I remember a time when I felt so alone, so foreign, so vacant that a hug felt like the most uncomfortable thing in the world. Someone would lunge at me in what I perceived as feigned politeness and throw a tangle of arms around me. The audacity. The word ridiculous coiled tight in my head. Get off me I'd chant in my head. Don't touch me. It hurts. Hugs hurt so much it felt like a burn. The memory of another soul pressed against my body, it merely amplified my loneliness. No sooner did the relief of a hug start, than it ended. I decided I craved hugs too much. Therefor I would no longer allow myself the luxury.
That was then, and this is now.
Hugs are now very important to me. They always were, but I no longer run from them. I find the self destructive side of me wants to deprive me of this gold. So I don't listen. I hug a lot now. I ask for hugs. I hug hello. I hug goodbye. The self abusive voice that once mocked something so natural has now been switched to mute. Hugs are important for survival. For my survival. I know that now.
"We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth."- Virginia Satir
Some people say you can tell a lot from a hug. It's a form of expression. Long goodbye hugs fill the gap of words left unsaid. Hugs can breathe warmth into someone. I can remember the hug from my Mum when I got home from a Summer in America. I remember the group hug with my sisters the day I got my Leaving Cert results. I remember the tight hug from a group therapy facilitator a few years ago when I felt like I would drown in my own self hatred. Hugs speak. The hug from my Mum felt said relief. The hug from my sisters said jubilation. The hug from the group facilitator told me to hang on, that living would get easier.
I remember hugs now. I value them like I value my life. Human touch feels electric to me. Holding hands. Kisses on foreheads. Sitting close to someone so you feel their chest rise and fall. That is human connection. And it is something I ran from for so long. But now it sparks life in me. It comforts me when nothing else can. In a world of social media and virtual relationships it's important to remember the value of human touch. Babies cry because they want be held. We grow older, but we do not outgrow the need for this human connection.
A lot of research is done on this topic. The University of Miami's Touch Research Institute has revealed many benefits to human touch:
- Improves immunity
- Lessens pain
- Improves pulmonary function
- Increases growth in infants
- Alleviates symptoms of depression
Hugging releases the 'happy hormone' called oxytocin. This has benefits including lowering blood pressure, decreasing stress, reducing fatigue and easing depression. Longer hugs can even increase seratonin which helps improve your mood. Hugs relax muscles, ease tension and also strengthen relationships. Hugs are literally the gifts that keep on giving!
Please don't despair if you feel lonely. I once did too. Start to notice the opportunities for human connection. If your granny wants to hug you, let her. Lightly touch a friend's arm while chatting. Stroke your dog or cat. Feel the energy of the person you sit next to. Hold your baby nieces, nephews or cousins. Book yourself in for a massage. Rub cream into your skin and feel the warmth of your touch.
Human touch is vital for survival :)
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