To hug or not to hug

Lynn Horton is a freelance writer and editor who in another lifetime taught English and Creative Writing at McIntosh High School and later worked in the Starr’s Mill High School Media Center.

Today as I was just pulling my golf cart into a spot at the Senoia Library before heading in to an informal Brown Bag meeting of our local writers group, one of my more gregarious friends jumped out of my cart and hollered at a mutual friend, “Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen you in ages! Come here and give me a hug!!”
The friend under fire did not “exactly” cringe, but she did have a pained expression on her face as my bear-hugging buddy threw her arms around her for a brief, but warm hug. Now most of us know that this lady, who isn’t from the South and who openly admits her family were not “the huggy kind,” is a funny, fun-loving, bright and cheerful sort…but, we also know that she just doesn’t do well with hugs, especially surprise hugs.

Yes! There are people out there who do not hug, who do not enjoy being hugged, who are uncomfortable with hugs, and who hope that no one ever lunges at them threatening even a sympathetic hug. Scares them to death! Did you know there has been research conducted at both Northern Illinois University and at Notre Dame (both located in cold weather climates where hugging should be encouraged) which suggests there are some really negative aspects of someone rejecting or never receiving a cuddle, an embrace, or even a handshake. Physical contact of this sort as an adult makes them anxious or annoyed.

There is actually a “cuddle hormone”—oxytocin—which if cut off “can lead to an undeveloped vagus nerve (look it up, please), and may have all sorts of bad side effects. It can lead to a decreased ability to be intimate or compassionate and thereby making bonding much harder, according to the 2014 Notre Dame study. That’s bad.

I have heard for years that at least four hugs a day are essential to good health. Four hugs and one apple is probably tantamount to running four miles (my statistics). I have tried to practice the four hug regimen, since diets and exercise are just really hard. Also, according to the Degges-White investigation in Illinois, “hugging is an important element in a child’s upbringing…. People more open to physical touch typically have higher levels of self-confidence.” That’s good, too.

So if your parents weren’t huggers you may miss important social cues, or else you could grow up to be someone who overcorrects and cannot be around friends without touching their shoulder or embracing them. May be what happened to me, for I do love an affectionate embrace even out in public. Grocery store hugs are nice, church hugs are absolutely required, and lots of long, lingering hugs are part of any family gathering. Although neither my mom nor my dad grew up hugging and did not seem comfortable with more than a shoulder pat, I was blessed with a passel of Aunts who loved to hug me. I even had an uncle or two who did the “one arm around the shoulder and squeeze,” which I think is a very appropriate thing for men to do—even if you aren’t related. There are psychologists out there who are “professional cuddlers” and will help a person learn to experience the “78 cuddle poses…so they can find something for just about any comfort level.” It is also important to understand that because not everyone wants or needs your hug, be receptive of any message they send to avoid physical contact; respect that, offer your hand and a warm smile. But, everyone should know that researchers at Carnegie Melon University checked out the effects of hugs on the immune system and found that those who felt loved were 32 percent less likely to catch the common cold. Now that is good news!
I admit that as I grow older and since I have now spent 40+ years in the South, (my Army brat/Army wife days of traipsing around the globe and hanging out with foreigners and Yankees is long over), I will hug just about anyone who slows down within arms’ length of me! I have even taught my sister and my brother the value of a warm embrace. My husband, daughters and grandchildren are huggers, too. A happiness that is hard to explain washes over me when they wrap their arms around me, no matter the situation. Coming for a visit or leaving from that same visit; expressing their sympathy or empathy for me causes a welling up of such emotion that it threatens to overwhelm. But who doesn’t enjoy being overwhelmed with love?

To me there is nothing like gratitude I feel when my friend Sheridan calls to check on me, chatting companionably sometimes for an hour via telephone, sharing her caring heart with me, and at other times, when she arrives at our back door, oh my—we are enveloped in the most wonderful, heartfelt hugs on this or any other planet. And that is very, very good.

Sherry walks in the backdoor with her arms already spread wide. Maureen has a soft, sweet, hello hug that makes me feel so welcome wherever we meet, and Lauren arrives with arms full of whatever project we are working on, beaming, brown eyes sparkling with excitement over whatever the day will bring. She leans in, places her rosy cheek next to mine, and hugs me with her whole self.

 

*Quotes from Oct. 2018 Time article by Melissa Locker

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