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Receiving Hugs (Part 1 of 2)

Women have hugged me most of my life, but I was in my 20s when I went to a church where a one-armed man named Benny hugged me. It felt uncomfortable. But over time I learned to receive hugs from men and enjoy them.

The important lesson was that I learned the difference between safe hugs and unsafe hugs. My first awareness of an unsafe embrace came at a men’s conference. The speaker told us to move around and hug at least five other men.

A man I didn’t know grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me tightly against his body. It didn’t feel good, and I’m not sure how to describe the difference. I sense that most of us know when it happens. Maybe he held me a little too long and certainly too tightly.

Not feeling comfortable discussing it with other men at the conference, a few days later I chatted with three women at church. “Do you feel a difference in the kind of hugs you receive?” I asked.

Without hesitating, all three said they did. “I can tell if a man is trying to hit on me by the way he grabs me.” In essence, that’s the statement each of them made.

Like me, they were unable to define exactly how they knew, but they did.

That distinction helped me a great deal. A couple of years after that my wife and I moved from Atlanta to Louisville, Kentucky, for a four-year period. I joined a men’s group and became actively involved.

Occasionally I felt unsafe hugs and tried to avoid those men. One of them, Eric, invited me to have dinner with him, and I gave him an excuse. A few weeks later he asked me again, and I turned him down. He didn’t ask a third time.

About that time, I heard rumors about Eric being on the prowl for other men. I knew I had made the right decision.

I’m grateful that I sensed the difference. And I think most of us do.

How about you? Have you experienced both kind of hugs? If so, how do you explain the difference?


Anonymous said...

Yeah - I can definitely tell the difference.
Safe hugs are giving and not taking and feel open-ended.
Unsafe hugs carry a tension or sense of urgency or demanding or of wanting something from me.
In general, I am not comfortable with hugging strangers or anyone that I don't know well enough to call by name. In men's groups, there are certain guys I will shake hands with and others I can hug without anxiety. Some of it may be their comfort level, too. You just sense it.


Cecil Murphey said...

Lee said this very well. (Thank you.) MY comfort level makes the difference. As survivors, most of us feel the difference, even if we can't put it into words. And we need to listen and learn to trust such feelings,


Mark Cooper said...

I have been guilty of giving unhealthy hugs. I've craved the touch I missed in childhood, and believed that craving had to be fulfilled by hugging others. I had a demanding attitude, wanting others to meet my need.

I'm healthier now. My friendship with my best friend is an example.He is not comfortable hugging. I once interpreted his discomfort as a rejection of me.That's actually not true; he shows his acceptance in other ways. And I accept him, including his choice to rarely hug.

Cecil Murphey said...

Mark, I always enjoy your honesty--and you didn't disappoint me. As I read your post, i thought, I did that unhealthy hugs too.Like you, I was so desperate for acceptance and love, that I did it unconsciously.

Larry Clemson said...

Most of my life I avoided hugs. Once I listened to Nick Vujicic - Life Without Limbs, He was born with no arms or legs, today he is a Christian speaker that goes around the world sharing God's love. He used to have people give him hugs. My wife and I stood in a long line to give him a hug. I told him I didn't like hugs but today I stood in line to give you a hug. He is an inspiring person - I would say that was a very important hug for me to give- a hug of hope I guess. I still am not into hugs but don't feel as weird anymore.