Can I give you a hug?

by Suzanne

We perform physical activity to keep our lungs active and our heart strong.  We’re encouraged to eat more fruit and fibre, and a low cholesterol diet for heart and colon health.  And for the largest organ in our body … our skin …. Er?  In some cultures (e.g. Thailand), it’s “normal” to have a weekly massage … in the UK … not so mainstream.  So, what’s important about touch?

Over eighty years ago it was found that infants died if they were deprived of touch.  Back in the 1930’s there was a condition known as hospitalism, where children who stayed long term in hospital died through lack of social contact.  Fortunately this term has been lost from our vocabulary, as the causes for these deaths were found and eradicated.  Spitz (1946) noted:

At the beginning of our century one of the great foundling homes in Germany had a mortality rate of 71.5% in infants in the first year of life”

Stewart & Joines (1987), in TA Today summarise:

“They [the infants], were fed well, kept clean and warm.  Yet they were more likely to experience physical and emotional difficulties than were children brought up by their mothers or other direct caretakers.  …. They had little physical contact with those who looked after them.  They lacked the touching, cuddling and stroking which babies would normally get from their caretakers”.

Psychologist Harry Harlow demonstrated the need for touch with chimps, whereby baby chimps were offered a choice of two surrogate mothers, one made of a wire frame, and food, and the other, no food, but where the frame was covered in soft material.  The thinking at the time was babies “just” needed food.  He demonstrated that whilst the chimps would feed from the wire frame surrogate, they dashed back to the cloth covered surrogate, through choice and even when fearful, demonstrating that touch to be more important than food?

So, if lack of physical contact in infants caused death, what about this deprivation in adults?  Eric Berne (in Stewart & Joines) suggested that “as adults we still crave physical contact.  But we also learn to substitute other forms of recognition in place of physical touching.  A smile, a compliment, or for that matter a frown or an insult – all show us that our existence has been recognised.”

Substitute?  I wonder if there’s a case for having both?

I’m talking about touch that’s a mutually pleasant and beneficial experience.  What’s considered pleasant will be different for different people, with different people, and in different environments, and I think it important to also emphasise that both parties have to be in agreement.  Touch can and does incorporate many different areas, including massage and reflexology.  So let me narrow from general mutually beneficial touch, to the specifics of hugging.

I think it’s fair to say there are cultural norms, social norms, and appropriate codes of conduct in different environments.  Most of us would not want to be accosted and randomly hugged by a stranger, however well meaning.  I remember an evening out with work colleagues, where a chap I had occasionally worked with, came up to me and gave me a big public hug.  I remember being quite upset, as a woman in a male dominated industry I was concerned that this would give out inappropriate and inaccurate signals about our relationship.  The mutuality was missing.

Subsequently I changed to a job in training where colleagues may not see each other for weeks on end, and many of us hug on “first meeting”.  More recently, in a new job, I find myself moving towards giving a colleagues a hug on “first meeting”, and realise it’s inappropriate for the context.  Given that it has the potential to be a bit of a social minefield out there, about what’s appropriate, with whom and when … and whilst I’m all for the spontaneous hug, there can be no harm in asking “can I give you a hug?”  Any slight potential embarrassment as you raise your arms to hug, as the other person declines, has to be better than the awkward embrace.  Some people don’t want physical contact – and that’s fine too.  And of course many people will accept your offer.

Can I give you a hug?  Look out for Guerrilla Free Hugs near you!

REFERENCES

Berne, E. (1975). What do you say after you say hello? : London: Corgi.

Spitz, R. A., & Wolf, K. M. (1946). Anaclitic depression; an inquiry into the genesis of psychiatric conditions in early childhood, II. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 2, 313-342.

Stewart, I., & Joines, V. (1987). TA today : a new introduction to transactional analysis. Nottingham: Lifespace.

© guerrilla hugs 2011

The importance of touch for young people

Laughter, stress, guilt, fear, etc. are all emotions that produce chemical reactions in the body. The loving touch of a mother/guardian can produce comfort and joy. I am filled with concern when I think of the young people of today; some may never receive touch in the way I did when I was growing up. Some may only only experience the touch of an abuser, which will produce feelings of fear and anxiety. The touch of parents and their children are key to the nurturing and development of the child. A child comes into the world not being able to do anything for themselves and needs the security of a parent.

In today’s fearful society the importance of touch seems to have been lost. Teachers can no longer give a pupil a hug if they fall over in the playground. Professionals working in young people’s care home can no longer hug the children there who very often only need a cuddle to lift them up and make them feel supported.

So what will happen to these young people? I’m not sure that they will understand the benefits of platonic touch, the reassurance of someone showing they care. Statistics show that 1 in 3 girls will get pregnant within their first year of leaving care. For me its seems like this may have a lot to do with a lack of touch, and a misguided truth around physical affection.

Early research from Maslow’s hierarchy shows the importance of security in the well being and development of humans. It can also be see from the instances of neglected children, the terrible affects of not being touched and nurtured as a youngster. The same is also shown with doctor and patient; During sickness or illness, the doctor is like a surrogate parent. The belief and trust we have in the doctor is transmitted and received by touch. One knows this from the sugar pill and medicine experiments. Some people are healed by the sugar pill just like the medicine. It was the belief in the power of the pill that actually healed. Just by the doctor touching us and telling us we will be fine goes a long way in the healing process.

So before we are all lost in the land of no contact and the madness, as common sense slips out the door … give someone a hug today!

 

© guerrilla hugs 2011