There is a hidden group within our midst, the non-hugger. I can count myself in their numbers. We have a different anatomy than most. You see non-huggers have a bubble. You can’t see it unless you are very perceptive towards our body language. Ok, that’s a lie. Everyone notices our body language, they just respond to it differently. You can peg a person with a bubble, or personal space issue quickly when you go to hug them. We have our coping skills, the pup tent hug, the side hug, the three second, pat your back and let go hug, or occasionally we get a handshake in to block the hug. If you get a wave, or the slight backup movement, sorry, that’s a defense mechanism. We like to hide out amongst the extreme introverts and germaphobes. They don’t want to hug either, for their own reasons. Introverts who are huggers do exist, they just won’t hug you unless you are in their inner circle of people. I am not in their numbers. The germaphobe has to make a choice between touching hands or hugging, neither of which is comfortable for them. They also can be mistaken for the non-hugger, bubble people, as they do have a bubble but their mindset is different and I can’t begin to speak to it.
Being a person with an extra sensitive bubble and need for personal space, who is not an introvert, and is very compassionate, I have had to do some soul searching on this issue. I’m from a great small town, very safe, and very friendly. I talk to strangers, much to my family’s dismay. I have been a Stephen Minister at our church. This lay person’s job is to come along side someone in a crisis and support them, for as long as they need. You could consider it a one on one deacon. My point being that I am compassionate, empathetic and caring. I can be warm and bubbly, not to be confused with my personal space bubble. Nonetheless, I am NOT a hugger. I come from a long line of undemonstrative people, some of which are also very personable and loving. I can’t say my personal space issue is a result of environment or just how I am designed. I have not lived in that small town since I was a child, and there are an awful lot of huggers out here. My intuition tells me that my bubble issue is more of a design thing. I only call it an issue because this is a hugger’s world. I am not broken.
First, I have to describe the hugger to the best of my observations. The hugger shows their compassion, love and any other host of emotions via their hug. “I haven’t seen you in a whole week”, I should hug you. “You are upset over an event”, I should hug you. “You just got a new job”, I should hug you. “I just flat out love you”, I should hug you. It’s the obligatory “passing of the peace” or “I should hug you” time in church, so I should hug you. Additionally, huggers get their needs met via their hugs as well. “I’m excited about something God has blessed me with”, I need to be hugged. “I’m upset about a trying or sad event”, I need a hug. “We just heard a horribly emotional story”, I need a hug. “You shared with me and let yourself be vulnerable about a situation in your life which touches my heart”, I need to hug you to show you I understand and care. “I haven’t seen you in a whole week and I love you”, I need to hug you to show you that love. “I’m feeling a little needy or vulnerable myself”, I need a hug to know your acceptance and to receive the gift of your love and compassion. You see, huggers freely give the gift they have in abundance, the gift behind the hugs. Those gifts include love, compassion, empathy, acceptance and acknowledgment of an inner circle of friends. Huggers receive those same gifts from giving a hug, it is a two-way delivery system for them.
Huggers receive energy from a hug. It is a positive exchange for them. It fills their tank. That tank can become empty, and require hugs to be filled. Hugs initiated by others, gives more energy than those initiated by themselves but most of the time they don’t realize they beat you to the punch anyway. You even have your super huggers who hold you so tight and for so long until that gift they are giving you is fully received and returned. It’s a super power much like Superman’s gift of flight, or Captain America’s inability to age. The super huggers receive healing with their super powers, and are positive you will as well, if you just fully embrace the hug. They can fill their tanks quickly but prefer a tank that is overflowing so that they can give to others freely. We avoid you, unless you are in our inner circle.
There are a lot of huggers in this world, or at least in America, as I have barely left this country in my lifetime. At very least there are a lot of huggers, who hug those who are at least in their inner circles. The degree of circle to hug intensity is often relational. Since introverts can also be huggers, that leaves the non-huggers in the very large minority.
Let me describe the non-hugger now. The non-hugger requires you to use your imagination to understand. The non-hugger has a bubble of personal space that they maintain at all times. Keeping the bubble intact requires the least amount of energy. It’s a little like the old moat around a castle. A non-hugger has to expend energy to allow you into their bubble. The draw bridge has to be lowered. It acknowledges that you are accepted or loved. Just lowering the bubble, is a gift from the non-hugger, as well as a drain on our energy. It does not refill our tank to hug you. Let me repeat that, we do not get energy from hugging you. We do receive the gift of love, compassion and empathy. What appears to be the biggest difference from my point of view, is that we do not receive energy from it. Much like the introvert who goes to a party and comes home drained. They may have even had a great time, but they are exhausted, it does not build up their stores.
