I grew up in a small town, Tillamook, on the Oregon coast in the 1930’s and 40’s in an intact family of mother, father and three evenly spaced boys. Aside from the normal disagreements within a growing family there were no major disruptions. We were friendly and polite but kept an emotional distance in most of our interactions as well as with the wider family. Closeness, whether physical or emotional, was rare and the words “I love you,” in my memory, were not heard. Doing your duty and conforming to the culture was paramount.
In the 70’s, when I joined a church my belief system was secondary to being a loving person but I soon discovered that the pastor was a hugger. It took a few years but I became a hugger too, discovering that in a short hug there was an unspoken communication of “okayness.”
As a heterosexual male there was the additional attraction of some sexual feelings in hugging the women my age and younger. And society approved of men hugging women. But hugging a man, although intellectually ok, was much more difficult for me. And society also, with exceptions for grievous circumstances, disapproved of male to male hugs.
So here I am in Cuenca in 2019 paying more attention to my hugs, talking about hugging to people, reading about the research on the benefits of hugging. Here are some hugging events in my recent life that are important to me. In a short conversation with a young woman who had just arrived here from Egypt there was a felt connection and we ended with a big hug and a quick joyous dance.
A few days ago I unexpectedly saw two male friends that I had not seen in several months. As we approached each other our arms went out and there we were in a big hug. A couple of times recently there have been long hugs of comfort to a woman in distress. I received a long hug from a child that I hadn’t seen in several months. And on Facebook I had a virtual hug with a woman who I have never met who is a friend of a nephew. In each of these instances there were words but the connection with the other was in the hug, not the words.
These hugs feel so right and so powerful that nothing more should be needed. But it is only recently that I have felt the full power of hugs so I want to know about the whys and hows and implications. I have read several articles about the power of hugs in the last few years so the following comes from what I learned from them and a brand new book, Hug Therapy by Dr. Stone Kraushaar, who cites several studies. The quote is from his book.
“The dopamine-response system in the brain, under the influence of oxytocin, controls our ability to perceive pleasure. These neuropeptides, oxytocin and dopamine, have become known as endorphins, or pleasure chemicals …When we embrace someone, oxytocin is released, and this makes us feel warm and fuzzy. This promotes feelings of devotion, trust, and bonding. The touch also enables the participants to develop a stronger sense of acceptance, and decreases loneliness, isolation, and depression … and leads to the lowering of one’s blood pressure.”
The studies to learn more about the benefits of hugging are ongoing.
I have believed for many years that if we want a peaceful world one of the best, or perhaps necessary, things is more skin to skin contact, seeing each other as fellow struggling human beings rather than pinning on a label (white, black, etc., etc.) and stopping there. The power of hugging certainly reinforces that notion.
It is tempting to want to give out hugs all the time, and I am giving out more but I have to remember that not everyone wants a hug, which is perfectly ok, and that in many situations it is just not appropriate. So I try to make sure that I have permission and the situation is right before I give the hug.