Hugs, Is there a right time?

There are so many rules out there for being “PC” these days and the act of giving a hug is no exception. I especially see this when dealing with victims or as I like to call them survivors of rape, incest or molestation. What is the right thing to do when you know this person in front of you has been touched in inappropriate ways? You might want to give your client a hug but think, if I try to give her a hug he/she will feel violated. Or worse will they think I’m trying to touch them inappropriately if a put my arm around them. As a clinical professional I say to hell with all the PC correctness when it comes to dealing with clients! We are human and believe it or not even survivors of sexual crimes are human…they are not aliens from another planet, so why not give them a huge hug! Why deny them or worse make them feel like touch is all-bad. If you were that person would you want the only experience you had of being touched to be a negative experience? Would you want your only reference to be of rape?……. No!

If you have doubts about how your hug will be received, how about posing a simple question. “Hey can I give you a hug?” “Or I would like to put my arm around you, is that ok with you?” Or if you really feel they are not quite ready for a hug how about starting out with a finger or fist bump. All I’m saying is do not shy away from human contact. As therapists we are trained to put our personalities on hold while we see clients. I think this causes way more damage to the people we are supposed to be helping. We perpetuate their negative thinking and that is the last thing we as professionals should do. Help them get over the hurdle by being authentic and by reframing touch and hugs as good things….because they really are great things!

January 21st was national hug day. It was created in 1986 by Kevin Zaborney. He considered that “American society is embarrassed to show feelings in public” and hoped that a National Hugging Day would change that. Lots of studies have been done showing the benefits of hugs and touch. Touch produces oxytocin which has been shown to promote bonding, trust and empathy.

Still need a little convincing?  Famous author and social worker Virginia Satir says, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” And this famous quote from Maya Angelou speaks to the depth of what I am saying:  “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel“. ~ Maya Angelou. Here is a link to another blog about the power of hugs so you don’t just have to take my word for it.

All this information and I still hear you say, well where I work we have a procedure to follow before we can hug or we have “guidelines” on how to appropriately hug our child clients.  I’M TELLING YOU RIGHT NOW YOU WILL MAKE THESE PEOPLE MORE DAMAGED THAN THEY ALREADY ARE!  You will be the one victimizing if you stick with these “rules” and “guidelines”.  Yes, by all means ask for permission before, but once you get the go ahead hug’em with all you got because that simple act could be the turning point in their recovery and all it cost you was a little bitty hug.