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Question #154: I have extreme anxiety about being touched and hugged. How do I survive an upcoming funeral?

wide-brimmed black hat with veil

Nature has ways of staying "don't touch." We have fancy hats and words we learned in therapy.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have some pretty intense reactions to being physically touched. Basically, I can’t stand being physically touched by most people – and I especially don’t like being hugged. It makes me feel trapped and physically sick. I’ve learnt to deal with it on occasions where it would be awkward or rude not to, so it doesn’t impact my interpersonal relationships too much, but I still don’t like it.

However, I really cannot deal with being hugged if the person hugging me is very emotional – like if they’re crying. On the few occasions where this has happened to me, I’ve been very shaky afterwards and I felt like I’d been physically violated. Now usually I just avoid situations where this might occur, I go about my life with minimal physical contact and I’m fine. However…

My grandfather’s funeral is coming up (he’s got at the most a couple of weeks left and funereal preparations are under way). I know it might seem self-involved to be concerned for myself when my grandfather is going to die, but this is a huge issue for me.  

First of all, it’s very important to my mum that I attend the funeral, so not attending isn’t really an option.

Now: My mum has never been very respectful of my desire to not be hugged, even though I’ve talked to her about it, and it’s not something any of my extended family members are aware of.

I know that my mum is going to be very emotional at her father’s funeral (obviously), as will the rest of the family. There have been numerous times in the past when my mum has been crying and she’s clung on to me for over a minute, completely disregarding my feelings. It’s physical torture. When I bring it up to her, she makes me feel guilty (“But I’m your mother!”) and tells me that I’m a cold person. I’m worried that at the funeral, I’m going to be stuck in a situation where my mother will constantly want to cry into my shoulder and all my aunts and my grandmother will want to pull me into teary hugs. I feel like they’ll be extremely hurt if I push them away, but I really don’t feel like putting myself through physical torture just to spare my relatives’ feelings. This will be my first funeral, so this is the first time I’ve had to deal with this prospect.

Anyway, my question is this:

Do you think there’s some polite way to avoid physical contact at the funeral, or should I just suck it up and deal with my own feelings afterwards? I really don’t want to hurt my relatives’ feelings or appear rude (especially at a funeral!) but I feel like the emotional intensity combined with all the hugging, hand-holding etc. might be too much for me to bear.

Thank you for any advice you’re able to give, and for taking the time to read my letter. I think you’re fantastic!

For what it’s worth: I’m a 20 year old woman.

Signed,

Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place 

Dear Stuck:

First, I’m sorry about your grandfather.

Second, I feel very stumped in answering this question in a “the only credential I have is an MFA in film” kind of way, so I’m hoping the readers will come save the day. In the meantime, I will throw things at the wall and see what sticks.

One possible solution is for you to hug your mom and your aunts first (everyone else gets a handclasp of solidarity). It allows you to choose the time (and a little bit about the duration) of the hug. Then it’s out of the way and the anxiety of “Oh god, will this person hug me?” is not hanging over you the entire time?  Except there will always be more relatives and you will still feel anxious and crowded?

Comedy suggestion: Could you swath yourself in a hat with a giant veil and long black gloves (protective armor from another era), and any time anyone comes near you, retreat behind it?

Could you not explain at all, but take a big step back when they lunge and say “I’m sorry, I can’t hug you, but I love you and I am so so sorry?” Don’t explain the why, just the what. I feel like pregnant women, people with certain illnesses, people with small children need to consistently enforce the “I’m sorry, could you not touch? Thanks.” boundary a lot, and maybe the less explaining the better.

Have you ever sought professional help to help you handle this anxiety about being touched?  Again, I am not any kind of clinical anything, but what you are describing sound like panic attacks.  I feel oogy about the idea of you having to medicalize your symptoms and show that you’ve sought “treatment” for them from a suitable authority figure when a simple “Oh, that’s Stuck, she doesn’t like to be touched” eccentricity should work in maintaining boundaries you’ve set, but it’s an explanation that your mom might accept in a letter before coming home.

