online to indicate what percentage of the population worldwide considers themselves ticklish. Asking those who are reading an article on the subject won't necessarily serve as an accurate sample of the general populous, but take a moment to add your voice to the data regardless.
Where do you think you fall in the spectrum?
You've likely either been tickled or have tickled others at some point in your life. Do any stories stick out in your memory as particularly funny or horrible? Please share your experiences below!