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Hugging

 

Techniques > Using Body Language > Hugging

Reasons to hug | The process of hugging | Types of hug | See also

 

Hugging is a common interaction between people where bodies are brought into close contact with one another.

Reasons to hug

Hugging is used for a number of reasons. And sometimes for no apparent reason (although there is almost always an underlying purpose).

Greeting

Hugging as a form of greeting is usually highly ritualized, with prescribed action and timings. These vary significantly with culture and can include variations such as:

  • Initial throwing hands wide, with eye contact and friendly facial expressions that signal the impending hug.
  • One- or two-handed hug.
  • Back-slapping or rubbing (typically two or three times).
  • Squeezing and lifting as expressions of delight.
  • Words of greeting spoken at the same time.
  • Cheek kissing or touching (one, two or three times, on alternating sides).
  • Holding, patting and eye contact whilst disengaging.

Hugs may be used both in meeting and leaving, with different rules for how each is executed.

Comforting

Hugs are sometimes given to comfort a distressed other person, such as when a parent hugs a crying child or when a friend hugs another who is upset over a social matter.

Comfort hugs are often longer and may continue until the other person has calmed down. The signal for disengagement may well come from the other person, typically by loosening their grip or pulling slightly away.

Bonding

Hugs may be used to develop trust and create an emotional and identity-forming bond with the other person. In coming close together you effectively 'become one', joining identities for a few moments.

Affection

Hugging is often used between friends (who by definition already have a stable bond). Touching signals trust and reaffirms the bond. If you can hug a person without worrying about whether they will mind and without conscious concern as to whether this will upset them, you are likely to be showing affection.

Like greeting hugs, affection hugs are often done in a prescribed format, with a single quick squeeze and a cheek press.

Some people, often women, use affectionate hugs quite frequently. A sad fact is that spontaneous hugging seems to be in the decline in societies where fears of abuse and litigation override the simple pleasures of an affectionate hug.

Romance

Hugging is a key part of any romantic relationship and a first hug, often given as a sign of simple affection, is a step away from a first kiss, which significantly deepens the romance.

Hugging in romantic relationships is often far more frequent and of much longer duration than affection hugs. The hug is more likely to involve full-body touching and may, in the appropriate setting, lead to further actions such as kissing, caressing and so on.

Hand positioning on the back is an important romantic signal. The lower the hand, the greater the romantic intent. A longer duration of hug also indicates greater passion.

Possession

When a man puts his arm around his female partner when there are other people about, it may be a signal to others that 'she is mine -- hands off'. This may be partly protective and can have elements of jealous guarding his 'property'. A woman may also put her arms around her man when other women might seek his company.

Protection

When out in the street, a man may put his arm around his partner as a signal to her and to others that he is giving her shelter and will be prepared to fight for her safety.

Domination

A hug may also be used as an act of domination. Invading body space and taking charge of the other person's body can easily be an overt act of power, showing how the hugger does not have to ask permission and can invade at will.

This can cause confusion where it is not necessarily clear whether the hug is an act of affection or domination. Typically other signs and relationship details will help clarify this question.

The domination hug may well be quickly initiated, giving the 'victim' less time to escape. It is also likely to include a stronger squeeze, indicating the power of the hugger. The disengagement may also be slower as the hugger hangs on, maybe even just to an arm, to show they are in control right to the very end.

The process of hugging

Hugging, although a simple act, has a distinct set of steps.

Approach

As people approach, one person or both people indicate the impending hug, typically with one or two arms thrown wide. Eye contact is established and the face will show smiling and pleasure.

There may be a pause as the hugger waits for a reciprocal signal that indicates that the hug will be accepted. The two people then approach (one or both moving forward) towards the embrace.

There may be other pre-cursors to the embrace, such as hand-clasping and arm grabbing. The approach may also be very brief with one person rushing in and grabbing the other.

Embrace

The embrace, the main part of the hug, may be one-or two-armed. It may be from the front, the side or at a slight angle. The extent of the body touching may vary from the polite head touch (leaning forward for this) to the full-body hug.

The embrace typically lasts only a second or two and, to be successful, should lead to feelings of comfort and happiness. Distress will happen only in such circumstances as misunderstanding and domination.

Interaction

Within and around the embrace there may be a variety of other actions and interactions, such as back-slapping, back-rubbing, arm-squeezing, hand-holding, cheek-touching, cheek-kissing, head-holding, spoken words and so on.

Disengaging

A point comes when the huggers have to let go and back off. This may be determined by ritual timing, which can be amazingly well understood to the point where it is not clear who initiates the disengagement. At other times, one person starts to pull away, the other senses this and releases their clasp.

