When is a hug not a hug?


A new supervisor came into my cube one day and started giving me a shoulder rub. Unannounced, unasked, and unsolicited.

My reaction was immediate and instinctive: I completely stiffened up—and stayed that way.

She got the point after a few puzzled moments and stepped back, but she stood there for a few minutes more, just looking at me with hurt and disappointment all over her face. On my part, I felt defensive and then angry that she was the one feeling all upset when it was my personal space that had just been invaded!

All of this happened nonverbally, but quite a lot got across in those few moments, from personal space issues to body language. Could we both have handled it better? Sure. One thing’s clear: None of it should have happened in the first place.

That was in a previous job. I just went through some pretty intensive training for my new job, and something came up that really struck me:

When is a hug not a hug?
When it’s not wanted.

If someone hugs you and you want that hug, yes, it’s a hug.

But if you don’t want that hug, guess what: It’s a restraint.

Think that’s a little harsh? Restraint doesn’t just mean being put in handcuffs. It means all these things (thank you, freedictionary.com):

1. The act of restraining or the condition of being restrained.
2. Loss or abridgment of freedom.
3. An influence that inhibits or restrains; a limitation.
4. An instrument or a means of restraining.
5. Control or repression of feelings; constraint.

Take this example: You and your friends are goofing off and one of them suddenly puts you in a headlock. You’re pinioned in an awkward position. Now let’s say for the sake of argument that you don’t particularly like headlocks and you don’t know how to get out of them easily. How are you feeling at that moment? In control? Happy? Calm?

Whatever your trigger buttons are, however big your personal space bubble, I’d like to bet we all feel pretty much the same when we’re in a situation where we feel that loss of control, that anxiety, panic, loss of power and so on. Match that with how you feel when you’re told to chill and relax, it’s “just a hug” or “just goofing around.”

Remember this the next time you’re the one doing something the other person doesn’t like. Sure, it’s embarrassing when your well-meaning touch isn’t taken as such. Get over yourself. If it’s not a hug for everyone in that hug, it’s not a hug, period.

What’s your take on it?


lolcat pic from here.

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