My friend Gail, a marriage-family therapist, was quoting fellow therapist Virginia Satir when she told me we each need at least four hugs a day:
“Four hugs for survival, eight for maintenance, and twelve for growth,” says Satir.
So, I being lucky enough to have a huggy husband, started realizing that in our busyness, we sometimes went days with fewer than four hugs for each other. I was shocked. That’s not even enough for survival.
Being an adopted child, I learned, early on, to “survive” without many hugs. For the first six months I did not have a consistent home. Then, my adoptive family wasn’t really the hugging type. This was not without serious attachment issues and lack of bonding consequences
So, if I have any regrets as a parent, it’s that I really didn’t know how to hug as well as I wish I had. I am sure I hugged my infants a lot, and my toddlers. But, after they reached school age, I am afraid, I didn’t do the minimal survival hug numbers. I learned too late the value of the hug, and thanks to my husband, am now recovering from a life of few hugs.
This is personal, I know, but important enough to share.
So, I started requesting at least two of my minimum four hugs from my hubby before he left for work. Then on his return, we intentionally completed the survival number, and sometimes started working on maintenance with a fifth one. This was starting to sound like work for me, because I am kind of a checklist sort of gal. And, when you tell me this is vital, I really take this seriously.
I started wondering: Does the quality of the hug matter? Does more intimacy count for more than one hug? Is the duration of the hug important--like does a one minute hug count for two or three hugs of shorter duration?
Really, I am thinking that just getting in the number isn’t as important as caring, loving the person we are hugging.
I was told there was a commercial running somewhere where a business will call you up and tell you something complimentary. “You’re hair looks really nice today,” they will say. This is shocking. There are people out there who no one hugs and who haven’t heard a kind word today--or perhaps for many, many days.
So start at home, if you aren’t already doing this. Hug your spouse, hug your children. Then you might begin to notice others you know who need hugs. For some people, you might need permission. People who haven’t been hugged a lot don’t always welcome touch, even though they desperately need it. But, maybe they will give you permission, however awkward it feels, to hug them. It could be life-saving.
This isn’t fluff, folks. This is life itself. Remember the Psych I monkey experiment? One monkey had an armature holding a bottle of milk; the other had an armature with a fuzzy thing on it for nurture. The one with the food and no nurture died. The fuzzy thing saved the other one.
One expert in India says if your relationship with someone is faltering, try hugging them 20 times a day for awhile. He guarantees this will make a significant difference. We need touch. We need that transfer of human energy for our very survival. I remember reading that Mother Teresa went around the streets of India hugging people she found on the streets dying. She knew this made a difference.
I am not quite sure what to do with this hugging information, other than to encourage myself and all of you to get busy hugging, caring, nurturing, feeling close to and loving others. It’s a matter of life and death. And, like another TV commercial used to say, “And the life you save, may be your own.”