A need to hug and need to be hugged


TIME OUT:A powerful non-verbal message of closeness, writes MARIE MURRAY

DO YOU need a hug? Yes, an old-fashioned, “Come here till I make it better” hug? This is the kind of hug one remembers from childhood. This is the invitation of outstretched arms, the warmth of being enfolded by them, the closeness, the softness, the safety, the sheer protection and sense of encompassing love that the embrace of a parent provides.

The spontaneous, loving hug is a powerful non-verbal message of closeness and care. It offers a moment away from the maelstrom of life. It gives precious time out. It is central to “attachment” in childhood and adult psychological wellbeing. We need to hug and be hugged, and clinical wisdom suggests that we neither hug, nor are hugged, enough.

For such a simple act, the hug carries a message of profundity and power. Hugs are simultaneously given and received because you cannot give a hug without getting one, or receive a hug without giving one, making the hug a human act of special significance and nurturing care.

The hugs of childhood fulfil many primitive psychological functions. In pre-verbal parent/child interactions, hugs are gentle reminders of affection and protection. The child who is hugged often, lovingly and gently, receives ongoing messages of love and extends that gentleness out towards others in later life. Hugs signal value and worth. Hugs cost nothing, but the child denied a hug is impoverished indeed.

Hugs are ways of responding to and repairing the hurts and frights of childhood. They are part of the child’s journey towards independence, because the child who is sure of a hug when it is needed is much more assured of its safety when exploring the world around it.

This continues throughout life regardless of age, which is why at airports and ferry terminals, parents and adult offspring bear-hug each other in order to hold each other emotionally during their time apart.

Apart from the romantic hugs of lovers we continue to value the non-sexual, affectionate bonding embrace that declares our connections to each other in friendship and humanitarian love.

Our salutations and farewells, our hugs of sympathy and congratulations, our hugs at transitional events and life-cycle stages, such as weddings and funerals, all display and transmit the message that hugs are important in personal, social and community life.

Many adults who feel lonely or alone will describe the emotional aridity of nobody to give them “a simple hug”.

This may be why so many adults will queue for hours this month for the warmth of a hug, of pure compassionate love, from the woman known as Amma (meaning Mother).

As part of her mission of “embracing the world”, Amma returns to Ireland with outstretched arms to hold those who seek the healing power of her perfect hug. This hug, called Darshan, is described as “a gentle river caressing parched souls”. It is a hug of “pure mother love”, unity with the ideal mother that perhaps you could not be, or could not have wished to be or have, or lost.

It is described as an awakening, being reunited with oneself while loving humanity. It echoes the Irish adage that “a mother’s love is a blessing” because embraced by Amma’s arms, the mind stops, relaxes and learns to love in a nurturing interweave between and towards all people, animals, every part of creation.

Regardless of what this says about the psychological complexity of our relationship with idealised motherhood or what sociological interpretation one may place on masses of people demonstrating their adult need for “mother love” by queuing for a “mother hug”, more than 30 million people worldwide have sought and received Amma’s hug. This is further recognition that material things do not heal human hurt, loneliness and emotional pain, but rather genuine acts of love.

Clinical psychologist Marie Murray is a director of psychology in UCD

For further information on Amma in Dublin, see ammaireland.org or 01-6676334