Now that, with the help of Brené Brown, I’ve opened the gate to “Vulernabilityland” (a Magic Kingdom® for adults!), I feel considerably more at ease in offering today’s post: Hugs were a very scarce and precious commodity in my “family-of-origin” home. As such, they were given out sparingly and, looking back, even when offered seemed forced, almost mechanical and mostly devoid of emotion. Much later in life, I would learn enough about my parents’ upbringing to at least be able to understand, on an intellectual level, why hugging was so foreign to and difficult for them. But, I obviously couldn’t have known that as a child, nor would it likely have served as any more of an “excuse” than it does knowing it as an adult.
I was a child, a teenager – and I was very much alone. I needed real hugs – filled with empathy, understanding and compassion. I needed hugs where they mattered most, in my own home, that told me I was loved – I mean really loved, beyond the words, for who I was and all I had to give. I longed for hugs that told me “things would be alright,” to help ease the pain of too often feeling like most things in my life were all wrong. I needed someone to “model” what a hug is supposed to feel like, so that I could learn that skill and pass it on to my own children – and they to theirs. Most of all, I needed the safety and security, the sense of oneness that only hugs can offer, so that I could grow as comfortable in accepting them as I was in giving them.
Regrettably, however, they never came – and I never did.
Eventually, I went off to college in search of an education – and a hug. I grabbed the first one I could find. Turned out, she was an alcoholic. That somehow seemed fitting, but, at the end of the day (I do mean the end of the day!), it (and what inevitably came with it) was hardly satisfying. And so I kept searching. Eventually, I had children of my own – one of whom was “a hugger” who loved to hug and be hugged, the other was – well, “me.” My sense was that, too much like her dad, she came out of the womb wanting to be fully independent.
She seemed to “rebel” against being hugged, even as a very young child, in spite of our desire to shower her with them. Maybe they seemed too confining to her – she never liked being confined by anything or anyone. Maybe subconsciously she just wanted us (and the rest of the world) to have to “try” a little harder – to “prove” we really meant it, because, unbeknownst to us at the time (and not unlike her dad), she had difficulty believing she was as lovable as she is (and always has been) – or as deserving of love.
Looking back, whether she realized it or not, she needed those hugs just as much as I did – as much as we all do. I think both of us better appreciate that now. Recently, I surprised Ashley in the driveway of her apartment, when, while offering her a ride to work, I leapt out of the car and raced around it to greet her with an unexpected, cheerful and warm embrace. We laughed and readily admitted that “we suck at hugging!” But we also committed to “try not to suck at it” any more and we are getting better – one hug at a time.
I envy people who know how to give (and receive) a real hug. Both are a gift.