Sovereignty… and Hugs

This may be one of the most honest posts I’ve ever written. Since the theme of the moment seems to be ‘honourable communication’, though…

I hate hugging. Can we just start there?

OK, and now that we’ve got that out of the way.

At Druid Camp (which was wonderful, and I’m going to write about soon), there was a closing ritual at the end. It closed with “Let the hugging begin!”

As a person with Asperger’s, I spend most of my life trying to fake happiness about things that don’t make me happy, with the aim of making other people comfortable. People are hugging? I must join in, to make everyone else happy! Don’t let other people feel uncomfortable! Even if you end up sobbing in your tent for hours later on! (Which is why, by the way, no one ever realises I have Asperger’s, or that I’m uncomfortable in a situation. I’m incredibly talented at covering it up. I’m a star, y’know! :P )

Well, this time I decided not to let myself end up sobbing in my tent afterwards. I did what NLP calls an ‘ecology check’ – a quick check on how you feel internally – and I made a quick decision. I was not up to hugging today.

For me, Druid Camp was both highly empowering and very difficult. Getting around a field when you can’t walk properly is not nearly as difficult, for me, as spending five days in the constant presence of *other people*. (I used the Quiet Tent a LOT. I escaped to the edges of the field a lot.) It’s quite hard to explain what that can do to a person with Asperger’s. (At least, not without someone coming in and saying “That doesn’t mean you have Asperger’s! That means you’re normal!” — a response which can be deeply upsetting for the person trying to explain how they are struggling very badly with something.)

So instead of that, let’s take the label away, and just do a thought experiment. Imagine that you love people. You really love them – they’re so interesting, and funny, and exciting, and they inspire so much joy in you. You want to be around them, to get to know them, to take joy in their diverse amazing wonderfulness. They make you want to bounce up and down a lot and give them balloons.

And now imagine that you’re also terrified of them. At the same time that you adore them. You can have huge panic attacks just from being around other people, especially those you don’t know, especially in large numbers. You don’t know how to act around them, even though you want them to like and appreciate you, too. Coming up to people is a big act of courage, every time – even people you know well. And hugging is only something you want to do with people you know really well and trust completely. But how do you balance that with wanting to fit in, to do what you’re supposed to do, and never, ever make other people uncomfortable?

That day, instead of hugging, I did a little ‘namaste’-type bow, of the type that my father (New Age as he is) often does. It was all I could think of on the spot, to say “I like you and I honour you and I thank you for being you” without hugging. It wasn’t joyful enough, though. (Any ideas on other, more joyful non-huggy things I could do would be wonderful!) But it was the best I could do on the spot.

When someone makes you uncomfortable because they seem a bit different, even quite suddenly and surprisingly – if they have trouble understanding what you’re saying sometimes, or if they need to leave a situation because it’s too difficult for them, or if they communicate in slightly odd ways, or if they don’t want to hug – try to remember that they aren’t doing it for attention, or because they’re stupid, or because they’re not trying hard enough. It can be very difficult to stand up for yourself in these situations, to say “These are my boundaries, and I will assert them.” But believe me, I’m showing that I respect you – and myself – a great deal more when I stop pretending to be what I think you want me to be, and start to become fully empowered in who I am.

The Sovereignty Goddesses of ancient Ireland empowered the King to rule, hand-in-hand with the land. Today, we may see a need for Sovereignty more in our own lives, when our power is regularly taken away from us by a society that would often rather we were not being who we are. Because it can be a bit uncomfortable for other people. But here I am, hand-in-hand with the Goddess of the Land, who whispers “You are a very powerful being”. I hold my own sovereignty. My own boundaries. My own power over my life. And I laugh, and I bow to you.

What would you do differently that would be a fuller expression of who you are, if you could stop worrying about how others would respond?

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Hmm. This was going to be a post where I tried to make a start at exploring the concept of equality. I think I’ll have to come back to that another day, though.

14 thoughts on “Sovereignty… and Hugs

  1. Great chewy post. I think I’d stop making polite small talk with strangers, I think. I hate feeling like I ‘have to’ acknowledge people talking to me at the bus stop or other places.

  2. You could high-five people instead of hugging! And yay for drawing the boundaries you need to take care of yourself.

  3. I hate hugging too! Except with the small, cherished circle of people I know really well and trust completely. The indiscriminate hugging is one of my least favourite things about the pagan ‘scene’.

    Sovreignty and honourable communication are really great starting points for exploring the issues you raise here, and it sounds like you handled the challenges admirably :)

    What would I do differently? Hmm. I would stop letting myself be corrected by people when, in fact, I am right and they are wrong – and the associated problem of allowing myself to be “the problem” in a given situation because shouldering the blame is easier than standing up for the truth. It happens in a hundred petty ways at work, in my family, etc etc. Standing up for truth and justice – even in these tiny little ways, which hardly seem worth bothering about – would be a fuller expression of who I am, a way of living my beliefs. Whether I can really manage that is another question… but recognition of the problem is a good place to start.

  4. I managed to come out of that circle only hugging where I chose to, which was really good. I thought how you handled it was very powerful, I found it very affecting to share the not-hug with you, especially as you were in the minority of people I would have considered actively hugging had that made sense.

  5. In face to face situation I now try to remember to ask before I hug. And I’ve stopped doing the automatic hug people in pagan gatherings too. I’m a huggy person usually but I don’t want to cause anyone discomfort. I also have a habit of signing off emails and posts with “hugs”. I’m hoping a virtual hug like that isn’t intrusive to those that don’t like physical hugs but I admit I’ve not asked. Is a virtual hug ok?

  6. I find it interesting that Paganism is still a “hugging subculture” across the pond. Especially given stereotypes about British culture ;) I prefer to be warned, no “hugging ambushes” and also it’s a more meaningful gesture if it’s someone I have a close connection to. My partner is also autistic/Asperger’s and he & I both need to negotiate boundaries a bit, when we are feeling over-stimulated from people/emotions/sensory stuff we respect the other’s need for alone time or “no touching” time. On the other hand, sometimes when we’re upset the right kind of touch is comforting.

    Anyway, no one should have to give a reason for not wanting to be hugged, it’s a consent issue. It’s come up more in discussions about abuse. It’s actually an easy way to start a discussion about consent, if you just start by talking about hugging/pats on the back etc.

  7. A very powerful statement. Sometimes I just need a hug and I know who I can go to and say: I need a hug — and they oblige. I am not one for promiscuous hugging. It leaves me wondering what can I offer those whom care for and are close to me?

  8. I’m right there with you. The first Pagan group I was part of opened and closed circles with hugging – it was horrendous! I also associate the majority of physical contact as having romantic or sexual overtones, so you can imagine how squicked out I am when navigating huggy subcultures.

    A dear friend of mine who did circle with me in that first Pagan group would pass the energy of the circle to me with fist bumps. That may be a bit more joyful than namaste bowing. :)

  9. I think bowing was the perfect solution. I hate being hugged and sometimes just being touched. It’s an invasion of sorts. And just try to avoid it here in California, the land of touchy feely. Bowing is great. I may try it.

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