The non-hugger is offering you the olive branch by simply lowering the bubble. The longer the bubble remains down, the more energy the non-hugger has to expend. It is a choice that we make because we live in a hugger world. We know that huggers take the side hug, or the handshake move offensively. We know that you can tell we hug you stiffly. We may need that pup-tent space to keep from being completely drained. We may only have three seconds of energy to give. Our worst moments are when we care for someone so very dearly, who only wants to comfort us, but we do not have enough energy in our tanks to lower the bubble. We feel your pain. We know that you also have a need to hug us. We have experienced this hugger world our entire life. We are perceptive enough to know that our lack of energy feels like rejection to you. It is not. It is self-care. We simply may not have the energy needed to give to you what you need. We are used to being the giver. That may shock you.
It has been expected of us to choose to let down our bubble because of your needs. We face that forced choice regularly. No one would force a child with autism to hug them. We understand that you are hurting that child not helping them or loving them. We understand that to love that child, you meet them how they can receive. Non-huggers do not get this understanding. We get looks of hurt, judgement and dismissal when we make the choice to not expend our energy. That choice may have nothing to do with our relationship with you, though it often takes far more energy to lower the bubble for those outside our inner circles. Yet, the responses we get, regularly reinforces, that to make that choice we will offend you. If we have chosen that, it was most likely not lightly. We don’t like the judgement either. We are perceptive enough to know, unlike the child with autism. If we care about you, it hurts us even more. That is a sign! If you are in our inner circle of friends and family, and we are incapable of lowering our bubble, our tank is flat empty. We have nothing to give you. We will not receive the love, empathy or compassion that you are trying to give us to fill up our tanks, because we don’t have enough energy to maintain the bubble’s integrity. It is not a positive exchange any longer for us. That has nothing to do with our relationship with you, but with our own energy stores within our very spirit.
The East Coast has a tradition of torturing grieving families, called “Visitation Hours”. This terrible tradition lines a grieving family up so that you can share in their grief and support them. Which may work wonderfully for huggers, but is a lot like a nightmare for a non-hugger. My dad was a very loved man in the small town I grew up in. It’s a much larger town when you are forced to be in the receiving line at visitation hours. Approximately 500 people came through those receiving lines. Each with stories of how they knew my dad, and loved him. Each with the offering, the gift of their shared grief in our loss; most of them huggers. After the first ten or so people, my tank was beyond empty. There was no longer any room for my own grief. Luckily my oldest son arrived half way through, he was able to be light hearted and perhaps inappropriately silly with me. I had nothing left to give those who came by that time. It was a lot like immersion therapy. It changed me. My bubble was irreparably damaged, not necessarily a bad thing. While the night itself was the worst thing I can imagine doing to a non-hugger, it has opened up an ability to receive the gift huggers have long been extending to me. I have been known to initiate a hug since that night! It’s quite the transformation, but only for my inner circle. If I have hugged you, initiated the hug, that was a gift. Not only did I lower the bubble, which still exists, but has changed, but I extended and received the gift of love, compassion and empathy that huggers intend. Now if you aren’t in my inner circle, sorry that part of my bubble regenerated.
So, my advice for huggers is to not immediately be offended by the pup tent hug, the side hug, the three second hug or the stiff hug. You can go ahead and be slightly offended by the quick handshake or wave. Instead if you know the person well, especially if you are in their inner circle, look for a deeper reason. Maybe this person is a non-hugger. Maybe this person’s tank is running empty for circumstances you are unaware of. Understanding our emptiness with that overflowing compassion you can tap into, is greatly appreciated. We know in those instances, it’s harder for you not to hug. Choosing to help us maintain our energy stores, our depleted tank, is more loving. Instead offer a prayer, or a simple touch on our arm or shoulder. We will receive the intended hug. We will appreciate, if not immediately, it will occur to us when our tank is replenished, that you respected our needs. You see, it doesn’t happen often, so even if we are too drained to notice immediately, we will remember. But most importantly appreciate the choice we make to show you how much we love you, when we do hug you. You are special to us, worthy of our energy stores. You are worthy to be given to, without a return for us. The reasons for our bubble can be numerous. Our anatomy remains much the same, it’s just that you can’t see part of it. That bubble, and the energy store required to maintain it are just as real as our tears, our limbs, or our heart. It excludes us, we wouldn’t keep it if we had a real choice. We would choose to receive what you receive with a hug if we could. Yet, we are not broken, we are designed differently. We only ask for understanding and acceptance, like everyone else. Dismissing, or making fun of our bubble is the opposite of what we would prefer, even if we acknowledge and make fun of it ourselves. So, continue to offer us hugs. Hug us as long as we allow, and as hard as we can return. Nonetheless, do not take offense, we have offered all we can.
By Vicki L. Pugliese