It’s no big secret among my friends that I’m not a hugger, except of trees. I like trees, they don’t invade personal space uninvited.
There’s a very small list of people I hug; friends and family. I may not have seen a friend in years and I may love them fiercely but unless they’re in deep distress I ain’t hugging them.
I’ve always had a dislike of physical contact, except in limited circumstances. I don’t know why but I find most physical contact, intentional or accidental, discomforting and awkward; I feel as though it’s an invasion of my personal space. This means I find it difficult to show affection or provide comfort to friends in distress. I’m much more comfortable doing something practical, like talking about the cause and seeking a solution, or making something for them. I have been known to clean as a sign of affection because I find it uncomfortable hugging. If I’ve actually allowed a person to touch me, or have voluntarily touched them, then I usually love them.
There are occasionally times when I have to hug people I am not especially friends or even acquainted with; some people assume a hug as a greeting is normal. I usually return it perfunctorarily and back away, or explain that I don’t hug and will shake hands instead. I’ve yet to meet anyone who, once my discomfort is explained, takes offence to it as it’s never personal.
Ah, but I wish…
The last few days haven’t been great. My depression, triggered by the increased instability at work, has played havoc with my sleep, my equilibrium and my ability to get through the day without having a crying fit. I’m doing fairly well at the moment, considering I can’t sleep right now and I have to be up for work in less than six hours, but I really would have liked a hug at some point in the last few days.
I’m not friends with my work colleagues; though I’ve known most of them several years I haven’t become friends. I spend most of my day with people from whom I couldn’t ask, nor from whom I’m comfortable receiving, hugs or physical comfort of any kind. By the time I get home I’m exhausted, even if I’ve only worked a few hours, because my sleep patterns are a mess. That means I can’t visit friends, from whom I might be comfortable getting a hug. Mardy Rosie is not good company.
What am I to do? Because, right now, I’d really, really like a hug. Just a bit of uncomplicated human contact to remind me I’m not completely alone or totally lost.
Last night I wrote the above but I don’t think I actually made a point. I’d say it was cathartic rambling, but to be honest it was gone midnight and I couldn’t get my head in the right space to properly say what I meant to. The emotional stuff took over. Now that I feel better (I’m feeling a bit more positive today, plus post-post-work nap is always a good time for me) I think I’ll finish what I started last night.
What was I discussing? Oh, yes, that’s right, physical contact, effects on relationships etc etc etc.
So, I don’t like to be hugged, I don’t feel comfortable in crowds partly because of the potential for accidental invasion of space, I can’t show physical signs of affection except in limited circumstances, and honestly, even then I’m fighting myself not to back away.
This is not something I choose; I desperately want to be ‘normal’, to be able to partake of the comfort and connection other people derive from physical contact with other human beings. I understand, on an intellectual level, that by not doing these things, I’m putting barriers between myself and the rest of the world. That it damages my ability to form and maintain friendships, to express emotions, because I come across as distant or uninterested in other people. Thus when I really, really need the comfort of physical contact I can’t ask for it, or conversely when I wish to offer comfort to hurting friends, I can’t even pat them on the shoulder because the barriers I put in place have effectively cut me off from that.
It’s not a choice to feel discomfort in physicality, it’s a psychological issue. For whatever reason* I have developed an aversion to physical contact, and like any other psychological phenomena I am the only one who can mitigate the consequences of that aversion. I realised this a few years ago. Since then I have been making a little progress. That, under certain circumstances, I will hug people I am close to is a leap forward, considering five years ago I wouldn’t hug my sisters or my oldest friend.
Now I will.
I think my biggest breakthrough was last year, at my cousin’s 30th birthday/released from prison party. I hugged my cousin, in public, in front of strangers even, several times. I’d missed him, a lot. I was so glad to see him home, healthy and safe.
I don’t think I’d ever hugged any of my cousins before that.
I am aware of how messed up I am.
I believe this touch aversion is an aspect of the same ‘abnormal’** state of my mental health that is also expressed in my anxiety and depression. Since the root cause of my neurosis is unknown I’m left with treating the symptoms: medication for the anxiety and depression, and desensitisation to physical contact for my touch aversion.
In 2010, when I first got treatment for my long standing mental health problems, I had a bit of talking therapy. One of the things my therapist and I discussed was my tendency to run away from triggering situations (like the time I went to the social club with my mother and spent an hour locked in the toilet, mum and auntie panicking on the other side of the cubicle door. Because someone pushed my buttons in an already difficult scenario). My therapist recommended forcing myself to stay in the triggering scenario for as long as possible, even if I felt I was going to panic. Removing myself only reinforced my negative associations with particular situations.
I think the same applies to my problem with physical contact. I need to force myself to express myself physically so that I can replace negative associations with positive.***
Accidentally, as in I only realise now that that’s what I’ve been doing, for the last three or four years I’ve been engaging in more physical contact, even when it’s uncomfortable. Luckily I have two very close friends who are very tactile; they have helped in the last eighteen months or so, though I don’t think they know how much, by providing me with a safe environment in which to trigger my aversion: group snuggles****. Since I’m on the outside I can disengage from the hug when I’ve reached my limit and they understand it’s not personal.
Though there are still times when I reject normal human contact, more and more I’m making the choice to step past the limits my mental health problems impose on me. It’s taken a long time to make the small amount of progress I have, but I’m hopeful that I might one day hug a friend in public without my skin crawling.
* I personally feel that the insensitivity to/ignorance of introvert personality characteristics experienced from the world at large, and especially in schools, in my formative years has a lot to answer for. I can’t really blame people, I only really began to understand that that personality type exists recently. I still occasionally tell people I’m mardy and antisocial when I mean I’m an introvert who struggles with social situations.
**I hate using the word abnormal, it has connotations that don’t quite fit my meaning, but I’m being lazy and not checking the dictionary for a better word. Sorry if that’s offended anyone.
*** I have absolutely no academic qualifications in psychological disorders by the way, I’m just extrapolating from the information I have and from personal experience. See a qualified clinical practitioner if you have mental health problems, there is no shame in asking for help.
**** group snuggles are like group hugs only longer lasting and usually we’re curled up on the sofa under the giganta-blanky watching Hannibal or Sherlock.