Human Connection & Hugs

What do you think about hugging?  Or do you even think about hugging?  Do you get enough hugs?  Do you give enough hugs?  What’s the quality of the hugs you give/receive?

Perhaps it sounds odd, but I’ve been thinking a lot about hugs lately.   In business meetings, I observe if and how people hug.  In social gatherings, I pay attention to the quality of the hugs I give and receive.  Hugs are more intimate than handshakes, (a cultural observance that originated as a way to ensure the other person wasn’t holding a dagger), and a hug typically involves more body contact.

For fun I conducted a search for “types of hugs” and found articles describing the top 8, 10, and 16 hugs.  Just as some people are hesitant to connect in their handshakes, some huggers appear to be trying as hard as possible to not really touch the other person.

I love real hugs, the kind where both you and the “huggee” actually take the time to relax and feel the other person’s energy, their humanness.  Perhaps even inhale and exhale in unison for a breath or two.  When I experience this type of hug I feel so accepted, so cared for (someone actually wants to slow down and connect), and acknowledged.

The hugs I don’t appreciate are the ones where the other person isnot present.  You know, they are on their way out the door (either physically or mentally), and give you the equivalent of a blown kiss in the wind.

The other type of hug I don’t appreciate (yes, I know I should be appreciative of every hug I receive), I typically experience in business environments.  It’s the half-body bump with a one arm grab.   The other person turns their face away, quickly grabs your shoulder or back, while turning their body away.

I’ve found this type of hug uncomfortable because it is typically offered by a physically stiff person.  Their body is so tight it’s as if their bones have morphed and taken over their muscles, tendons, and skin.  I’m frequently bruised in these hugs, and it feels like I’m trying to hug a wall.  I want to tell them to relax or to just shake my hand.

Now, I get it.  In business environments most people are hesitant to hug.  A hug can be misinterpreted.  And in many environments, we’ve focused on caution for a reason.  When I worked in global corporations, hugging wasn’t encouraged except during award ceremonies, and then it was the head turned/side of body type hug.

I’m a hugger.   I typically warn people as I come toward them with outstretched arms.  I don’t want to startle anyone.  And I’m thoughtful about where, when, and how long I hug another person if I don’t know them very well.

But, hugging fulfills a deep need that humans have for physical contact and a sense of connection.  We are so wired for connection that from birth to early childhood, the brain needs human contact to fully develop.  We know from years of research that the brains of children that aren’t touched by their care-takers don’t develop normally, and these children don’t develop the ability to be empathetic.

Human touch impacts many parts of the brain and multiple functions. Our thinking, feeling, sensory and motor systems are all affected by touch as well as parts of the brain involved in learning new movements.  We literally need to touch each other to function.

I worry that our culture’s fixation on being “always on/always connected,” is actually disconnecting us as humans.  Christine Carter, Ph.D., sociologist advises us to “Hug people liberally.  Even people you’ve just met.  People are stressed.  They need more love.  Don’t withhold it.”

We humans are designed to connect, not through screens, but through our sense of sight, hearing, smell, and touch.   How many hugs have you given and received today?

Have you had enough quality hugs to feel acknowledged and appreciated?   Have you given enough quality hugs to acknowledge others?   If not, what are you going to do about your hugging?