Therapists and hugging

I am big on hugs. I’ve always loved hugging people. I’m indiscriminate about it, because everyone needs them, and the benefit goes both ways. And if someone isn’t a hugger, they’ll just say no to the hug and that isn’t so bad. I always try and make time to stop and talk to homeless people, pass the time of day and offer them a hug. Nobody has ever refused.

I’ve never been very good at communicating about my feelings in words. When I was little, I was clingy with the adults I loved. After my parents found out that my brother had been abusing me, nobody spoke about it. I was scared to bring up the subject, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have known how to describe what I felt. I was in turmoil and I craved the security of being physically close to adults I felt safe with. I didn’t talk to my mum, but I wanted to be in contact with her almost constantly.

A couple of years ago I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. It was an incredibly lonely time. I was in a desperate place and my default whenever I’m feeling upset is to seek physical contact. Being in a place full of strangers took that comfort from me. It was cold and desolate and I felt adrift.

After four or five days in hospital, I got to know a few fellow smokers in the smoking shelter outside. One evening, one of these women was anxious and tearful, so my reflex was to offer her a hug. She gratefully accepted and I was so relieved to have that human closeness after being deprived of it for what felt like weeks.

That opened the hug flood gates. I suddenly felt able to offer anyone and everyone there a hug. A couple of weeks later, I was hugging everybody in the hospital. Nursing staff, cleaners, the people working in the dining room, and all the other patients. This wasn’t really altruistic. It was all about me getting the connection I needed from people and feeling valued by them.

I ended up doing the same thing when I returned to work after six months of sick leave. In my office of around 50 people, nobody had ever really hugged each other before. Recently, when our Chairman retired, he came to see me to thank me for – in his words, ‘introducing hugs to the firm’. I could see past the irony that he didn’t recognise any of the 5 years of work I’d done for him and feel proud of this unusual achievement.

Therapy, however, is a tricky environment for a hugger. I’ve never experienced a relationship so close yet so physically distant. It’s tough trying to open up and be vulnerable without having the reassurance of being contained in a hug to soothe the feelings that come up.

I know that we all have different kinds of relationships with our therapists. Not everyone would want to have physical contact with their therapist. And there’s all that old school stuff about touch in therapy being totally off limits. Thankfully, my therapist doesn’t subscribe to that.

Every now and then my therapist offers me a hug. I never really know why J chooses those moments to ask if I’d like a hug. It seems to be a random thing. Maybe she just feels I need it. Or maybe she needs it. We had a hug on Thursday, and she did say that sometimes we both need a hug.

When we’re having a long break, I tend to ask J for a hug before I leave. It’s almost like that moment of feeling real closeness will sustain my connection with her until I see her again. After most sessions, I feel stirred up and depressed. But on the odd occasion that we hug on parting, I always leave feeling kind of uplifted.

I’m not sure exactly what J’s hugs mean to me. I guess I like that in those moments she isn’t clinical to me. It feels like we have a more human connection, and the balance of power is different. It feels more equal.

I think what’s most important to me though is the fact that when J hugs me, I can fully believe that she cares about me. When I talk so much about my messed up thoughts, erratic and extreme emotions, and the memories that cripple me with shame and fear, it’s hard for me to believe that she could even like me – let alone care for me. I can’t hear her reassurance that she isn’t repulsed by me, even though she reiterates it every time I’m crushed by shame and self-hatred.

But when she offers me a hug, I can feel the reassurance. I feel that she doesn’t find me disgusting. I suppose I just haven’t learned to speak and hear adequately when it comes to this stuff, so I need the physical demonstration to make it all real, to let it sink in.

Perhaps that’s why I go around hugging people all day. Maybe it’s about more than the moment of feeling close, maybe I am just desperately seeking reassurance that I am alright. I am not repulsive. I am worthy of affection. I am an OK sort of human being.

Photo: Allison Matherly, Creative Commons.


15 Comments Add yours

  1. cherished79 says:

    That was so well written and I can feel you’re wanting to feel cared about by someone. I went through the same thing with my therapist as I was the unloved daughter of a narcissistic mother who didn’t know how to show empathy or care about me. Now here I have this stranger (therapist) validating my feelings, believing me, allowing me to speak without interruptions and feel cared about for the first time my life. I became attached, but I had to remember boundaries also. So many times I wanted her to hug me or sit close to me while we talked, just like my mother was supposed to do, but she was my therapist not my mom.

    It’s difficult to sort through these feelings, and I’m a hugger also. People outside of our toxic family would never have guessed the way mom treated me (scapegoat) compared to my brother (golden child). Your feelings and soul are destroyed when you’re a child, trust is broken and it’s difficult to retrieve it again. I guess that’s why it’s called healing. Best to you, stay strong. Deb

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Laura Black says:

      Yes it’s complex negotiating such a close and intense, yet strictly boundaried relationship. I can hear how that tension has affected you. Hope you get plenty of hugs outside of your therapy. Laura


  2. audreeee says:

    I agree ☝️ this was so well written and thoughtful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura Black says:

      Thanks for the compliment 🙂


  3. I love what you’ve written here. It’s interesting to hear your perspective which is so different from my own.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura Black says:

      Thanks. I had a feeling people would have very mixed experiences and views on this.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I hugged and i was a therapist I enjoyed this

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura Black says:

      Glad to hear it. I know that some clients would probably hate it or it would create issues, but for me it is important and valued.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Laura, me too, and honestly? I had high retention which backs up the idea though it may be frowned upon it’s human and most seem to benefit ♡

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Rayne says:

    I can relate to this so much. It breaks my heart that I can’t hug my therapist, but I know that’s the ethics of her profession, especially in this country. Maybe one day. Hugs are the best communication between souls. It bridges the divide.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Laura Black says:

      You’re so right, hugs do bridge the divide. They’re just about two people showing they care for one another. I like how you put it, that they are ‘communication between souls’. Laura

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Just echoing the other comments, I grew up without hugs and love them. I know I want a hug from my T but it isn’t offered and half of me would be scared to hug her – weird!! X

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura Black says:

      I’m sad you grew up without hugs. My parents did a lot wrong, but I am so grateful I was never deprived of that. I understand how you might be scared to hug her when it is a departure from your familiar relationship, that would be scary. Laura


  7. Incredible entry!!!
    As someone who can’t be touched due to chronic illness that makes touch hurt, I now feel either like an alien freak or safe. I go back and forth between the two.
    I don’t like when people want to hug me all the time. I suppose not letting people in my personal space feels like I have control over my body. I set the limits to who touches me, when, where and why because never in life, until now, have I ever had a body all to myself.
    I’m celibate. I was abused early on into a good portion of my young adult life. I was in a bad marriage and bad relationships. To take back that act feels like control over something people took so freely. I feel like keeping my body to myself has given me a sense of safety and perhaps even a gateway to being more open with with words. I feel like I can share just about anything else….man, this entry has my head just agoin’. Good thoughtful entry that makes me step back and reason on why I withhold physical closeness and how it gives me the freedom to speak and have my words mean more than something physical I can give to them.
    Thank you for writing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura Black says:

      I’m sorry to hear that being touched causes physical pain for you. That must be hard to deal with. You’re right to say that you set the limits, that’s how it should be for everyone. We should be able to be boundaried with our own bodies. And I hear how hard it is to be physically intimate when you’ve suffered abuse. It kept me away from sexual relationships for a very long time. And when you’ve experienced the helplessness of abuse, feeling in control of your own body is incredibly important. Laura

      Liked by 1 person

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