When we notice that our friends are going through a tough time, our first instinct is often to hug or hold them. But what if our friends don’t like physical touch?
Maybe being touched makes them feel trapped. Maybe past trauma makes the most well-intentioned gestures triggering. Or maybe they just don’t like to be touched.
I’m one of those people. I constantly find myself flinching away when my friends try to hug me while comforting me. If you’re like me, I want you to know that it’s okay not to like physical affection.
Whether you are like me or you have friends who are like me, here are some ways you can support someone who doesn’t like physical affection:
1. Check in with us.
Send a text. Ask them how they’re doing. Tell them you miss their face and their presence. Sometimes a text as simple as “Hey, I miss you” means the world to me when I’m going through a hard time. I dislike it when people worry about me, but texts like this is a small reminder that someone out there cares about me and was thinking of me.
2. Be present.
Although people like me shy away from physical affection, we often don’t mind your presence. Bring a cup of coffee and just sit with me. Spend quality time with me. We might not talk, but simply knowing you’re there with me calms me down. We can work together, maybe even watch an episode of TV or play some board games. We can even curl on the same sofa—just give me some space. Be there, because your presence means a lot to us.
3. Take us on a walk.
Walk with me, or take me on a drive. I might not have the energy to talk to you during the walk, but your presence is enough to let me know that you care—that, in of itself, means the world to me. For those of us who shy away from hugs or cuddles because they make us feel trapped, walks are a great way to remind us that we are not caged.
4. Distract us.
Ever heard of the quote “when words fail, music speaks”? Send us a song if you’re not around, or simply play it out loud and make it a karaoke night. Share your favorite song with us and tell us a story behind it. Tell us a story about anything, honestly. Play a movie and tell us little fun facts about it. Sometimes all we need is a good distraction to uplift our mood and remind us of better times.
5. Treat us the way you normally do.
A friend once said to me, “I hate it when people hug me, because it makes me feel like they think I’m broken, or that they feel sorry for me.” Remind us that we’re human and that it’s okay to feel the way we feel. Ask me about the things I normally talk to you about—my favorite TV shows, my favorite sports team, entertainment news, and everything else. Keep it real with us, and try not to make us feel like we’re broken.