The Benefit of Hugs

10 May, 2008 for NLP services in Wellington.

A colleague of mine recently asked me if I hug my clients. It was an interesting question to me as a person who works therapeutically with so many people every week. The answer is no, unless they want to, which happens very occasionally.

The question got me thinking about a lot of stuff, the concept of hugging in particular. As I sit here and write this my 6 month old Kitten, Bandler, sits next to me and purrs loudly and enthusiastically (like a little Harley Davidson). Why? It's not because I've just fed her (as I haven't), it might be because I've just got home and she is happy to be in my company, and it's mainly because I've been stroking her. I imagine she'd be a very different little Kitty if I denied her frequent offers and requests for cuddles and strokes. As you already know, our household pets thrive on such physical attention as do animals in the wild which each other - cuddling and huddling together. And animals are not the only species who thrive on it.

Virginia Satir, the grandmother of Family Therapy and one of the key 3 people that NLP was modelled and developed from, firmly believed in the power of touch in therapy. In fact, in most of the footage you see of Virgina working with people/families she was connected with one or more of them physically by holding their hand or touching their arm. She was a staunch believer that to truly help someone change, you needed to connect with them, and that doing it through touch was the strongest way. She is famously quoted as saying:

We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth. - Virgina Satir.

I had the experience recently of looking after my friend's 15 month old little girl by myself. It was the first time I had been solely responsible for a child that young - and it was quite a responsibility! There were a few interesting things about it, and one of them I noticed was that when she was grumpy and wanted something she'd point to it, and if I didn't get it straight away there was crying and screaming, and sometimes she'd get upset about something else and I'd try my best to distract her with entertainment - larking around, dancing etc (which she'd always copy - reliable evidence of our Mirror Neurons for sure!) And other times she would simply throw herself at me for a good old fashioned cuddle! This surprised me at first - as I'd never been on my own with her I hadn't even noticed her need for cuddles before, as a parent was always around to take care of that. There have been a number of longitudinal studies conducted about the intellectual and social development of children and the correlation of this to how much they were cuddled as a baby. Quite simply - the more they were cuddled, the more they develop.

Animals and human beings seem to have an innate need for physical touch - as a way of showing comfort, to demonstrate love, to bond, or to just feel normal again! Hugging seems to feed something and it's an innate method of expression. We've all had the experience before of 'one of those days' at work - and coming home and the first thing you want to do is hug it out with a family member, friend or partner. It seems to bring us home to ourselves again, and provides a strong sense of comfort and healing. And yet, in modern western society at least, we seem to have buried this innate need in layers of "social appropriacy" and the rules about when and who we should or should not hug have become complex. Of course, a lot of these rules are there for our own and our children's protection which are necessary. It is the simple every-day stuff that I'm talking about.

For example, I remember when I first arrived in New Zealand almost 3 1/2 years ago. I arrived bright eyed and hopeful about a relationship I'd started with someone, only to get my heart broken 1 week after my touch-down. As a matter of survival - I made friends very quickly and was very lucky with the people who came into my life then and are still in it now, who offered the hand of friendship and helped me recover. I did notice though, in contrast to the highly tactile nature of my female friendships of back home, that Kiwi-women didn't seem to hug as much as their English counterparts. Perhaps it was because I'd only just met these people and that I was also, being newly heartbroken, quite needy for this kind of comfort. I do remember a number of embarrassing moments when I seemingly lurched at my new friends expecting a greeting hug as would've been appropriate back home, and instead have it ending in an awkward embrace - descending into mutual back-patting or a misplaced kiss on the earlobe instead of the intended cheek! It took me a while to work out that the culture may be different here, and, that perhaps I needed to wait until I knew people better before moving in for the hug. In any case - I remember for quite some time, feeling decidedly hug-starved! It was quite a noticeable feeling and one of an important need going unfulfilled.

My family growing up were not a particularly tactile family I remember, my mum more so than my father or brother. As a result, I seem to have gone the opposite way and developed into a very tactile person indeed - and truly enjoy the benefits of a good old-fashioned hug with my friends and loved ones. It's my way of giving and receiving loving feelings and appreciation and in my opinion - the healing benefits of it you just can't beat.

So how many have you had to today? Enough for Survival? Maintenance? Or even Growth? Perhaps a few more wouldn't go a miss? Who would appreciate a hug from you today? It's worth thinking about isn't it?. Don't be hug-starved, make the most of the people in your lives by communicating with this innate expression we all have. Go for Growth if you can.


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