Why can’t I stand hugs? My body, my sacred and untouchable temple!
I was probably less than six years old when I was enrolled in rock dance classes. Why rock when I had read and reread Martine, Little Rat of the Opera? Good question. Anyway, after only one class, I wanted to stop. When I was asked why, I simply replied: “Because we have to hold hands. I don’t like it.” From a dance class for two, where we had to touch each other, I changed to classical dance, where only a leotard could touch me!
A dance where you have to touch each other, no, thanks, not really for me!
Physical contact with others isn’t always easy. Some are naturally inclined to seek affection, they ask for and give out kisses and hugs galore. Others need more space and less contact, sometimes from early childhood.
Why don’t some people like physical contact?
So, who are these anti-cuddlers, these “untouchables”? Of course, when I speak of the body as an untouchable temple, I’m using a deliberately provocative tone, because often, all it takes is for a person to say that they’re not very tactile to be accused of snobbery. Except that often it’s obviously a bit more complicated than that. The rejection of physical contact can be part of your personality. From childhood, some people don’t need physical affection as much as others, they’re bothered by hugs, need to have their personal space respected, and are content with words and presence.
Cuddling is an experience that’s passed on
Why are some people very tactile, while others have to clench their teeth very tightly when they’re forced to hug? A study suggests that it’s simply because of what you’ve experienced in your family. If you grew up in a hugging household, chances are you have no problem hugging, touching, and kissing others. Those who had little or no physical contact with their family, they’re obviously more reluctant. It seems simple: if you were hugged, you’ll hug and vice versa. However, for some, the reaction is the opposite. A person who lacked affection as a child may seek to make up for this lack by hugging everyone around them 🤗🤗🤗🤗. The reverse is probably also true. A child who was reluctant to show physical affection, but who wouldn’t have dared to say no to kisses and hugs, may as an adult no longer tolerate being touched.
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Your body has a past
In any case, whether we like physical contact or not, for psychoanalysts, everything is linked to the past. Indeed, our body is often the site of our memories, our history, and our past. A scar here, an ancestor’s nose there, a skin disease that won’t disappear, not to mention everything that’s no longer visible. The slaps, the stolen kisses, the dropped hands, the clutched shoulders, and the blushing cheeks. All these gestures, all these events, linked to our body, have impregnated it, so for some people, allowing themselves to be touched means revealing themselves or returning to a past that they’re trying to forget. And then with this impression of lifting the veil, there’s also the question of self-confidence, of whether we love our bodies. Do we love ourselves enough to let others touch us?
When I had quite painful and very visible episodes of rosacea, located on my cheeks, I couldn’t stand being kissed, but I was also afraid of being hugged. The image that you have of yourself and your past therefore also has an influence on whether you’re able to accept physical contact.
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Fear of being touched: focus on haphephobia
In some more extreme cases, physical contact can be the source of real anxiety and fear, called haphephobia. This fear of contact with other people’s bodies, and sometimes even your own body, is usually rooted in traumatic events related to your body, such as sexual abuse or physical humiliation as a child. The person suffering from haphephobia is often withdrawn, develops intense shyness, avoids crowded places where the risk of contact is increased, and avoids, in fact, any form of commitment that could lead to contact: friendship, love, sex. Sometimes this phobia is linked to gymnophobia, the fear of nudity. Touching, kissing, or hugging someone with haphephobia can lead to blackouts, a feeling of suffocation, and panic attacks. Like many phobias, it can be treated with CBT, EMDR, or hypnosis.
Touching with your eyes: seeing and deciphering before touching
I’d like to conclude by writing a massive: IF I DON’T LOVE YOU, DON’T TOUCH ME! Which pretty much sums up my philosophy on physical contact. If you know I like you, then you can kiss me, grab me by the shoulders and possibly give me a hug. Unfortunately, I don’t have this phrase tattooed on my forehead and many people don’t always know how to pick up on body signals (and I’m not even talking about those who rub up against you and other street harassers). No, I’m thinking for example about this colleague, who was extremely nice by the way, who loved to show her joy and affection by hugging me in the middle of the open space office, while I remained shocked, immobile, and stiff like any self-respecting introvert!
You see the look in their eyes that screams: get me out of here!
So, in order for the hug addicts and the anti-huggers to live in harmony, everyone needs to learn to read the signals. We can start by adopting the ideal safety distance for each social interaction, so that everyone feels at ease. Then, if contact does have to be made, you should adapt according to the person and what you know about them. It’s obvious that you don’t hug your manager like your best friend (unless it’s the same person! 😵💫). Nor do you force someone that you know is reluctant to have any physical contact. Here again, consent is important, and it’s not embarrassing to ask someone if you can hug them or even shake their hand (especially after Covid). Sometimes expressing yourself and your feelings is just as powerful as a hug.
Ideally, no one should ever feel obliged to make physical contact, whether it’s a kiss on the cheek, a grab on the arm, or holding hands. If it happens, dare to say no, and if you feel uncomfortable, don’t make a big deal of it. Human relationships are made up of kind gestures and mistakes. If it’s given and received well, hugs are incredibly powerful, so we count on some people to remind us, and on others to learn to let go and slip into a comforting embrace from time to time.
Is it normal to not like physical contact?
People who can't bear to be touched may simply be very modest. They dare not reveal themselves and fear physical contact. Modesty is most often born in adolescence when the body changes. But when adolescence comes to an end, for some, modesty remains and becomes a source of unease. For the most part, physical touch is something most human beings crave, however, certain people can’t stand it, but that doesn’t have to be an issue. We should feel confident and comfortable enough in ourselves to speak up and refuse or accept physical contact as and when we like.
Editor’s note: Respect for each person
We’re all more or less tactile and cuddly, depending on our personalities and our experiences. As Rosie reminds us, what counts is respect for the other person. You need to learn to read non-verbal cues, does their body stiffen when you get closer? Is there a slight backward movement? Don’t go any further! If these signs of affection make you particularly uncomfortable and are harming your relationships, don’t wait to make an appointment with a psychologist. Together you can understand where this behavior comes from and how to implement new habits that will make you happier.
🤗 Understanding yourself, accepting yourself, being happy... It’s here and now!
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