Hanging on for longer can happen in various circumstances. Often, the second person will hold for a moment or two longer to signal 'I really do like you'. Sometimes they will cling, unwilling to lose the intensity of the comfort or affection. This can be embarrassing and the releaser will often condescend to hug for longer, although they may also simply push away harder. An extended cling may also be a power move, asserting that the second person is in charge and will release when they are good and ready.

Disengagement often has additional interactions that signify a ritual unwillingness to relinquish the closeness, for example by short grips of the arm, stroking rather than just letting go, finger-tip clasps and facial expressions of further affection.

Types of hug

There are many types of hug that are used. Here is a list of many of these.

 

Name Description Meaning
A-frame hug (or triangle or teepee hug) Leaning forward a long way, touching at top (forming triangle shape). Quick hug and push away. Little or no eye contact. Formal greeting, often uncomfortable for both people.
Air hug Open arms slightly to indicate beginnings of hug. Maybe hug oneself. One or both people may do this. Greeting at a distance where real hug is difficult or could be embarrassing.
Bear hug Full body touch, tight clasp. Possibly with growly noises or belly laughter. One person often stronger. Strong and open affection from extraverted character. Risk of discomfort. Can be an act of domination.
Back pat Brief hug, often upper-body only, with patting of shoulders or back. Possibly no eye contact. Back pats are friendly but may be indicator of limited affection. In a longer hug, a back pat signals a desire to end the hug.

No eye contact says 'I'm being polite but don't really care.'

Back rub Longer and close than back pat, with rubbing of the back either up and down or in a circular movement two or three times. More familiar and affectionate than back patting. Rubbing is closer to caressing and emulates a parent rubbing a baby to 'burp' them. When not done immediately may be a request to end hug.
Body hug Standard hug, with both people vertical and most of the body touching. Warm embrace, not for too long. Smooth and uninterrupted disengagement. Standard greeting of friends. Shows relaxation and comfort with the other person. May be many variations on this.
Bomb The hugger runs up to the other person and leaps wildly onto them, possibly bearing them to the ground. There may well be multiple huggers for one person hugged. Often congratulatory or celebratory, as when a sports team member scores points.
Butt grab Full body hug with hands grabbing the other person's bottom, squeezing it or pulling them in. Kissing may also be involved. Hands may go straight to the bottom or may slide down to it from back. Romantic, with strong sexual overtones. May be unwanted act of domination.
Cheek touch Leaning forward, very light shoulder clasp, touch cheeks, possibly with kissing noise. Polite greeting, respecting the other person's body and space.
Clinger One person holds on for too long. The other tries to pull away but often ends up having to give in and return the longer hug. Need for extended comfort. May be signal of desire for closer romance. May also be act of dominance.
Comforter Hugger holding tight or maybe just gently. Hugged person may well be holding tightly. Comforted person rests head on shoulder or breast. Comforting person leans head on head of other person, patting or stroking them. Administering of comfort to distressed other person. May be between friends, partners or parent-child.
Crusher Overly tight bear hug. Often held for slightly more than normal hug. May be accidental 'don't know my strength' but likely dominant show of power.
Cuddle Full-body with heads touching and firm clasp. May include caressing and comforting words or 'mmm' sounds. Longer duration. Very similar to the comforter hug and often with this purpose, although may also be romantic or of benefit to both people.
Dancefloor hold On the dancefloor, one person puts arms around the other's neck, who puts arms around the waist. They move slowly in time to the music.

Often the woman puts arms around the neck and may rest her head on the man's chest or shoulder.

Simulation of intimate embrace, even if it is 'just dancing'. May be a precursor to more romantic events later.
Entwining Usually lying or sitting down, the whole bodies including legs are entangled together. Highly sexual. Making two bodies 'as one'. May be used before, during and after intercourse.
Family hug Long and firm embrace. Often between parents (or grandparents) and children (even when they are adult). Heads touching. Display of family affection. May be for comfort, greeting or on departure.
Forced kiss One person tries to kiss (and maybe succeeds) whilst the other pulls away or only allows a quick peck. Poorly-judged attempt at romance or otherwise dislike of kiss by other person.
Full-on kiss Mutual and extended lip kiss. Successful romantic move (by both).
Group hug People stand in circle with arms around the backs of persons either side. Heads often down and touching in the middle of the circle. Celebration by group of people. May be ritual confirmation of togetherness.
Hand hug Looks like shaking hands but other person's hand is grasped with two hands rather than one. Often used by politicians. May well say 'I would like to hug you but I am too polite.'

Person with hand on top may be signalling dominance.

