Therapeutic Hugs

2 Apr 2019

"Mummy, Daddy, can I have a hug?"

Thank goodness, that's a phrase often heard in my house.

We don't by any means get everything right, but one thing I think we do okay at is hugs. Every weekday I get the children up at 6am (the school bus goes at 7am) and start the day by giving them a hug. We usually end the day with a hug too. They get a hug when they come home from school. My husband gets a kiss as he leaves for work and a hug when he returns. Hugs transfer love and make us feel good.

It's not always easy. Sometimes I must inflict hugs on my children. For quite a few years my elder daughter did not want hugs, but I kept on hugging. When our lovely young friend Richard first came to stay with us I had to teach him how to hug, as he had not experienced any hugs in his home.

To receive a hug is to, for a moment, be vulnerable in another's arms and to receive their love. Even when it is friends who mutually hug, it is a shared lowering of defences. If you do not become open in that moment, your body feels stiff and unyielding in the arms of the person giving the hug. That hug is undeliverable and is returned to sender.

Sadly, many of us do not have family or close friends with whom to share hugs. Some of us do not have a hugging history. We did not hug in my family, and it was not until I went to university that I learned how to hug. I attended one church where hugging was banned for fear of inappropriate sexual contact!

Oh yes – how do we deal with that one? We've all seen the way men hug each other: the "manly" hug, maintaining a distance of at least six inches between crotches and involving much back-thumping. I'm sorry, chaps, but it does look a bit ridiculous. I compare it with the way I have seen my husband hold his elderly father in a strong but gentle hug. An automatic misalignment – disalignment rather – coped with the crotch issue and the love demonstrated brought tears to my eyes.

A good hug must be strong, even if frailty or illness mean it must be gentle. Height differences must be accounted for. The day my daughter stepped back, grinned at me and said, "Mummy – I'm taller than you now – I think you must go 'under'," was very special. And a good hug must be long – at least five seconds; studies recommend ten. That doesn't sound long, but – if you think about it – most social hugs last only two seconds. That's not enough time for the endorphins to generate.

And – we must accept that sometimes a hug is not appropriate. Sometimes a gentle hand placed on the upper portion of the arm is all we can do to give comfort, support and to show we care.


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