Hugs, they’re not for everyone.

There’s currently a Puritanical idea that has pervaded our culture in which touch and sex are inherently linked and it is doing us a great disservice. I think that people are afraid to touch each other no matter how platonic.

I will admit it, I’m a tactile person. I give and receive hugs every day. Touch is one of the ways I communicate. I’m also a shoulder patter, and a hand holder. Hugs are free and there is no purchase required.

We Americans are often “touch starved” because the casual, nonsexual contact that happens between friends in other cultures just doesn’t happen here. I think we were never meant to hold each other at arm’s length.

 According to Readers Digest, hugs are more than just a friendly greeting, they’re a surprisingly powerful health booster you’ll want to take greater advantage of every single day. From the time we’re born our family’s touch shows us that we’re loved and special. The connections of self-worth and tactile sensations we received in our early years are still implanted in our mind as adults. Hugs affect our ability to love ourselves.

Hugs are much more than a friendly greeting. Holding a hug for an extended time is said to lift one’s serotonin levels, elevating mood and creating happiness. Hugs supposedly strengthen the immune system. Hugging is reported to boost self-esteem.

Touch is incredibly important for us as human beings. Studies have shown that hugs can reduce blood pressure and release oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that has been associated with empathy, trust, and relationship-building among other things.

A good hug relaxes muscles and releases tension. Hugs can help ease pain and soothe aches by increasing circulation into the soft tissues.  Hugs teach the importance of giving and receiving. There is an equal value in receiving a hug as there is to giving one. Hugs show us how love goes both ways. As a loving person, I get an abundance of hugs from my family. I find that hugs are like a miracle drug.

A Swedish study of 172 nursing home residents found that those who received hugs and physical touch, connected more with family, friends and visitors, were more socially active and had a tendency to thrive better than the residents who didn’t receive the physical contact.

When you are in a relationship, it is too easy to take the other person for granted. A benefit of hugging that is frequently overlooked is that a hug can reaffirm your love. I think it’s valuable to know that something as simple as time spent touching or hugging has been shown to have measurable benefits.

I had a doctor who was very professional but unemotional. He was an excellent doctor that in my mind saved my life on more than one occasion. The first time he proclaimed that I was “In remission” I jumped up and gave him a big hug, I was so elated. It was like hugging a tree.

 In his culture, men did not hug. Over the course of several years and 2 remissions, I hugged him many times. Our relationship warmed so much that the last time I saw him, he initiated the hug. He also had a student with him on this particular day. He said to the student that he might as well hug me because I was going to hug him too.

A few years ago, I had a person report me to HR that I had hugged her. She was telling me about her horrible battle with cancer when I said “sounds like you need a hug”. I did not approach her or grab her, just stood and opened my arms. She then stepped forward to get her hug. She didn’t protest at the time or say “No thanks.” but seeing as I was in a position of superiority over her she didn’t think she could refuse.

 She taught me to always ask if people are comfortable with a hug or possibly even a warm handshake before assuming that they were. It was a boundary I needed to understand and something I needed to learn.

I now recognize that for lots of people, touch can be not only be something unfamiliar but has the ability to transmit aggression or dehumanizing and scary messages.  I mean nothing more by it when I offer you a hug other than make an effort to connect with you or to offer comfort to you, not to invade your space or make you feel uncomfortable.

So while I will continue to offer hugs to people who seem to welcome them. I will never foist them upon anyone. I will say though that if I see you crying, eating cold pizza and you explain your troubles to me and ask for advice, offering a hug to you seems as reasonable to me as offering you a tissue.

Hugging might also be a wonderful way to resolve a disagreement. I think that giving each other the touch they need may have the ability to reverse the damages.

To me, there doesn’t seem to be a downside to consensual hugging, I just have to ask first. Norb is a loving husband, father and grandfather who doles out hugs in Lockport.

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