Hugs Aren’t Always Free

I am a hugger, but recently it has become difficult for me to handle physical contact with others. To me, a hug is like a handshake—you know, the kind in old movies and that our fathers and grandfathers believed in—a proper one tells you something about a person. For that matter, so does an improper one.

I love every kind of hug, even the awkward ones. Those might be my favorite, aside from the kind that linger long past their expected expiration date but never seem to cross the threshold into uncomfortable.  The ones that you didn’t realize you needed, but that sneak up on you and make you feel safe.

But my love for hugs is what has made it so hard to realize that in the last few months, maybe even a year, they’ve begun to make me feel anxious. Not anxious in that cute, “I hope you’re okay with this” way. And not anxious in the way that’s easily overcome. They make me anxious, uncomfortable even, all the way down into the marrow of my bones. Sure, there are a few people who I can still hug without feeling my skin crawl, but for the most part I’m on a subconscious-driven dry spell.

And it’s killing me.

Okay, maybe not literally, but sometimes it feels like it. The more I pull away from the comfort of a friendly embrace—the physical contact that says “You aren’t alone in the world, you’re not floating in a void populated only by your highly active imagination.”—the more I need it.

And the source of my sudden discomfort with physical contact is elusive, at best. It’s come just as I’ve begun to conquer the worst of my social anxiety, forcing myself out into community activities and in front of people to speak. It gets worse even as I become more comfortable with myself as a person and more confident in my own knowledge and skills. It even creeps up on me when I’m alone, considering the absence of my favorite greeting and parting gesture.

I’ve long since become used to the fact that I can’t handle people initiating contact from behind, and that in crowds the press of bodies sends me into a downward spiral of panic. I’ve even become used to the fact that sitting in a room filled with the opposite gender will leave me reeling for hours, if not days, but I never thought that the fallout of my past would creep so far into my life as to take away this most precious part of my identity.

I am a hugger…

And I can’t hug.

1 thought on “Hugs Aren’t Always Free”

  1. Back some time ago I was not a hugger, especially men; however, starting in church I got into groups where, as you say, hugging was like a handshake, only it seemed to convey a bit more. It, I guess, was more personal. So today, I am a hugger. My biggest anxiety is probably tied with the whole sexual harassment issue. Am I stepping out of line. So far I think I have appropriately judged when hugs are appropriate and avoided one where I felt they might be misunderstood and therefore not appropriate. There is something special about hugs and I hope you are able to work through your anxieties so that you can again feel the comforts of a hug. Next time you see me I will probably give you a hug that lingers on the side of long past its expected expiration date :).

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