Mom & Aunts, I need to talk about hugs again, because I am having a lot of anxiety about Grandpa’s funeral. I love you so much and I want to be there for you, but being touched and hugged gives me panic attacks with the following symptoms (symptoms). I’m working with a therapist to figure out why I have them and treat this so it causes me less anxiety, but I need you to understand that it is very serious. If I don’t touch you, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you, and I don’t want to hurt your feelings. But I need to take care of myself around this, and I need you to understand and help me by letting me be the one to initiate any hugging and to understand if I take a step back.”

If she makes you feel guilty or calls you a cold person, treat it like any guilt trip. “That hurts my feelings, mum. I really struggle with this and I want to be honest with you so we can take care of each other.”

Then you can figure out what you can handle and give what you can. Put your hand on your mom’s shoulder or something to let her know you’re there for her. Funerals are exhausting, so make sure you can supply tissues, glasses of water, reminders for her to take breaks, doing the washing up and making dinner without being asked, and generally being a rock for her throughout that week. Build in a lot of breaks for yourself to take naps, be by yourself, and recharge.

Readers, help me out here.

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34 comments
  1. robiewankenobie said:

    i’ve done the funeral thing lately, and i’ll tell ya, it does come with a certain amount of hugging. i’m not one for uninvited hugs, so i will tell you that the hugging first option is a viable one. it gives you a certain amount of control in a situation that, realistically, you can’t control. i don’t know if you have a therapist, but this would be a good time to get one. a good shrink can help you develop some strategies to band-aid this situation, and get you some medicinal courage should you need it. it’s important to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your family. you know, oxygen mask on yourself first and all that.

  2. Travis said:

    Sorry for your loss, LW. This isn’t an easy time for you in anyway. My condolences.

    I think the big thing to remember here is: you have a right to grieve however you feel. When I’m grieving, I’m a hugger and a crier. Some people grieve, I’m sure, with dancing and drinking and a big middle finger to mortality. I would feel much the same way in that situation as you probably feel in a hug.

    If someone comes up to you and wants a hug, be honest: “I can’t, I’m sorry. I don’t want to be touched right now while I’m grieving for my Grandfather. But would you stay and talk for a bit?”

    It might seem a bit dishonest–obviously this isn’t about your Grandfather–but it’s still true: you can’t focus on remembering your Grandfather if people are giving your anxiety-inducing hugs.

    Invite people to grieve with you in your way. If they get insistent, CA has come great advice for that sort of thing (here and elsewhere, I’m sure you know). But everyone, BUT EVERYONE should respect your personal practice of grief (and everything else to, but you know, one thing at a time).

    Again, sorry for your loss. Best of luck to you!

    • JenniferP said:

      “If someone comes up to you and wants a hug, be honest: “I can’t, I’m sorry. I don’t want to be touched right now while I’m grieving for my Grandfather. But would you stay and talk for a bit?”

      Aaaaaaaah perfect.

      • robiewankenobie said:

        This is PERFECT for the situation. However I’m not sure that it will work so well with her mom…

        • I wonder if, in the mom situation, Stuck could run off to “compose herself”? I’m a crier and a hugger, personally, but I literally had to run out of the “shaking hands line” at my mother’s funeral when a childhood friend told me she remembered these cookies my mom used to make. It was a total “If I stay here one more second, I will have a panic attack” thing, and I just said “I love you but I need a minute” and sprinted to the bathroom for a sob and a splash of water on my face. I felt conspicuous at the moment, but honestly, nobody gave me a second look–it was normal behavior. I guess what I’m saying is that, just as you get to grieve however is best for you, grieving also gives you a tiny pass to act “eccentric” that you might not have in other situations. If Stuck’s mom comes up and starts to do the cry-hug, Stuck could go “Mom, I love you but I need to be alone for a few minutes” and retreat until Mom of Stuck’s urge has passed. What do you think?

  3. teabq said:

    This is just off of the top of my head, but how about pretending to be sick? If anyone comes near you you can back off and indicate you don’t want them to catch what you have. It’s by no means a long-term solution, but it might be a stop-gap one for the extreme situation that a funeral creates.

    Granted this assumes that someone like your mom doesn’t bust you in the lie.

