The Secret Power of Hugs


Last week my wife had a heart procedure and needed several days of quiet rest.  A few days later I got this email from a dear friend:  “Hello!  I don’t want to interrupt you in person, so here is a HUG from our house!  Hope all is well.  Love, Kevin.”

That simple message brought a smile to my face.  It was such a blessing!  Kevin knows me well and understands how much a hug means to me.

I grew up in a hug-free environment.  My parents loved me, but they were not the “huggy-kissy” type.  They did not say “I love you” or give physical affection.  The only touch I remember was physical discipline– and there was plenty of that.

I can’t remember a time in my childhood when I wasn’t bullied.  I didn’t fit in with the other kids.  I was overweight, bookish, and definitely non-athletic (translation: klutz).  When the girls bullied, it was mostly name-calling.  But when the boys bullied, it was both verbal and physical:  shoving, tripping, kicking, hitting, punching.  The physical touch I received as a child and teen was definitely not affirming.  I remember in my high school years being tardy to class just so I could use the boys room alone, without the fear of being beat up.  Gym class was a nightmare.

My self-esteem was so low you’d have to scrape it off the floor.   I remember standing in front of the mirror, repeating the lies others had told me, speaking to my reflection and saying, “I hate you.  You’re such a loser.”

I was eight years old.

By the time I was a teenager, depression was my constant companion.  I had no friends.  I would come home from school and go to my room.  I’d watch old movies on TV until the station signed off at 1:00 AM.  I was afraid to go to sleep because of the nightmares I would have.  Suicidal thoughts became common, but I couldn’t go through with it and so I thought I was a coward on top of all the other things my peers told me I was.

I went to church every week but it didn’t help.  I always believed there was a God, but He seemed very far away.  I didn’t think He cared.

I was wrong.

No  Coffee,  Just Hugs

In 1973 I graduated high school and went to college.  After being there a month, I hadn’t made a single friend  (it’s hard to reach out when you expect and fear rejection).  I was desperately lonely and depressed, obsessed with thoughts of killing myself so the pain would end.

One day I remembered a high school classmate who had invited me to what he called a “Christian coffeehouse.”  I told him I didn’t drink coffee, and he laughed and said, “That’s okay, they don’t serve any.  It’s kinda like a church.”  I told him I wasn’t interested.

But that Christian coffeehouse-that-didn’t-serve-coffee was in the same town as my college, and one night I decided to pay a visit.  There wasn’t a meeting that evening, but a young woman named Marti was there.  Long story short, we talked for 4 hours and she led me in prayer.  That night I got saved.

I know, I know– you’re wondering, “What does all this have to do with hugs?”  I’m getting to that.

The following Monday I went to my first meeting, a “Bible study” (whatever that was).  When I walked in, the one-room building was already packed with people, mostly teens and twenties.  Marti started introducing me around.  The first person I met was a big guy with a big grin, and when Marti told him I’d just accepted the Lord, he wrapped his arms around me in a bear hug and shouted, “Praise the Lord, brother!” 

To be honest, I was stunned.  A total stranger hugging me?  A guy hugging me?

It didn’t stop with him.  Almost everyone I met that night, male and female,  hugged me.

And with each hug, I could feel a little bit of the hurt melting away.

Scientifically Proven:  Hugs Are Good For Your Health

When I did some research for this article, I was astounded to discover that scientific studies support the power of a hug.  Take a look at these facts:

  • Babies and children who are frequently hugged have reduced stress levels and improved self-worth well into adulthood.
  • IQ and emotional development is delayed in children who don’t receive hugs.
  • Hugs from early years are actually imprinted on a cellular level, helping to connect us to our ability to love ourselves
  • Hugs elevate Oxytocin levels in the body, which calms the nervous system and boosts positive emotions.
  • Hugs also increase Dopamine levels and decrease Cortisol levels, which results in lower blood pressure and relaxed muscles.
  • Hugs increase Serotonin levels as well.  Serotonin maintains mood balance and a sense of well-being, and has been proven to decrease the risk of heart problems.
  • Hugs even help to ease physical pain by stimulating blood circulation in the soft tissue
  • Hugs boost the immune system by stimulating the thymus gland, which regulates the production of disease-fighting white blood cells.
  • Hugs increase social bonding, providing a sense of belonging, acceptance, and security.

Well, who wouldn’t want a hug after reading that?

Born Again Was Only The Beginning

When I came to Christ at age 18, I was definitely damaged goods.  I had a lot of junk in the trunk.  Eighteen years of abuse– verbal, emotional, and physical– does not go away in an instant.  I was a Christian, but I was a mess.

It was the love I felt and the hugs I received that kept me coming to that Christian coffeehouse-with-no-coffee.  For the first time in my life, I felt accepted.  I was “one of the guys,” I belonged.  This was at the height of the Jesus People Movement of the late ’60s-early ’70s, when the Holy Spirit was touching young people from coast to coast.  It was an exciting time!  Sometimes I got called a “Jesus freak,” but I really didn’t mind.  I stayed with that ministry for 14 years, until sadly it imploded (a topic for future posts).  I continued walking with the Lord, and continued my journey of healing. 

It has been a long, slow process.  Lots of counseling, lots of prayer, lots of books read and tears cried.  No matter the problem, recovery isn’t easy.  Fortunately, along the way I shared my story with several close brothers in Christ, and now they never fail to greet me with a hug.  You might say I’ve become a hug-aholic!

Is my healing complete?  Not quite.  I still have some struggles that continue to this day.  But I have a Savior who will never stop loving me.  Someday I’ll get to Heaven and receive His hug– and then all will be well.  I’m looking forward to that hug!



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“I Sat in Darkness”


4 thoughts on “The Secret Power of Hugs”

  1. It is amazing, the true power of hugs! You’re right – how awesome it will be to be embraced by our Savior!! HUGS! 🙂

  2. Excellent! Here’s a huge hug!!!


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