Head envelope The other person's head is enveloped by the arms and pulled into chest. Hugger may well be taller. Protective and comforting. May be a a part of the comforter hug.
Lap hug A lateral twister that leads to one person lying in the lap of the other. Romantic. Classic sofa action.
Lateral one-arm hug People standing or sitting side-by-side. One person puts one arm around the others and gives them a quick hug. Quick and safe sign of approval or affection. If extended may be a comforter.
Romantic if in setting such as movie seats.
Lateral twister People standing or sitting side-by-side twist towards one another and do as best a frontal body hug as possible. Hugging when constrained by seats. Maybe when lateral one-arm hug leads to more.
Leap and lift One person (usually the woman) leaps into the air towards the other person and clings onto them, possibly wrapping legs around them. Other person lifts them up, possibly stepping back to absorb the impact. May continue into spin hug. Excited and open greeting, with significant trust and affection.
Leg wrap During close hug, one leg is wrapped around the back of the other person's legs. Typically done during long hug with caressing and kissing. Indication of desired and actual intimacy.
Look at you Head of other person held between two hands for short eye contact and possibly a few words. May be done before or after (or even without) body hug. Eye contact creates closer contact and words may be significant. Can be light admonishment of a child before a forgiving hug.
Lover hug Slow approach with touching, sliding into embrace with extended stroking and caressing. Romantic and caring. Who knows where it may end up?
Man hug Quick grab, touching upper body only. Patting back a couple of times. Often avoiding eye contact. Quick release and step back with brief smile.

Similar in some ways to shoulder touch.

Greeting between straight male friends. Friendship but clearly nothing romantic.
Neck grab One person throws arms around the neck of the other person and pulls them in, with heads touching closely. Often a sign of affection. May also be seeking comfort. Can be dominant.
Open man hug Fuller body than standard man hug, with more extended hugging. Maybe with cheek hug and head-on-shoulder. Direct affection. May be gay or just liberated.
Pity pat hug In a romantic situation, one person pats the other quickly a couple of times on the upper back. This signals 'I don't want any romance.' A higher pat shows less interest and quick pats indicate a desire to disengage.
Reverse hug One person approaches the other from behind and puts arms around waist with full-body touch and possibly leans head on shoulder. Hugged person puts hands over hugging hands and possibly leans back with head against huggers head. Relaxed affection between trusting partners.
Rocker Standard body hug with rocking from side to side, often with smiling and laughter. Expression of fun-loving personality. Similar to twister hug.
Sandwich hug One person is hugged by and between two others. The huggers' arms may reach around one another. Typically parents hugging a child. Show of affection, comfort or celebration.
Self hug Wrapping arms around one's own body. Maybe top arm clasping other arm. Possibly some twisting or rocking. Self-comforting. May signal 'I would like to hug you' or 'I want you to hug me'.
Shoulder drape One arm casually over shoulder of adjacent person. That person may have arm around hugger's back or waist (especially if the other person is shorter). Long duration. Not so much a hug as an expression of closeness (and possibly jealous possession).
Shoulder grab Approach as if to hug but only get as far as grabbing shoulders. Likely to have continued eye contact and arm patting. Often used by men who see hugging as too familiar. May be tactic by one person to prevent a full hug.
Shoulder touch Hands clasped in handshake followed by pull together, hands still holding and brief touching of shoulders or chests. May be accompanied by 'ayyy' sounds. Very often done by men as 'safe' and not-too-intimate greeting.
Spin hug One person (usually the man) puts arm under the other person arms, lifts them and spins them around. Open affection. Shows closeness and trust. May indicate possession.
Spoon hug When lying down with other person (typically in bed) and they are facing the other way, pressing part of all of body behind them (like two spoons fitting together) and put one arm around them. Like a horizontal reverse hug. Often sustained and may occur as unconscious connection during sleep.
Twister Body hug with oscillating rotation about a vertical axis. Similar to the rocker hug. Shows stronger affection.
Unequal height hug The shorter person puts arms around the waist and possibly rests head on chest. The taller person wraps arms around upper body and maybe rests head on shorter person's head. Typically taller man and shorter woman in romantic embrace.
Upper-body hug Similar to body hug but only touching in the upper body. May be quite quick. Avoiding touching genitalia. Often between man-woman with no romantic connection or between two men.

 

Hugging is a very human thing with many variations. The above table is only an indicator and there may be different meanings and styles to the hugs.

Hugging can be between people of various sexual preferences and with various intents. The article above generally considers heterosexual men and women. The principles described can of course also apply to homosexual and other preferential contexts.

See also

Hug Somebody, Touching, Haptic communication, Identity

 

 

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