    A variation on this might be to indicate that you’re in the kind of grief where you can’t handle hugs. Well-meaning relatives might not understand “please don’t touch me b/c I don’t like to be touched” but they might grok “please don’t touch me because I’m trying to keep it together and a hug is only going to make me cry harder.”

  4. Jake said:

    I don’t know if it will work in a family situation, but have you considered wearing a sign? I’m completely serious. You could wear a sign that says “I can’t be hugged, please respect my needs.” or something. It does mean a) coming out to your family about your touch issues and b) spending a lot of time talking about them, but maybe it’s worth it? I’ve seen people do this at conferences if they had some sort of need that everyone needed to know about.

    Also, maybe ask the officiant to say something? When my uncle’s father died there were a couple of people at the funeral who had compromised immune systems and couldn’t really be hugged by tens of people safely, so at the end of the service, the person conducting the service just briefly mentioned “X and Y have compromised immune systems, please offer your condolences to them from a safe distance.” Maybe you can talk to the officiant about how it could be phrased for you in a way that will induce people to take it seriously? Plus, if it comes from an authority figure maybe people will be more likely to respect it? Do you know this person at all? If they are your religious leader or whatever maybe they will want to help you out.

    Also, I know you said it’s important to your mom that you go, but it doesn’t really sound like your mom is respecting your boundaries, so I think it might be okay to enforce some distance and not go to the funeral. If she asks why you can tell her the truth. “I know that if I go, you and others are not going to respect my boundaries. I don’t want to put myself in a situation where lots of people will hug me. I am not okay with it.” She’ll be mad and probably have a bit of a tantrum, but maybe that’s better than being hugged? Or maybe lie? Make all the plans to go to the funeral, and then on the day of, say you have the stomach flu. This is easier to pull off if you don’t live with your parents, but even if you do it’s not impossible. I find it’s easier to pull this off if you lay a little groundwork the night before. “I’m feeling kind of run down, I’m going to go to bed early tonight.” Don’t mention that you might not be able to go tomorrow, just say you don’t feel so hot.

  5. Rachel said:

    First, I’m sorry, this is a sucky situation. The first funeral always is, and this is going to be an emotionally draining experience no matter what. So while it’s tempting to think, “suck it up, I know my limits, I can deal later,” you’re going to be under a lot of stress, and you don’t want to make this a more traumatic situation than it already is.

    I have really serious reactions against being hugged or touched unexpectedly: for me, they started as flashbacks to being mugged. I can actually start shaking and wanting to cry after someone hugs me or touches me unexpectedly, which I eventually realized were panic attacks. and I get guilt-tripped by this heavily, especially because I don’t like hugging or kissing my own family members, and they don’t seem to remember my boundaries.

    It might be easiest, in some ways, to lie: say, “I’m sorry, I have a really bad cold and I don’t want to spread the germs, but I wanted to be here for my grandfather,” and cough/sneeze strategically. (If you’re allergic to anything, you can expose yourself to an allergen beforehand — this is an easy out for me, because I’m allergic to dust, so I can make myself seem “mildly” ill at nearly any venue very easily without actually being sick.) Another possibility is to have something with you that you can use to help you gain your equilibrium — a smartphone game or book that you can use for short periods of time while going to the bathroom. (I’m well-known for escaping draining social situations with a book — my family members don’t like it, but they’ve started to accept it as my weird quirk.)

    But this is a short-term solution to a long-term issue: this could get you out of the funeral itself, but not dealing with feeling like your reactions are abnormal in some way. They’re not. You just deal differently than other people. That’s not wrong. It just is. And you need to explain that to your mom, especially when she starts guilt-tripping you. “Mum, this is the way I’m dealing with pain. It’s different than yours, because I’m a different person than you are. Please respect my ways of dealing.”

    Several people in my life, who are normally quite good advice-givers, suggested that I go into some kind of aversion-therapy, where I have people touch me repeatedly until I get over having a panic attack. This thought gave me a panic attack. But I’ve been trying a modified approach: to have people who are really close friends (and not my biological family members), who wouldn’t judge but would understand, to get me more comfortable with being touched and touching. This might work with you: try to build up your tolerance for hugging with close friends or people who you find completely non-threatening (in an emotionally draining sense). Initiating hugs might work. But if you try it a couple of times and it doesn’t work — if you find yourself saying, “no, hugs are not the way I express strong emotional feelings of connections for other people,” then that’s fine, be okay with it. Everyone’s different in the way they express things. It’s okay to be so. You’re not a hugger. Neither are the people on Seinfeld. It’s okay.

