Growing up in a community of Italian relatives, how could one not share a hug? My early childhood years were spent on a great city hill, surrounded by a large Italian family—above and below me, up the street, down the street, downstairs in our two-family house. There were four uncles, four aunts, twelve cousins, my two parents, two siblings, and our matriarch, Nonna, ruling with ‘the wooden spoon’. At that time, I could not imagine life without hugs or physical contact.
There were big belly hugs, wet kisses, pinches on cheeks and smacks from that wooden spoon. There were physical interactions too numerous to count. It could be called “close encounters, of the 3rd generation—of the wild, Italian kind”! The intensity of physicality could best be described in positive and negative degrees…
Good touches, bad touches, all kinds of touches are imposed on all kinds of children. From the womb through adulthood, we can absorb the feelings of those around us. When events are too overwhelming for our nervous system to handle, they are not always assimilated. We then can become “stuck” or traumatized with negative information, keeping a hologram of a memory circulating within.
What I learned from childhood is that a hug could be felt as sharing close bonds or suffocating in helplessness. Negative feelings imposed in a hug can frighten or offend. Children are too often paralyzed by the intensity of physical or emotional energy forced upon them. It is common for traumatized children to become “hyper-sensitive”—to have a delicate, sensitive, nervous system. A hypersensitivity person needs to learn how to protect them self from unrestrained emotions (energy in motion).
When I think of a great, healthy hug, I think of Uncle Harry. In his hug you felt unmistaken, unconditional love. His hugs were real and filled with intense joy. Pure love creates a great hug. But giving a great hug to someone who is a survivor of physical trauma or sexual abuse will be very different from giving a hug to someone who has never been assaulted. To know when it is appropriate to hug is to know when another soul is ready for physical contact. Inappropriate touch carrying unwanted sexual thoughts can re-victimize survivors of sexual trauma—they could feel ‘assaulted’ by that energy. Physical touch requires great responsibility.
My cousins decided to lay Nona’s wooden spoon to rest with her when she was laid to rest. They decided this action would be better than passing “the spoon” to me for my first grandchild—the first of the fourth generation… We all smiled knowingly, having learned well from our poor ancestor’s lineage of violence. Whenever we have physical contact with another person, we need to remember the innocent child inside them. It takes a great Awareness to know when it’s appropriate to share a healthy hug. And sharing that kind of intensity is what we seem to need the most!