Hugging. Learning How to Hug

Robin Botie, of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an old photo of a mother and baby daughter hugging.I’m still learning how to hug. Growing up in my family, except for the occasional outright throwing of ourselves at our rigid parents, hugs didn’t happen for us kids. We didn’t see our parents hug or kiss each other. As a child, I remember occasionally scrubbing red lipstick kisses from my cheeks. My mother sent me off to college with a quick dry peck on the forehead. But I cannot remember being hugged.

For decades I avoided hugs. They were uncomfortably close encounters that mostly made me cringe and feel ravaged for a torturously long time.

My sisters and I only began to hug each other once we became adults and left home. Maybe they, also, learned that hugs could take the place of words when there were no words. Like when my daughter died and my world stopped. Everyone hugged me. Those hugs may have been what brought me back to life.

Hugging is good for you. It says so all over the internet: Hugs reduce pain and stress, improve communication, and make you happier and healthier in general. So giving and receiving hugs has become one of my ongoing projects. I’ve worked hard to figure this hugging-thing out. Three of my most memorable hugs over time:

Decades ago, reuniting with an old friend, we hugged and our earrings got hooked together, prolonging the hug so that we were stuck together until someone could help unlock our ears.

Hugging my babies. Tightly, as I danced them around the house, reeling and swerving wildly to music. As they became toddlers they yanked away, to be free of my hold. That pretty much ended the hugging of them.

And finally, after the life-support had been removed from my almost-21-year-old daughter and she was declared dead, and everyone dispersed, I tried to gather what was left of her into my arms and hold on. But it was like hugging a toddler. She was already free from my holding.

Have you ever tried to hug a dead person? It takes at least two conscious beings to really hug. It has taken countless hugs to get to the point where I understand what it means to hold another. And last week, for the first time that I’m aware of, I flew, in joy, to hug a friend without even thinking of how to hug.


Now that I’m getting the hang of it, I wonder, is there any sort of etiquette for hugging?



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6 thoughts on “Hugging. Learning How to Hug

  1. Legends Keto

    I love the efforts you have put in this, thank you for all the
    great articles.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Legends Keto, thank you for being out there, reading my articles. And for responding.

  2. Elaine Mansfield

    Great topic, especially since many of us who grieve for someone also miss their hugs. Vic’s family was a hugging family, so I learned from him. From his mom to me, they were ceremonial hugs more for show than feeling, but Vic and I learned to hug each other properly. I miss those deep long meaningful hugs. My sons and I hug, but there’s a little caution that wasn’t there when they were young. Yes to 20 second hugs. It’s a long time, but I can’t hold my breath if the hug lasts a while and suddenly I feel my body breathing with another body and relaxation and feeling follow. A good embrace takes time and practice.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Time and practice — and someone or something to hug. That’s mostly my problem these days. Too much time alone, no one to hug for much of my day. Maybe that’s why I am so affectionate with the dog. I hug her and she looks me in the eyes and licks my face. Not quite getting the health benefits from being on the receiving end of hugs but definitely feeling loved. Actually, I’m not sure if I ever relaxed into a hug. Another thing in this crazy life that I seem to have missed.

  3. Lucy Bergstrom

    Hi Robin,
    This is a good topic, as hugging has become a standard way of greeting friends. Many seem to cringe, like you describe, and those hugs turn in to pats on the back with lots of space between bodies. When I hug my grandson, Leo, he always turns to the side, so all he gets is an arm around his shoulders. I tease him about his “side hug”. When I visited my mother recently, I read a health bulletin on her desk for people who live in nursing homes and their families. There was an article about hugging, and how important hugs are for our wellbeing. A good hug should last 20 seconds! When I told Eigil about it, he started timing our hugs, counting to 20. He said, “A 20-second hug is an embrace, not a hug!” I’ve always been a hugger, as you know, though my parents weren’t very demonstrative. It could be interesting to study the history of the hug as a greeting. I know it’s also used differently around the world – think of the Russians!

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Well, Lucy, now I just HAVE to google in “hugging Russians” to find out what on earth they’re doing with those hugs. It would be really interesting to learn how hugs are viewed in different cultures. I’m getting used to hugging, even getting to like hugging and being hugged. But I can remember when it was torture for me. Guess if it’s supposed to be beneficial to one’s well-being I better learn to get good at it. Twenty seconds, eh? I could do almost anything for twenty seconds. Gonna start timing my hugs. Cheers!


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