    • xenoglossy said:

      Having a book or something like that is a great suggestion. Dealing with large groups of people I don’t know well makes me anxious, and adding further stressors like work makes it even worse, so when I used to have to go to a lot of work parties I’d smuggle a book or my ds in my purse and run off to the bathroom with it for fifteen minutes whenever it all got to be too much. It really does help for pulling yourself together, although it’s not something you should lean on too much.

  6. I am sympathetic. I also do not like to be hugged, although perhaps not to the same extent as the LW. At my grandmother’s funeral, myself and my female relatives very much took on a sort of hosting stance: we wanted people to feel loved, feel glad that they came. Maybe it’s kind of messed up to worry about everyone having a good time at a funeral, but that’s the kind of women we are. Anyway, I hugged and hugged. I was often the hug initiator, which helped – I could break it off after a good brisk envelopment – and I also was in Hostess Mode, so I was way more focused on my relatives’ comfort than my own.

    I’m not saying this is healthy, but it’s what got me through it. This may not be an option for the LW, but for some, a little sneaky jerkbrain action can allow you insulate yourself from a barrage of undesired social interactions.

    Apart from that: among my friends, when I’m upset, I often say “Please don’t hug me, that will make me cry.” For me, this is true, and my friends respect my space; with less-close relatives, I think fear of making someone cry would give them pause, but I also think Travis’s script is a much more elegant answer.

    Here is a nice story. At my gram’s funeral, a longtime family friend brought his small son, who was just waking to the wonders of Stars Wars and also was going through a period of not wanting to hug. The friend brought his son to me for a hello, and encouraged him to give me a “Jedi hug.” “I’m hugging you with my miiiind!” said the little boy, encircling air with his arms.
    It was in fact just the kind of hug I wanted, and I told him so!

    • commanderlogic said:

      I frikkin’ LOVE the “Jedi hug” concept.

      When I’m sick, it’s my hug option of choice, but now it has a name!

    • JenniferP said:

      Jedi Hugs! I’m making that an Official Thing now. Thank you.

  7. don't touch me either said:

    My dad died unexpectedly just over a year ago. Several siblings of mine and I are “no touch” type people and this is how we coped before, during, and after the funeral:

    Re-direct huggers to mom or other family members: when the hugger comes in for a hug, catch them by the upper arms to hold them at arms length and say very sincerely “I’m so glad you came. Mom, Grandma, Auntie X) needs a lot of support right now and I know she’d love to see you”, Turn them gently in the right direction (after all, you are still holding their upper arm) to point out their new target.

    Be very busy: Become The One Who Is Looking After Stuff. Are there small children that need to be wrangled? Tea to be made? Food to be served? Chairs organized? Thank you cards written? Etc. If someone tries to re-direct you say “It helps if I keep busy” or “keeping busy helps me cope”. Choke up a bit if you want. They will generally leave you alone. This is an awesome thing, because if you disappear for a bit to spend some alone time, everyone will still assume that You Are Busy Helping someone else.

    Do not be ashamed to deliberately evade people: This worked well for my brother. He disappeared for several days and put together a memorial video before the funeral. During the funeral, he managed not to sit with family by insisting on managing the audio/video “so nothing would go wrong”, and did yard/farm/maintenance work after the funeral. If some of your family members are the clingy type who just won’t let go once they see you, it is okay to make sure they won’t see you. There are plenty of other people who would be happy to be clung to, because it makes them feel needed. Let them fill that niche.

    • robiewankenobie said:

      ah! a re-direct that also encompasses her mother. that’s pretty brilliant.

    • The grasp-arms-and-redirect also works well on dogs that jump up on one.

