“We need 4 hugs per day to survive, 8 to keep us healthy, and 12 per day to grow”

Virginia Satir

Not all people give and receive hugs easily. Children tend to embrace and seek physical contact with each other naturally. Growing up, some of them develop a certain fear and resistance towards hugs. However, it would be good not to underestimate that a hug can have a significant positive impact on our psychophysical state, reducing stress levels and promoting a good mood.

An increasing number of us now live in an almost virtual world and are touch deprived.

Experiences that involve us less emotionally are those that we accept more easily. Modern technological civilisation has accustomed us to touch keyboards and to use monitors but it seems that, at the same time, it has made us unaccustomed to touching people and engaging in deep conversations.

Especially in today’s society, where contacts between people are more instantaneous but less intense, with greater sharing but lower emotional involvement, one seems to witness a real deprivation of physical contact between people.

In the chaotic and frenetic world in which we live, there seems to be less and less space to cultivate authentic relationships, those which require greater emotional investment, physical presence and readiness for bodily contact.

Why are we afraid to embrace and be hugged?

Giving a pat on the back as a sign of “affectionate greeting”, or resting an arm around a person’s neck are physical contacts that create greater emotional closeness. They help to raise the level of oxytocin and dopamine (so more happiness and less tension). However, embracing is an even more intense experience.

Embracing is sharing with the other person, through close bodily contact, thoughts, emotions and internal experiences. It is giving a little bit of us and taking a little bit of the other, in a silent but profound dialogue between the two souls.

In fact, the embrace is, above all, an act of trust. The person allows you to enter their space of intimate inner experiences and feel their vibrations.

But sometimes we also strongly resist embracing the people we love and trust. And this resistance can be to hide an inner fragility that the subject wants to protect. For fear of being hurt, they prefer to avoid sharing their deeper self.

It is often an act of defence, to avoid unpleasant experiences such as abandonment and/or rejection, which can have a too intense impact on us, and then we build barriers, which we sometimes do not contemplate letting go in a hug.

In reality, even the most defended and frightened people should take into account the power and benefits that a hug entails.

But what really happens when we hold someone against us?

  •  The feelings and emotions that are exchanged during the embrace stimulate the production of hormones such as oxytocin and dopamine and, therefore, promote greater feelings of joy whilst also reducing anxiety and stress levels.
  • High levels of dopamine lead to an immediate effect of well-being, which also has an important impact on self-esteem and the immune system, with a notable increase in antibodies.
  • There is a therapeutic effect at circulatory level: in fact, some research has shown that the embrace reduces the risk of heart disease, controlling the frequency of heartbeats and blood flow, improving the oxygenation of the blood, as claimed by research from Tiffany Field.
  • You can alleviate the deepest fears. In fact, according to researcher Sandler Kool “… interpersonal contact can help people deal with existential concerns and fears related to death more effectively”.
  • Embracing your children will make them less stressed adults. In fact, neurobiologist Mary Karson has shown through her studies that lack of contact and attention in childhood produces negative effects in adult behavior, making them more stressed.

In short, the hug, as well as being one of the most powerful means of communication, is also a wonderful preventative act to preserve our health and serenity .. No matter who or what we embrace, the important thing is to embrace who we want, who we love, whenever possible.