She called my name. I turned toward her and smiled. Then I walked across the aisle and leaned into a hug. She completed the embrace. I began to straighten and pull away. She did not let go.
Panic. Why is she still holding me? Why hasn’t she let me go? How do I get away? I have to get away! I have to get away now!
She released. I’m away. What was that?
It was an elderly lady who went to my church. She’s about the size of my left leg – but not as strong. I hope you are getting a clear idea of how terribly threatening this woman could be to me. That specific panic attack awakened me to another of my fears. I am afraid of hugs.
I despise that sentence. It sounds so weak and pathetic. But it’s true. I mentioned in a previous post that I would be talking about fear. The fear of touch is on today’s agenda.
That day marked the beginning of some intense self-psychoanalysis. From then on I paid closer attention to situations that make me uncomfortable due to physical touch, experiences I avoid because physical touch would be necessary, and the people I seem to react most vehemently to in physical situations.
What have I discovered? I seem to react mainly when I sense a lack of control.
I was comfortable hugging that woman until she acted outside of my expectations. When she did not respond to my sense of control (the moment I pulled away), she caused me to feel endangered.
I have no problems with children or pets. In all reality, I am an extremely cuddly and affectionate person. Although children may climb into my lap (which is also outside my expectations) and animals may rub against me without any warning, I never panic. Although I cannot really figure out how an old lady from church posed a threat, I can understand why a child or a puppy never has. I feel no hesitation whatsoever when I am aware of a child or a pet touching me.
I am more comfortable hugging black men than white men. The only thing I seem to be able to connect this phenomenon with is a discussion I had with a black friend during high school. We seemed to attract toward men of different nationalities than our own. During one particularly deep conversation, she admitted that she generally felt safer around white men than black men and I admitted that the opposite was true for me. We ultimately concluded that this probably had something to do with the fact that she was abused by black men as a child and I was abused by a white man as a child. We automatically felt less comfortable around men who resembled those who had mistreated us.
Although the last few paragraphs explain some of my behavior, I haven’t completely figured myself out. As I learn more about myself, I am able to work through irrational fears. I am now more attentive to my “control factor”. When I feel like the situation is beyond my control I am usually able to wait out my feeling of discomfort. I no longer panic. I am also less prejudiced around white men than I used to be. I have retrained myself to recognize that every nationality is made up of people who are good and people who are bad, people who can be trusted and people who cannot be trusted.
Unfortunately, there are a few things I still cannot figure out. This weekend my fear of touch reared its ugly head twice.
Scenario #1 (Saturday)
My friend and I spent half the day talking with this man. Quick description: smart, kind, handsome, hygienic, and he seems like a really good father to his adorable daughter. (I can say all this because apparently my interest in him is abundantly clear to the rest of the world already… I’m really not sure how it became such a big deal to so many people… C’est la vie.) All of that is said to emphasize the fact that this man is NOT in any way a creeper. There is nothing about him that would cause me to feel physically repulsed by him. There is nothing about him that would cause me to feel unsafe. Nothing to make me feel like I cannot trust him. There is absolutely no reason I should logically fear hugging this man.
And yet, when my friend (who is very much a hugger) went in for a hug goodbye, I bolted toward the door. I did not want to hug him.
Scenario #2 (Sunday)
I met a group of friends at the park. After hanging out for a while, I was the first to leave and one of my male friends hurried over to give me a hug goodbye. I accepted without hesitation. Then another friend came over and stretched out his arms. I wanted to tell him, “No”, and walk away. Much like the guy from the day before, there is no reason I should be afraid of this man. He is not a pervert. There is no rational cause for my fear. I wasn’t angry at him or offended by him. For some unknown reason, I am more comfortable accepting hugs from the other guy who came to me immediately prior. I can’t really figure it out.
Both scenarios ended in hugs. Both hugs were fine. Both situations leave me wondering, “What on earth is wrong with me? And when will it change?”
I have a friend who struggles with this same issue, but to a higher degree. He was severely abused as a young child. He trembles when a person holds him. He told his girlfriend that when he begins to shake, she must continue to hold him. It is the only way he can train his body to recognize that her touch is safe. He and I both rest in the belief that Jesus Christ can and will heal us. But it may take time.
Alas, I will end this post on a brighter note. In my efforts to find a scientific name for this particular fear (Aphenphosmphobia: the fear of touch – this was the closest I came), I stumbled across another blogger’s post. Everybody wants to know that there is someone else out there with issues just as bad as her own (or better yet, worse than her own). http://thegloss.com/sex-and-dating/fear-of-intimacy-a-hug-is-not-a-hello/#comments
I found her post humorous. I hope you do too.
[PS. I want a shout-out from everyone of his/her most awkward hug memory. I’ll start in the comments… hopefully SOMEBODY else has a memory to add…]