    • turtle said:

      oh this reminds me of… something. now I can’t remember if it was real life or in a west wing episode. but in my memory, a Palestinian leader came to visit the White House, and I guess as was custom in his part of the world, the white house staff knew he would go for a kiss in greeting, but they thought it would be an extremely bad photo op to have the president kissing him. So what they did was have the president hold out his right hand for a handshake, and use his left hand to grasp the Palestinian leader’s arm, which simultaneously looked like a warm gesture, but kept him at arm’s distance, so he couldn’t lean in for a kiss.
      ack. now I wish I could remember if this was real life (Clinton + Arafat?) or TV (Bartlet + fictionalized Palestinian leader?). google is not helping me.

      but yes, this strategy of redirecting hugs has a precedent. somewhere.

  8. Karla said:

    You say your mom isn’t very supportive about this, is there some other relative that could come to your aid? It seems like it would be easier to fend off unwanted hugs if you had an ally who didn’t act like you’re crazy. Who could chime in in agreement, “oh yes, she just doesn’t like to be touched. It must be worse for her under the stress of a death in the family.”

    Also, seems like changing the subject would be helpful in a time like this. Have some anecdotes about your grandfather on hand. So its ” I can’t hug right now. Do you remember when…” instead of “please don’t touch me” followed by a big awkward pause. Your not wanting to be touched really shouldn’t be a big awkward thing, you should be able to just say no thanks and move on with life without making a big awkward deal out of it.

    I suppose as a disclaimer I should say my family doesn’t really hug that much, except for stuff like funerals, so maybe I don’t know how these things work. Good luck though.

  9. Dorothy said:

    You might arrive at the church (or wherever the funeral will be held) a bit late, letting your mother know beforehand that you can’t seem to get your car started or feel physically sick, as it’s your first funeral, but will be at the service as soon as you can. Make up some excuse. That way you won’t have to mingle with all the people before the service, and they’ll already be seated by the time you arrive. Then, toward the end of the funeral, you could tell your mother that you have to leave because the physical sickness has gotten worse (stomachache/blinding headache, etc.), as the service has been very overwhelming for you. Look ill while you go out. Believe me, people will respect the fact that you feel sick. It’s understandable, at funerals, for all kinds of emotions and physical symptoms to be displayed. Besides, people seem to accept physical sickness excuses a lot quicker than emotional/psychological ones. You’d feel physically sick, anyway, if you had to remain and hug people. Since your mother is not supportive (I’m sorry to hear), telling the truth at such a difficult time for her might not go over well at all.

    Getting some therapy or undergoing hypnosis sessions would be a good way to get at the root of this, and I wish you all the best!!!

  10. As a hugger, I am now retroactively mortified that I have caused people to feel the way the LW and commenters are feeling. I am grateful you all know that we huggers mean no harm. I hope my perspective’s insight can be helpful.

    As one who would seek a hug from you, LW, I can say that many of these suggestions above would probably work, and the officiant making an announcement would also work. My favorite: “Please don’t hug me, it will make me cry harder” – that would definitely work on me. I would probably lean toward you, or touch your shoulder, but I would stay out of the hug. I know the ideal is no touching, but in a short term funereal solution, you may need to allow that the grieving are not at their full Being Awesome and Considerate Of Others capacity.

    However, I think it would also be a kindness for you to initiate touch to the emotionally closest person to you who is the most bereaved: Initiate a hug for your mom on your own terms, since she needs it in this terrible time, as a sacrifice/gesture/gift to her, and then do your self-protective thing and keep your distance from the masses, and her. She will have plenty of folks to hug with all the family around.

    I’m not sure of the gradients of your aversion – perhaps you could clasp hands and make eye contact with folks, if you can bear that level of contact? I know when I am reaching to hug or touch, I am reaching to affirm that the living people around me I care about are still there, are still warm, and to feel their caring through their touch. If I couldn’t hug you for your loss, but I could clasp your hand and look sincerely into your eyes, I would feel like I could give you some of my energy/strength for your loss, and I would feel comforted that you were still with us. Hand-clasping is an under-rated form of affection. Maybe some people need to sag histrionically on the shoulder of someone and soak their jacket – those folks should be directed to people who do the same. But generally speaking, I think if you can allow a small breach (hand clasping is less claustrophobic, I hope, and more easily broken from – and you can wear gloves, if the skin on skin thing skeeves you out) you will provide a lot of comfort to your relatives with little/less discomfort to yourself. And going in there armed with a strategy should reduce the anxiety of what might happen. You’ll gird yourself to give your mom a warm hug before you get in the car, and then you’ll feel confident knowing you won’t have to do more than hold hands with someone for a moment.

