Not everyone likes hugs. And in a world where the most casual of friends may greet you with a quick squeeze, that can create quite a bit of awkwardness.
You may be wondering (if you’re a hugger), how anyone could possibly dislike hugging? Let’s explore that. First, there is often bumbling of the act. How tight should you hug? Where does your face go? What length of time makes a hug meaningful? Do you (or the person you’re hugging) have an injury that a hug might hurt?
So many things to consider.
But some of it is psychology too. A 2012 study published in Comprehensive Psychology found that people who were raised by parents who hugged a lot were more likely to be huggers in adulthood. That makes sense.
There are other factors, too.
Self-esteem likely plays a role in whether someone enjoys hugs.
“People who are more open to physical touch with others typically have higher levels of self-confidence,” said Suzanne Degges-White, a professor of Counseling and Counselor Education at Northern Illinois University, in a 2018 Time magazine article. “People who have higher levels of social anxiety, in general, may be hesitant to engage in affectionate touches with others, including friends.”
Other folks who don’t like hugs may be germaphobes or simply don’t enjoy their personal space being compromised. I have a friend who doesn’t like being touched at all — no handshakes, no pats on the back and certainly no hugs. And if somebody sits too close, she’ll move away (politely). She called those eager to be close and to touch “space invaders,” as though they were an alien species that posed a threat.
Recently, too, I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media about whether children should be forced to hug and show affection. If we teach our youngsters about body privacy and safety, then force them to hug their great aunt who they only see once per year and don’t know well, we’re likely sending mixed messages.
Then, in the last few weeks, I’ve personally had three or four folks ask if they could hug me before they did. Now, I’m not opposed to hugs. I have one friend in particular who is a great hugger. She holds you tight for just an extra heartbeat and you can feel every ounce of love in that act. But I am not a big fan of hugs from strangers. In those recent scenarios, I thoroughly appreciated the ask before the act.
So, while hugging has become a social norm of sorts — especially for younger generations who seem to greet everyone with a hug — remember that not everyone enjoys them.
Hug on, my friends, but maybe ask first.