In these times of COVID-1
To hug or not to hug?
Over the past year, we have been advised by the Centers for Disease Control to avoid physical contact with anyone outside our immediate household to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. For those living alone, this meant the complete absence of physical touch. Do not shake hands, do not hug anyone and definitely do not kiss anyone.
The lack of physical touch is attempted, but many are accustomed to newer, more creative ways to greet each other, whether it’s a friendly wave six feet away or an elbow. And while we still don’t have an end date for a pandemic, as more Americans get vaccinated and can stick to the CDC’s new guidelines, we may soon return to hugs, handshakes, and kisses on the cheeks. But should I?
The pandemic has reduced the pressure of forced interactions and allowed us time to reassess the boundaries around physical touch, experts say.
“It was helpful in the sense that people get a little more personal autonomy, you don’t have to follow this social contract that is designed to greet people,” said Ashley Peterson, a licensed psychotherapist.
Shafia Zalum, a health educator at the San Francisco Urban School, says the social contract has made some people minimize their discomfort in the past “and simply accept physical greetings as handshakes and hugs because they are perceived as the norm.”
“Many get the message that … it’s just a handshake and it would be rude to offer anything else,” says Zaloom, adding that the idea is rooted in our childhood.
Children are often told to hug people
This is a common saying: An adult relative comes and a parent tells the child to greet that person with a hug or kiss. But while physical touch disappeared during the pandemic, the pressure on children to greet people physically has waned, and experts say it’s a practice we should stick to in the post-pandemic.
“We want our children to trust their intuition, especially when it comes to body autonomy. We also want children to have a sense of freedom of action when it comes to their intuition and their bodies, which is an important part of their emerging sexuality. “Zaloom says.
Peterson agrees that children should have personal autonomy, but she notes that the cultural background of each household will play a role in whether the lack of emphasis on physical greetings adheres.
Physical greetings can vary greatly across cultures. In Sudan, it’s common to go into a hug, two kisses on the cheek, and end a greeting with a handshake (yes, all at once), while in Miami, it’s not uncommon to see people kissing on the air.
Peterson says now is the perfect time for parents to have this discussion with their children and help guide them in making decisions about how they would like to greet people. The idea is not to undo the hugs of relatives, but rather to reduce the pressure on children; if the child wants to hug, he must. But it must depend on them.
“Everyone doesn’t see children as the ability to make their own decisions, although … they definitely need to be able to say who they want to touch, to embrace all these other things with their bodies.”
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Everyone has physical boundaries
Adults are also encouraged to be open and communicative about their physical boundaries.
Hugs, kisses and handshakes may not go away right away, but we may be more aware of how people want to be treated and respected, says Zalum.
“Instead of thinking about whether to remove this or add this, I think our energy is better spent to displace the culture, to better accept what feels acceptable to both people who are engaged in greetings, ”says Zaloom.
Although some people may long for a physical touch, the pandemic has shown us that shaking hands may not be the best medicine.
“I don’t think we should ever shake hands again,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden. said in May 2020. “We must break this custom. Because, in fact, this is really one of the main ways you can transmit respiratory disease. “
Instead of shaking hands, Zaloom offers “enthusiastic or meaningful verbal greetings, bows, nods and smiles, or put a beat on your greeting and do a mini dance.”
Peterson says physical touch is important especially for people who rely on nonverbal verification or attachment. Things like shaking someone’s hand while looking them in the eye show that you’re listening, and a hug from someone you’re holding on to can be reassuring if the physical touch is your love language.
“This is non-verbal communication, which I think people also lack, because now you don’t get confirmation if people don’t say it. And if you’re not a person who is able to communicate effectively how you feel, then you can count on those non-verbal ones. displays of affection, ”Peterson says.
As important as physical touch is, she hopes the pandemic will allow people to pause and think about how others may feel when touched.
“It would be helpful if (after a pandemic) we realized that we didn’t all have to follow exactly the same path of human interaction,” Peterson said. “So if it’s something you look forward to or something you want to do, then yes, you should be able to do it.”
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