    I totally get that I rather cavalierly just asked you to “get over it” a little, and I don’t mean to be insensitive to your needs. I am just trying to help illustrate some of the motives behind all the touching so you can see what a great gift you can give in the time of someone’s loss to share a little warmth while protecting your hug zone.

    I am very sorry for your impending loss. A Jedi hug to you.

  11. Rydra Wong said:

    I just wanted to mention that extreme dislike of being touched isn’t necessarily an anxiety or trauma thing, though of course it can be; there’s something called “tactile defensiveness”, which often accompanies issues like Asperger’s syndrome or sensory integration disorder.

    Obviously, this doesn’t solve the letter-writer’s problem, and I agree with the Captain that she shouldn’t have to medicalize her symptoms in order to have her boundaries respected.

    But it helped me a lot to know that yeah, it’s a real thing, and to have an explanation I can give to other people to help them understand that it’s not an emotional rejection. And this is one possible cause that hasn’t been mentioned yet.

    • Gretchen said:

      Wow, I’d never heard of tactile defensiveness before, thank you! I have a tendency to medicalize my quirks, not for myself really but more for those around me. I totally agree that when trying to explain a particular irk quirk to someone it does help during explanation to use a term that if fully google-able (and recommend they google it) to be taken seriously and establish sustainable boundaries. It shouldn’t be necessary, but sadly it often is, so thanks again!

  12. AmyJ said:

    I’m a big fan of the simple declaration of truth, with no explanation, but with recognition of the intent: “I’m sorry, I need you not to hug me. Thank you so much for the support.” Or, if the support is flowing the other way, “I’m sorry, I can’t hug you — but what else can I do to help you feel supported?” Maybe say that to mum before the event, so the two of you can have a plan in place?

    If someone persists, maybe go with the broken record (just repeat the statement). I think in a funeral setting, most folks will get the hint pretty quickly, since people tend to be focused on grieving together and not Focusing On This Weird Thing about LW.

  13. chi said:

    I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a Miss Manners answer about this being that a hand stuck forward is a clear “shake my hand, don’t hug me” sign. I tend toward the hugger side, and there is kind of a reciprocal dance about it. Or, there should be, but apparently there are a lot of people who don’t notice that the intended recipient isn’t doing the matching movements. Standing up straight with a proffered hand (would the glove idea above help?) should redirect an incoming hug into a shake/clasp with accompanying warm words, “Thank you so much for being here, this means so much to us, etc.” Maybe you’d get a a shake/clasp plus lean-toward-shoulder at worst? I re-read and see that you’re wanting to avoid physical contact outright, so this might not be enough.

    Maybe you could think of multiple lines of defense, like first is outright stating your boundaries to people close enough, then doing other things mentioned to set up the situation, then if a situation arises do the body language, which should take care of most, then if you get someone really clueless or let’s say clouded with grief, then pull out the scripts others have suggested.

  14. Mortisha said:

    This might get a bit of flack, but since it is all happening in the next couple of weeks and the chance of working it all out through a therapist so quickly is slim. Could you maybe get a couple of days supply of beta blockers or anti anxiety medication from your doctor?.

    Still take all the great coaching advice offered, and have a temporary escape plan ready. Taking a long walk around the block or organising with a trusting friend to sneak off for a coffee or to hang out at the swings at the local park. Anything to reduce your anxiety – even if it is just locking yourself in a bedroom for 20 mins,

    I know too well that funerals and the organisation, stress, catering and revolving door of long lost relatives can be even super intense & overwhelming even for those of us who are OK with hugging.

    Honestly the last couple of funerals for my close family, I can’t remember a damn thing it was all a blur. Most people know everyone has their own way of coping. Only a asshole would criticise someone for not handling the situation in the ‘right way’.

    Some of us need space, TONS of it. Take it. If others can’t handle it, well tough.

