About the Author: Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW is a colorfully creative journalist, inspiring transformational speaker, licensed social worker, interfaith minister, editor, radio host, BLISS coach, event producer, Cosmic Concierge, the author of The Bliss Mistress Guide To Transforming The Ordinary Into The Extraordinary and co-author of Embraced By the Divine: The Emerging Woman’s Gateway to Power, Passion and Purpose. She has also contributed to several anthologies and personal growth books. Edie has interviewed such notables as Ram Dass, Wayne Dyer, Debbie Ford, don Miguel Ruiz, don Miguel Ruiz, Jr. Marianne Williamson, Grover Washington, Jr. Noah Levine, Shirley MacLaine, Dennis Weaver, Ben and Jerry and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She calls herself an Opti-mystic who sees the world through the eyes of possibility. Edie writes for The Huffington Post, Psych Central, Beliefnet, Elephant Journal, The Good Men Project, Expanded Family, Meaningful Mom, Bucks Happening, Montco Happening, Hunterdon Happening, as well as a growing number of other venues. Edie is the founder of Hug Mobsters Armed With Love, which offers FREE HUGS events on a planned and spontaneous basis. www.opti-mystical.com
Human beings are, by nature, social creatures. Even those who live alone, work in isolated settings or don’t claim to be ‘touchy feely people,’ still require some sort of contact. Sadly, in many cases, touch is either coerced, limited, sexual, violent or absent. That leaves people feeling touched deprived and seeking other outlets for human needs that may fall into the category of addiction.
Since our skin is our single biggest organ, it is essential that we experience nurturing touch. What can be referred to as ‘skin hunger,’ is as an important a need to feed as physiological hunger. Without it, studies have shown that babies fail to thrive. Without it, adults do as well. We live in such a touch-deprived and touch-negative society. According to Virginia Satir, ‘we need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”
According to Matt Hertenstein, an experimental psychologist at DePauw University in Indiana, “Hand-holding or hugging also results in a decrease of the stress hormone cortisol.”
"Having this friendly touch, just somebody simply touching our arm and holding it, buffers the physiological consequences of this stressful response," Hertenstein adds.
This kind of skin to skin contact raises the level of oxytocin, known as ‘the cuddle hormone,’ that kicks in when mothers nurse their babies, when orgasm takes place and when people get all cozy, even without sexual interaction. I like to add that “More oxytocin means less oxycontin.”
I was fortunate to have been raised in a family where nurturing touch was plentiful and by consent. Hugs, cuddles and massage were regular occurrences in my home and when I was a teenager, I was involved in a youth group where we would sometimes hang out together in puppy piles at weekend retreats.
Hugs meet skin hunger needs, which are just as vital for wellbeing as food hunger. Without nurturing, non-sexual touch, by consent, we fail to thrive. Touch need not be shared only or primarily between sexually intimate partners. It is not only possible but indeed, enjoyable to cuddle/hug with platonic friends. I have ‘cuddle buddies,’ of all genders who help meet those needs.
One of my friends had asked awhile back about my HQ; which she identified as Hug Quality. I like to think it is stellar since I do it so much. One of my regular activities is organizing and engaging in FREE Hugs events. I am one of those daring people who stand on street corners with a sign that lets folks know I am offering them. Most say yes, some decline and I respect that as I encourage them to hug someone, even themselves. I began doing this on Valentines’ Day weekend 2014 when I gathered a group of friends at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, colloquially known as The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, for a FREE Hugs Flash mob. In an hours’ time we hugged over 100 people who were making their way through. One was an Iraq War vet who told us that he was the only survivor of his platoon and he had contemplated suicide until he met us, since we gave him hope. He asked if he could join us. We gladly gave him a FREE Hugs sign and soon he was on his way, handing out hugs. Friends started calling us ‘Hugmobsters’ and I added the tag line ‘armed with love,’ to counteract the image of mobsters as violent.
In June of that year, at the age of 55, I had a heart attack. As part of my cardiac rehab, I did a lot of walking through my small suburban Philly town called Doylestown. Since hugs are heart healthy, I decided to combine the two activities. Now, nearly four years later, I estimate that I have hugged thousands of people, on the streets of DC, NY, Portland, OR, in airports, in other train stations, at athletic events, at street fairs, in restaurants, at my polling place on Election Day 2016 and many other locales since then. When I hug people, I don’t know what their political beliefs are. I encourage kindness and acceptance. Hugs bring people together across all divides.
When I hug people, I slow down and breathe with them. I am fully present, if only for 20 seconds. Longer is preferable. I feel a mutual heartbeat. When we step away, we carry a piece of each other, a strand of love. Sometimes they cry. Sometimes I do. We each smile and often laugh. We allow ourselves to be fully human. I have been asked how it feels to hug strangers. I respond that once we have hugged, we are no longer strangers. I also have been asked if I feel rejected if people turn down hugs. I don’t since I know that everyone’s touch needs are different.
Another conversation arises when there are children present. I always ask the parent, “If it is okay with you AND okay with your child, may I offer them a hug?” If the child says no, I respect that. Too often, children are told, “Go hug Aunt so and so,” when they really don’t want to. It is about body sovereignty. If children are taught that that they have a choice, it could prevent a new generation from facing the onslaught of unwanted touch. In the wave of #metoo, it is even more important to claim that right.
I also facilitate a workshop for adults, called Cuddle Party which teaches communication, boundary setting and offers nurturing, non-sexual touch, by consent. Some objections to this experience which was founded in 2004, is “Eew, icky strangers. Who wants to cuddle with strangers?” Even if people don’t know each other at the beginning of our time together, they may leave feeling like family of choice. “Why should I pay to cuddle?” I tell them that the workshop is about learning skills that enhance relationships and that the touch aspect is a bonus of those interactions. “Only lonely losers need this.” People of all walks of life attend, from business people to therapists, from students, to CEOs of corporations, from moms and dads to grandparents, from Marines to teachers. Some are in relationships with partners who are not as affectionate and encourage them to attend. Some are single. In the 12 years I have been a certified facilitator, I have cuddled people from all around the world, and lost count of how many I have facilitated; estimating over 300. One at which I assisted, held at a conference in the DC area, had around 400 people in attendance. Normally, they are far smaller, from 10-30 people.
Why touch matters:
Love is contagious, with healthy, nurturing touch as a carrier.
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