For most people, a hug can feel soothing, caring, and wonderful. Hugs help regulate the nervous system and help people feel connected. For some, however, hugs can feel overwhelming and claustrophobic. Non-huggers are individuals who usually don’t hug to greet others, or to show affection. There is a continuum of non-huggers, from those who feel slightly uncomfortable to those who have sensory processing difficulties and would rarely want to be touched. Non-huggers can have different histories, presentations, neurodivergence.
Non-huggers are still widely misunderstood, and others who take hugs for granted may feel rejected by them. This blog aims to dismantle some misconceptions around non huggers and some advice that can be helpful to those who may not know how to react to non-huggers.
Misconception: the person who doesn’t want to hug is emotionally distant from others
Hugs and emotional connection are two different, overlapping experiences. Emotional closeness doesn’t necessarily require touch. It is the feeling of being connected through talking, gaze, gestures, and shared experience.
Non-huggers can feel emotionally connected to others while not wanting to touch or being touched, while huggers can feel emotionally disconnected even if they feel comfortable in close proximity.
Practical tip #1: Instead of immediately hugging someone who is a non-hugger, wait. Let the emotional closeness unfold through verbal communication. A non-hugger will be much more open, if they feel ready, to hug once the emotional closeness is established.
Misconception: Non huggers don’t want to hug anyone
Just as emotional connection feels important to many non-huggers, a physical hug from someone close to the non-hugger can feel safe and grounding. Many non-huggers hug their person: someone they feel safe with. With everyone else, the non-hugger will determine if the hug is ok or not. Back to the first point: emotional closeness is key to physical touch, especially for non-huggers.
Practical tip #2: If you see someone who looks hesitant and whose body language is not engaging (arms crossed or hanging, eyes looking away), wait for the person to show signs that they want to hug you. You can also ask: “ok to hug today?”. Move on to other topics if the answer is no.
Misconception: Non huggers don’t like being in groups
Non huggers can love being around others, they may just not want to be touched by others. In a group, the non-hugger may shut down when people start “hugging it out”, while feeling very engaged otherwise. Group hugs are also a complete and absolute no go.
Practical tip #3: in a group, watch people around you. If you have a feeling that they don’t want to be touched, don’t touch them. If you are in doubt, don’t touch them.
Misconception: Touch is not a non hugger’s love language
Touch can be a non-hugger’s love language, just when and how they decide to offer it. When a non-hugger decides it would feel important to hug someone, it can be the most heartfelt, intentional hug.
Practical tip #4: Ask them what their love language is and let yourself be surprised.
Misconception: Once a non hugger says no, it is always no
To the non-hugger, hugs are special, circumstantial and intentional. Therefore, a person who never hugs a particular other, for their own sets of reason, may one day feel ok and willing to hug. Or maybe something big happened, or it is a goodbye. It is not a never, it is very much a moment by moment decision.
Practical tip #5: When someone tells you they don’t want to hug you, take it as “in this moment”. Ask, read their body language, and let the present moment dictate what to do (if you want to).
People who do not enjoy or offer free hugs can in fact hug, but it is based on a moment to moment experience, emotional closeness, feelings of safety and simply, mood. Hugs are not to be expected, but simply offered and received, with all parties consenting.
The content of this blog is based on my personal and clinical experience. It is not a diagnostic tool. If you suspect you might have ADHD, please seek assessment by a qualified professional.
Annabelle Denmark (she/they), MA, LPCC is a somatic therapist based in Lakewood, CO, They specialize in individual therapy for neurodivergent adults . You can find them at www.renegadecounseling.com