(The original article can be found HERE)
Lockdown. Social distancing. Protection. So many measures, which have to do, in this troubling period, with common sense. Obvious to health, without lapsing into panic or anxiety [concerning this subject, read the article of Jean-Michel Dominique, health anthropologist and public health expert].
We are a few to become aware, with a certain turmoil, that the pandemic situation assailing the world means two things: on one hand, humans will suffer, die, and lose touch with one another – yes, it is the usual daily fate of humanity, and the media processing of this crisis only makes it highly visible, I am not fooled, but as much enhances the human bond that it triggers in us; on the other hand, the lockdown annihilates the possibilities of tactile interactions and reduces them to the strict internal family sphere. Differently expressed: no more kisses, no more handshakes, no more embraces or pats on the back... No more hugs! From our children and spouses, we are faced with a desert in terms of tenderness. So I want to talk to you about hugs...
Therefore: Praise of the hug!
I am aware that for many, the word "hug" may only apply to the tenderness of our children or our partner. I am the first, without even thinking about it, so much it is a vital need, I devote every day a considerable time to cuddle, stroke, tease, embrace the three women who take up my intimate space – to read: my heart and my soul – namely my two daughters and my love.
The tenderness moments with my daughters are essentials; it's a no-brainer. Each day has its multiple sessions, improvised and programmed. And besides, I must also say that I am completely magnified by Sarah. Her being attracts me constantly, it is a disorientating force. I do not speak (only) of sexuality; I speak of the irrepressible surge, which pushes to touch, to hold, to attract a person you love. A mixture of tenderness and greediness, a surge of loving fusion. From a concrete love, which requires body, reality. It is an insatiable hunger and yet we are transported at the slightest bite.
Recently, my ex partner – with whom the physical contacts had completely ceased since she left me more than four years ago – overwhelmed by this pandemic situation, asked me to take her in my arms. Like me, she made the observation, stated in the introduction, and its “animality”, if I can say, as much as its humanity, required a dose of tenderness, comfort, touch – of real. It was this event, estranged from the distant continuity of the relationship that she had so far held, which gave me the desire to pay tribute to hugs and their properties.
But how can hugs be so essential to our well-being and to that degree, misled, mistreated or ignored in society?
Let us briefly focus on the etymology of the verb “embrace”, which does not fool anyone...
EMBRACE (according to Larousse dictionary):
To give kisses to someone: a father who embraces his children.
Literary, to Take, hold between his arms someone or something; to Clasp something/someone: he clasps the street lamp to avoid falling.
Literary, to Opt for a profession, a party, an opinion, to commit: he had opt for the military career.
To Embrace, by the view, something as a whole: to embrace a mountain range from the gaze.
Literary, to Comprehend something, to Grasp it by thought: a mind, which comprehends complex data of a problem.
Literary, to Encompass, to Contain something in its entirety: this novel contains half a century of history.
It is this last point, which calls my mind: “to Encompass, to Contain something in its entirety”. hugging or, let us say, embracing someone is the most integral and powerful gesture we have to express our attachment, our love. What is more intense indeed than hugging a person whom one cherishes? To, contain, hold her fully, so to speak, in our arms?
To embrace is the transformation of a old French verb: “embracier”. A thousand years ago, our ancestors referred it to the gesture of holding each other in their arms. By derivation, we now use it to talk about giving a kiss. But it's much larger after all!
Etymology and history 1. Ca 1100 “holding in the arms (most often as a sign of affection)”[Hence "to give a kiss"](Roland, Bédier ed., 2202;) 2. ca 1130 embracier « to take care of » Juise, 86 ds T.-L.); 3. 1580 « to contain, to include » (Montaigne, Essais, éd. A. Thibaudet, livre I, chap. XX, p. 119); 4. av. 1662 « to comprehend by the view, the thought (something in its entirety) » (Pasc., Pens. III, 16 ds DG). Dér. de bras*; préf. en-*; dés. -er.
My daughters hug me pell-mell; arms, legs, with their whole body, like little monkeys, they hug me tightly and I gladly give back. I don't know of a more powerful way to hug.
I hug my whole family, it’s both obvious and natural for all of us – my mother of course, my father (not easy to hug this big guy who is still half a head taller than me!), my brother and my sister. The latter – you may know her beautiful and moving blog, The Leo star, dedicated to her parental mourning – shares this cuddly instinct with me. We can spend a day together, each going about our business, side by side, and regularly, without it being a conscious, deliberate act, in the course of our wanderings and activities, hugging each other without a word, as naturally as a high five.
I share this taste for the whole hug with several friends who know how to dedicate themselves and give their whole being to it. The encounter with one of my good friends, a great and good-looking guy, salt-and-pepper, is a particularly striking souvenir: he was visiting our group of individual houses, by curiosity; we didn’t know each other at all but at first glance, I knew I wanted to be in those arms. When we quickly became friends, he told me that he felt the same, and, by the way, we've always had the habit of hugging.
Irene and I never fail to make a big hug when you see ourselves, and she practices it every morning of her training with her trainees.
The hug is the physical translation of the encounter of two souls. No need to necessarily sexualize this totally natural and human act, it applies and is practiced in all circumstances (except the one of the Coronavirus pandemic, huh?) and it brings you a sum of benefits!
Kathleen Keating, psychologist and author of several books, including on the benefits of hugs, said:
“Hugs, better than Esperanto, speak a universal language.”
A particularly interesting observation in a society that tends to individualism and where people live alone in contrast with the past where we sometimes lived to several generations under the same roof.
The hug, a chain reaction
What happens when you embrace a person – a close friend, a foreigner, a child? Celine River is a neuropsychologist and has published a book on hugs. In an interview with the magazine Psychologies, here is what she explained...
A hug will release a hormone: ocytocin. We call it the attachment hormone, or happiness hormone. This happens as soon as you embrace someone, or someone embraces you for at least twenty seconds. Produced by the brain, it has a calming effect and generates an immediate feeling of well-being. It works when you are in a state of calm and satisfaction. This is obviously the case in a hug, but it can also happen when you are lying on a beach in the sun or when you meditate. It is the antagonist of stress hormone, cortisone. But it is not only a hormonal matter. The hugs do us good because they send us back to the little child we were. The one who is hugged, taken in someone’s arms, safe. And when a person gives us a gesture similar to benevolence and love, we are overcame by a sense of well-being.
Neurosciences study, for example, the role of mirror neurons. When the other in front of us realizes an action, it awakens the same thing in us at the level of our neuronal activity. If I see someone coming to me to take me in his/her arms, I will feel something in the range of benevolence, of positivity. I'll feel secure. At the skin level, the touch-sensitive corpuscles – some small receptors – allow us to send a message to the heart to indicate the well-being that we feel when we are touched.
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