Why I'm not a hugger even though I love hugging

Hugging is a huge specialty of mine. I'm a pretty soft, snuggly person, and my family members count on me for big hugs throughout the day. I love it, and it's my favorite job as a mom.

Just this morning, my daughter came down the stairs with her arms wide open. Mine were wide open, too, and we held a long squeeze while I told her the usual, "You're so wonderful! I'm so glad I'm your mom." 

Still, there's a huge difference between what I do and who I am. I don't always hug everyone. Sometimes I go to the grocery store or the bank and I make it through the entire experience without hugging anyone. Sometimes, I'm in the middle of doing something else, and I just don't feel like getting interrupted by hugging.

Who cares? Well, because both idealized and unwanted identities can dictate behavior in a way that takes away choice. If I HAVE to hug people because "I'm a hugger," it's not as fun. And if I can't hug someone because "I'm not a hugger," that would really not be fun.

These sneaky identity labels are often related to shame and perfectionism.

Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we've experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” 

Shame differs from guilt in that it tells a person “I am bad”, rather than simply “I did something bad.” It’s the difference between behavior and identity: “I failed my driving test” becomes “I’m a failure.”

To get at shame triggers, you can name how you want to be perceived (idealized identity), and how you don’t want to be perceived (unwanted identity).

For example, as a mom I want to be perceived as calm, wise, fun, accepting, and loving--all the time. And I don't want to be perceived as grouchy, crazy, impatient, and yelling--even though I'm all of those things at times.

When you write down how you want to be perceived, you can recognize your vulnerabilities to shame. It’s worth it to get real about the perceptions you’re working so hard to avoid (I'm a basket case, I'm invisible), and the perceptions you're working so hard to maintain (I'm the responsible one, I'm the fun one). 

Name-calling is a way of eliciting unwanted identities and weaponizing shame. It's become a full-contact sport, seeping into family conversations as well as online interactions with strangers. Shaming keeps us silent and separate. 

As coaches, we learn to take a pause whenever a client makes an “I AM” statement. It can be as simple as I’m a mom, I’m Asian, I'm a Christian, I’m a smoker, I’m not a hugger, I’m not a touchy-feely person, I’m not a rough-and-tumble guy.

When these identities have become idealized or unwanted, they limit behavioral choice and the person's ability to become an integrated and aligned person.

Maybe you’re not “a hugger”, but in what circumstances would you give someone a hug?

What other identity labels keep you from making the world a more just and loving place?

With love,


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