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  • Stephanie Gilson

Do You Violate People With Your Hugs?

I am a hugger. I'd hug everyone. I'd even say when they went to shake my hand, or say goodbye without a hug, I'd exclaim "NOPE! I'm a hugger!"

I recently watched an uncomfortable interaction between two people. One of whom I know dislikes touch. One who loves it. The person who dislikes touch said "No, I don't hug". The subject was pushed so the person had no choice but to either stand their ground further or simply decide it's not worth the battle and hug the person anyway.

Isn't it interesting that something we do to show affection, genuine care for someone or simply because we have an affinity for that person and want to show it, can actually be a huge violation to someone with a history of touch trauma? What an awful predicament to be in. To explain your touch trauma to someone who has no need or right to know about your story, or violate your own boundaries to keep the subject closed.

Touch trauma can stem from a vast number of different childhood experiences. Sexual abuse, physical abuse, smothering, neglect just to name a few.

I myself have felt it on the other end. Forced to hug someone I didn't want to, or when I first got my half sleeve tattoo or wrist tattoo, strangers would just grab me and rub my arm, or grab my wrist so they could get a better look. I also feel it when friends sit too close to me and touch me. I feel a sense of anxiety. I feel that I'm expected to act a certain way, reciprocate or I even think.... "I wonder what they want from me?"

Until my last partner, I disliked spooning and cuddling a lot. I didn't want to sleep with someone touching me other than back to back. I felt suffocated. I felt expectations. I stayed awake all night in anxiety about moving too much, breathing too loud, where his hands are and where my hands are, are they comfortable, I'm not comfortable but I can't move to make myself comfortable because they might wake up, or they might take that to mean I don't like them, or they might be offended, or they.........UGH. The narrative was obnoxious.

My last partner changed my relationship with touch. I never had those anxious thoughts with him. He embraced me with such ease and naturalness I didn't feel any expectations, judgements, or need to reciprocate back should I not want to, when he held me, spooned me, let me sleep in his nook, held my hand or sat close to me. This was the first time in my adult life I felt free.

Sadly our relationship ended and I was curious how I would be moving forward. In dating new men, I found for the most part I kept that freedom and ease. Not fully but FAR more than I used to feel! Being spooned all night is now something I crave. Not dread.

My first year of school to be a counsellor I hugged people fully, tightly and long. I learned that not everyone wants and appreciates hugs. Some people who normally love hugs don't want to be hugged in that moment. Some people simply don't like you and don't want to tell you. Some people might be self conscious. Some people have deep trauma and have created a circle of safe distance around themselves. Us as huggers violate that safe distance all the time.

We all have our own boundaries with how physically close we allow strangers, coworkers, friends, families, causal dates, lovers and spouses in on. Each one of these safe distances is probably different for each of these relationship dynamics. It's time we respect each other and become more aware of what is our need verses their need. Consent isn't just about sexual assault or abuse. Consent encompasses all forms of touch.

I still hug people fully, tightly and long but I've learned to offer it and ask the other person if they would like to as well. I've learned that a no isn't an invitation to continue the conversation. I've learned to say ok, no problem! I've got a hug waiting for you if you ever want it! Then they know the invitation is there but don't feel they HAVE to hug me because of MY need to be hugged.

No, even with a hug, means no.

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