Invisible Shield

For as long as I can remember, I have not been a “huggable” person.

This used to confound me, and I actually experienced a lot of pain around it.

Huggable people are people who others want to hug freely. Hug, as in express affection for.

I remember first noticing this in college. As a freshman at a women’s college in Virginia, my friends and I would travel to the surrounding men’s colleges for parties. I would literally be standing with my other two best friends, Katie and Laura Lee, and people would come up and they would hug Laura, then grab Katie. And when they got to me, they would suddenly adopt a more subdued or formal manner and greet me verbally.

Now, Laura Lee was a beauty pageant winner who was stunning and had a perfect figure and a winning smile. I knew she was the first to attract others’ attention anywhere we were. That was just natural. Katie was a fun, fiery redhead and short; she fit right into the curve of your body, so being draw to her also made total sense to me. Who wouldn’t want to hug that?

And I was, well, me.

And I was just so confused. What was wrong with me? Why would they want to be so distant from me? To literally not touch me?

Of course, having little to no self-esteem, I immediately went to the idea that I just wasn’t pretty or interesting enough to deserve their attention. I was less than and so did not deserve a hug. This was a painful interpretation of the situation. I had no facts to support the theory, but it seemed to make sense to me.

I remember sharing about this with my high school friend Mary when we were home at Christmas break. What was wrong me? Why did no one want to hug me?

She thought it was great. She thought it gave me a sense of mystery. That people weren’t quite sure about me. And she thought this was a really big plus.

I did not think this was a plus. It felt like further evidence of my less-than-ness, my separateness. I wanted to be someone who people wanted to hug!

Later, as I got older and began to mature emotionally (aka got into therapy,) I started on a study of what in my presence could be creating this distant response of other people to me.

I began to connect dots. I looked back on the fact that over the years, I had tried to adopt a nickname or two. My name was a three syllable mouthful and was also fairly old-fashioned. It seemed like everyone had an aunt or a mother or grandmother named Margaret. So I’d attempt Maggie, or Meg, or even Mac (my initials.) But whichever version I’d try, it never stuck.

As a matter of fact, I did get nicknames, but it was usually an even more formal version of my name, such as Miss Margaret.

What I began to realize is that for whatever reason, there is a kind of formal quality to me. There is something about me that leads people to feel that they need to keep a distance physically.

What this because I was raised in a Protestant, somewhat physically non-demonstrative family? Possibly. I come from a family who believed in keeping up appearances above all else. Keep a stiff upper lip. Never let them see you sweat. And so forth. Yes, I learned to be very cautious of others, outside of the family. To hold my cards close to my chest. To watch what I said and did.

I had also developed a protectiveness in my system when very traumatic things happened to me at an early age. Anyone who has had trauma in their life knows how PTSD exists in your body.

OK, so I figured out some possible alternative theories to decry the original “I am just not lovable or worthy” theory of my youth.

What now? Well, I had to look at who I really am underneath all of that, and help myself allow that essence more space inside.

I know that at my core, my essence is warm and loving. That I am kind, and that I really want to connect.

I no longer hate or judge myself for my invisible protective shield. I have compassion and amazement at my ability to have survived as well as I did. I am patient and kind with my self and my body as I allow my essence to grow and flow.

And I have adapted the old adage if you want to be loved, love well into: I want to be hugged, so hug. I initiate the connection.

That invisible protective shield that I found so painful and frustrating before, today I claim as mine, and therefore worthy of my own love, just like any other part of me. Plus, I have it when I need it, like Wonder Woman’s invisible plane. I have a choice of whether to have the shield up or down.

Do I sometimes still wish I were more like Katie naturally and did not have to work at it? Sure. But I am me, so I do.

And so I do.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: distant


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