The Science-Backed Reason Why You May Hate Being Hugged

When greeting a friend, showing affection, or comforting someone who's feeling down, a hug is often the go-to gesture. And that's a good thing -– according to Healthline, hugs may reduce stress, boost immunity, lower blood pressure, fight pain, and improve mood. Who knew sharing a warm embrace could be so powerful?


Hugging comes naturally for many, especially those whose love language is physical touch (the second-most-common love language, just after quality time, according to a YouGovAmerica survey). A 10-second hug is ideal for romantic couples looking to deepen their bond, relationship expert Dr. Lurve told Body+Soul. Meanwhile, a three-second embrace is long enough for friends or acquaintances to show their camaraderie, according to research published in the Journal of Ethology (via ResearchGate).

But despite how beneficial hugging can be, for some, even a brief hug can make them feel squirmy. If you can relate, there may be a scientific explanation for why you hate being hugged.

Past experiences can shape how you feel about hugs

When a new friend leans in and opens their arms to hug, what do you do? If you reflexively tense up or even back away, it could be because of your upbringing. According to a research paper published in the journal Comprehensive Psychology (via Sage Journals), people who grew up in an environment where hugging was the norm are more likely to greet others with a hug in adulthood too. Conversely, those who were rarely hugged as a child are less likely to hug as adults.


Children who don't receive regular hugs develop some body systems a little differently than those who hug often. University of Notre Dame psychology professor Darcia Narvaez told Time that a lack of touch can lead to an underdeveloped vagus nerve, which can hinder intimacy and compassion. Growing up without regular hugs can also lead to lower levels of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for social bonding. Because of this, people who aren't used to hugging may not find it as comforting as others.

Besides being raised in a household where hugging is rare, there's another possible explanation for being hug-averse: trauma. Dr. Aline Zoldbrod told The Healthy that trauma is often stored in the body, which may make touch feel uncomfortable rather than pleasant. "When trauma is stored in implicit memory in the body, people don't like to be hugged or touched. It makes them feel out of control and vulnerable," she explained.


Can hug haters learn to love being hugged?

If you hate hugs now but wish you didn't, there are strategies that may help. According to Psychology Today, humans' endocrine systems are made to respond positively to hugs and physical touch. Therefore, even if hugs give you the ick now, your body will likely be able to adapt and enjoy embracing others. Start small with a stuffed toy or pet. Then, practice hugging someone you're close with, like a significant other or good friend.


If your aversion toward hugging is rooted in past negative experiences, Dr. Aline Zoldbrod told The Healthy that processing trauma in therapy may help. "[C]onsider exploring the topic with the help of a trauma-informed mental health professional. You can change your emotions related to touch, but it takes patience, compassion, and special training," she said.

If hugging other people still just isn't your thing, that's okay. Healthline notes that hugging yourself offers many of the same benefits as hugging someone else. Practice self-love by wrapping your arms around your chest and feel comforted without the awkwardness.