Physical affection has always been an… interesting conundrum for me.
I didn’t grow up in a lovey-dovey home. Love was shown by productivity: I was fed plentifully, clothed well, hobbies paid for. I was spoiled in the materialistic sense: I had what I needed plus some. But I wasn’t loved in the physical, smothered-in-hugs-and-kisses way.
I was never tucked in at night. Most attempts to snuggle/cuddle were thwarted by family that didn’t enjoy being clung to, or would complain that they were hot or in a bad mood. We hugged and kissed at hellos and goodbyes, and hugs for accomplishments and the like. But we weren’t a free-for-all group-hug type of family a la the Tanners from my beloved Full House.
I’ve always needed this physical kind of love, but never got it as a kid; so I closed myself off to it, figuring it was another part of my life where I wasn’t wanted.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how much I internalized this. I’d flinch when someone would grab a shoulder or poke me, or touch me from behind. The thought of holding a hand during a prayer immediately made my hands break into a sweat. Even now, I feel like I’m being suffocated if someone puts an arm around me; a sudden, surprise hug or other act of affection usually makes me jump.
Just like I’ve pushed feelings of love away my whole life, I’ve pushed away the physical touches of affection, too.
It’s funny to me because I am a hugger. I love hugs. I give them to everyone I love, and people I really love get multiple hugs because I just love them.I've always been big about giving affection to friends, families, kids I love-- I want people to know I love them. But receiving it? Not so much. Click To Tweet
Receiving affection has always made me squirm.
Probably because of how much my giving affection made others squirm as a kid. Since my family didn’t like affection or give it much, I didn’t like getting it from others.
Now, as I’m pushing down walls and learning more about myself and my own needs and wants, I’m realizing just how much I long for touch.
I don’t just want touch, but I need it. I crave it. (this is an actual thing, called touch hunger. read more here).
It’s a weird phenomenon, going from fearing touch to needing it.
I feel like this shift truly started in college. In college, you’re surrounded by people, almost 24/7. And especially going to a school that’s small and Jesus-y like mine. You run into people across campus, you hug. You have small groups or are in clubs with friends where you hold hands to pray and hug necks often. You stop by the coffee shop and see friends, you hug. In the dorms, in the cafeteria, walking to and from class… it happens a lot.
I’ve been removed from that environment for 2 years now, and I miss that constant stream of affection.
You don’t realize how much a hug, a back rub, or a hand squeeze mean until you go without them.
I think this is a residual effect of living in a season of loneliness.
Beyond my mom and co-workers, I go days without spending time with people. The loneliness is deafening in more ways than one, but it is especially so in the physical connection I lack.
The lonelier I’ve become, the more I wish for the physical touches that remind me that someone’s here with me. The less time I spend with people, the more grabby/touchy I am when I have my people in front of me. When you go out with physical affection for so long, you notice– both emotionally and physically.
I’ve started building relationships with some of the kiddos at my day job now, so I can get my hug fix from them. While that helps fulfill the physical need some days, it’s not the same as genuine physical affection from someone that knows and loves you.
I’ve been sleeping with stuffed animals in/around my bed most of my life, but these days I literally can’t sleep unless I have one of my stuffies nestled up against me, snuggled in my arms. It’s not because they’re cute or because I’m scared of the dark; it’s because I need to hold onto something. I need that physical connection with something– even if it has to be my stuffed unicorn.
It’s funny–now that I need physical touch, I’m lonelier than I’ve ever been, and have little to no access to physical touch daily. Irony is funny in the cruelest of ways.
It’s more than the physical touch that I’m lacking, I realize. It’s the intimacy that that kind of touch brings. The connection of knowing and loving someone so well that you crave their loving touch– that’s what I want. I don’t have a person to unload my day to when I get home. I don’t have a person I can hug when I’ve had a bad day, or high five when I have good news. I don’t have a shoulder to cry on, or a person I’d feel comfortable snuggling up with to watch movies and just be with each other. I don’t have people around me that look me in the eye and ask me how I really am; I don’t have friends that just up and hug me because they think I need it or hold my hand as I cry in my everyday life.I need this intimacy and connection with people; I feel the lack deep in my bones. On my lonelier days, my body shivers with cold, and I wish someone was here to keep me warm. Click To Tweet
I’ve never had that kind of intimacy. I’ve had walls up since childhood that closed myself off to loving people and letting people love me in an intimate, personal way. I’ve been too scared to let people love me intimately-and especially to let people show me love through the physical affection I’ve never been given. I was too worried I’d be rejected, or they’d run away when they saw all of me. Intimacy and connection are for people that don’t have baggage and issues, I thought. Now that I’m trying to pull those walls down by admitting I need this kind of intimacy, I realize that the physical part is something I truly need, too.
This intimacy is one of the pitfalls of social media community for me. I LOVE my social media communities– I wouldn’t have community without them, frankly. But, I can’t hug a friend over Twitter. A facebook comment isn’t the same as a friend looking me in the eye saying the same things. I have great friends online– they love me really well. But they can’t love me in the way I need them to because they’re not with me.
I love these friends I’ve made in my computer screen, I really do. I’ve met some of them in person, and getting to physically hug them and know them is such a gift– hearing their laughter, squeezing their hand, giving them hugs just because they’re there– it’s a wonderful thing. But then they go back to being behind the computer screen, and I go back to my everyday life with an empty space by my side, aching for a person to hold my hand through it all.Social media community cannot replace in-life people, no matter how much easier it is for me to log into twitter and connect with words and hashtags than it is with flesh and bones in front of my eyes. Click To Tweet
/Sidebar: There’s also a thing about social media and real-life community that’s been bugging me lately. There’s a lot of talk these days of people leaving social media/ taking breaks from Facebook or Instagram or Twitter to be more present with the people in front of you. And if you need that, that’s great! Good for you. HOWEVER. When social media is where you connect with people and then you leave it, either you actually engage with them offline, or you leave your people behind. Social media allows us to connect without seeing people in person; but when you go without it, it actually forces you to make those connections offline, or the friendship is essentially gone. I’ve had many friends disappear from my life- not because we didn’t love each other or anything, but because they took themselves (mostly) offline, and didn’t try to connect offline. Lack of social media forces you to make an extra effort in person, and it can make or break a friendship if you don’t actually engage in the in-person friendship. It has for me. And it sucks.
Social media has it drawbacks, but it has given people places to stay connected with people we otherwise wouldn’t get to stay engaged with day to day; when people take themselves offline, however, you discover how true the friendship is: some will go the extra mile and want to know you offline, some won’t.
If you ditch social media, think about the friendships you leave behind. If you want to have offline, you have to create them.
Think about the friendships that you miss out on when you leave connection tools like Facebook behind. That’s all I’m saying. 🙂
I know I’m not the only one that deals with this. Touch deprivation is a real thing; we’re living in a world where we interact more with Instagram comments than in person heart-to-hearts, and it shows. The effects of loneliness and going without physical connection with people are not just emotional, but physical and mental, too.
Our bodies need touch, just like they need food and water; we don’t deprive our bodies of nutrition from those necessities, so why do we deprive ourselves of touch?
I don’t think we need to be touchy-feely-grabby all the time. Yes, we need boundaries, and not everyone likes/needs to be touched all the time. But our boundaries shouldn’t keep us from accepting the intimacy and connections we need– they should be there to help us and others understand what we need and when.
Forget side hugs and fist bumps. Give your friends hugs, hold their hands, look them in the eye instead of seeing them through an instagram filter. You might not know what kind of healing and hope actually being with someone will bring to someone on a lonely day.
I couldn’t leave you without sharing the song from my title:
One of my favorites by them.