A Real Hug
Children, it is said, are wise and uninhibited, and tell us clearly the things that are most important to hear. The saying “Out of the mouths of babes” refers to this type of wisdom. Sometimes this wisdom inspires a sensitive adult to come up with creative solutions to a painful situation. This was precisely the case with Maura Cristina Silva, an elementary school teacher with 57 students, as reported in the New York Times. In response to a note from her third-grade pupil, stating “I am yearning for your hug,” she devised a disposable “hugging kit.” Taking enough kits for herself and her students she visited each one, carefully dressed herself and them, and lifted them for a long hug. I call that supercare! I usually only glance at the headlines, and do not even watch the news on TV, since the majority only deliver bad or sad news, and I do not need to fill my head with worries. But good news, or uplifting articles, and on the front page? That means a lot. It means that finally the message got through that not only bad or sensational news sells papers. We, the consumers, finally got the message through that we need positive reinforcement in order to stay sane in a chaotic world. I too yearn for a hug, from my children, my grandchildren, or even from some of my friends, clients, and supervisees. The virtual hug emoji just does not compare. I use the “Butterfly Hug” when I am on Zoom or Skype or WhatsApp, but even that does not lift my spirits enough, and certainly does not elevate my oxytocin levels like physical touch. Sure, touching through plastic is not exactly the same as without a barrier between us, but I bet you can still feel the squeeze. I’ve noticed that during the pandemic, and especially during lockdowns, my husband and I turn to each other for hugs much more often than before. This is, perhaps, a positive aspect of the pandemic. It also is a basic need. One of the earliest psychological experiments was done with children in orphanages where some were hugged and cuddled, while others were just given food and changes of diapers without warmth or love. The ones who flourished and developed well were the ones given love and a lot of hugs. The others became withdrawn and underachievers. We need contact, but not only emotional and social contact. We need physical contact and love. Trauma-informed education draws our attention to Adverse Childhood Events as the cause of many ills in society, including obesity, learning disabilities and mental illness. The way we experience attachment to our caregivers early in our lives heavily influences the way we relate to each other as adults. “The human attachment system is an inherent, biological, and natural process that relates to everything we do in life, especially when it comes to our relationships with others.” (Dr. Diane Poole Heller) Our attachment styles develop and evolve as a matter of survival and obtaining our basic needs. If our needs of food, affection, love, trust, warmth, nurturing, safety, protection, consistency, and most of all, responsive presence are met, we develop secure attachment. Trauma, poor socioeconomic conditions or environmental factors, coupled with lack of love and positive attention, will adversely affect our secure attachment. However, even those with the most challenging attachment injuries and trauma have the capacity to move toward secure attachment by creating new neural pathways, re-forming habitual patterns, and focusing on learned secure attachment in adulthood. The care and love I received as a baby and a small child became my core protection and resilience against much of the adverse life experiences I suffered during early childhood. Being born during WWII, with an absent father, being put in a cast from my waist down at age one, I was always hugged and loved. The difficult times occurred when I was separated from loved and loving ones – first at age 4 and then at age 7. Perhaps separation and distancing also play a role in my defense mechanisms and resilience strategies, but that is not necessarily a strength that is always helpful. The one strength that runs nurturing and sustaining under my roots is the river of love and care. There is another aspect of secure attachment that I discovered of late. It is highly contagious. It is kindness, patience, enthusiasm, and a positive attitude. I would recommend exposure to this contagion. Don’t wait to catch it from others… be the carrier! Click the image for more hugs… Happy, Healthy 2021 and lots of hugs.