  15. Letter Writer said:

    Hi, Letter Writer here. I just wanted to say thank you to everybody for all the supportive comments. It’s nice to get some validation and there’s some really helpful advice in here.

    I really like the idea of fending off incoming hugs by saying something like “Please don’t hug me right now, it will only make me cry harder.” I think people might be more understanding of my desire not to be touched if I frame it as a “grieving preference” as opposed to as a general personal quirk.

    Also, keeping myself busy and becoming The One Who is Looking After Stuff is definitely a good idea. It will allow me to show my support and be there for people in a less physical way.

    Finally, I think it might be helpful for me to initiate supportive words and perhaps some lighter physical contact (like hand-holding) with the people I’m closer to as a way of going into these interactions on my own terms. That way I hopefully won’t appear like I’m being cold if I fend off or redirect their hugs later on.

    Thank you again for all your helpful advice! I’m feeling a little less anxious about the situation now.

    • Good luck, and I hope your grandfather’s death is peaceful.

  16. kate said:

    In general, I like the straightforward verbal “these are my needs” approach, and to hell with anyone who can’t deal with that. You have every right to decide how you are touched, regardless of how well-intentioned the touching is, or why you don’t want to be touched.

    Still, when I read the question I did think of a sling, which can be purchased at most drugstores. You could tell people you really wrenched your shoulder the day before you came, and that while the doctor says it is nothing serious it is still quite tender so hugging is out. A sling would probably automatically slow people down as they swooped in with the hugs. (Plus it would makes hugging physically awkward, so any hugs would be very brief).

    You could even combine the two approaches — wear a sling for that visual barrier, but when anyone asks, say lightly “actually, my arm is fine, but hugging is sooo not my thing, and I’m using the sling to slow people down so I have a chance to say so.”

  17. Tradtional Married said:

    This is me, too…I can’t stand being touched, and my family knows it and ignores it. I don’t have anything to offer you except solidarity, I guess, and wishes that it goes well for you! Jedi hugs!!

  18. Kate said:

    An odd suggestion. I don’t have an aversion to hugs, but when my grandmother’s memorials (she was a popular lady in a small town with a big family, we had to have 3 services for her to fit everyone in) happened, I was unlucky enough to get pinkeye (conjuntivitis) which is really contagious. So I didn’t hug anyone, because I didn’t want to give anyone pinkeye (except my uncle who insisted and yep, he got it).

  19. Not a hugger. My friends know to judge my level of drunkenness by whether or not I will hug voluntarily. My immediate family has running jokes about how we don’t touch each other, but when I met my husband’s aunt the day before our wedding she hugged me and I said out loud, “Oh wow, we’re hugging.” And she was like, “Oh, you’re not a hugger?” And I was like, “No, no I’m not.” Apparently I became the object of family gossip after that but nobody else has ever tried to hug me. It’s possible they think I’m a bitch, but at least I don’t have to be held close by people I don’t know! This is probably not grandpa’s memorial service-appropriate. BUT in post-funeral situations, you could just be real direct and awkward about it once or twice and word may just spread on its own, since clearly your mom isn’t going to stick up for you. *Fist-bump in non-touching solidarity.*

  20. I don’t see a problem with medicalizing it. It is a medical condition—her anxiety is extreme and she will probably be facing a combination of therapy and drugs when she finally chooses to deal with it. There’s probably some underlying issues there. I doubt that this symptom is happening in isolation from others. One of the *reasons* we “medicalize” things is to explain that what is difficult to explain. You’re right that people “should” be able to set boundaries without any explanation whatsoever, and in some cases, it’s important to enforce that. But when your boundaries fall so far outside of the norms and are indicative of mental illness, it’s understandable that your family members can’t handle it. Giving them a reason is only the fair thing to do. After all, your mom did raise you!

  21. I will add that in seeking a therapist for what sounds like a serious social anxiety disorder, look for those who practice cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s the only kind that’s been shown scientifically to work, and importantly, it’s very good at attack behavioral issues such as “panicking when expected to do normal, non-intrusive social things”. It’s about replacing bad habits with good ones until the good ones feel normal. But don’t try it on your own! Your problems sound too serious.

  22. If the LW is okay with some amount of physical contact, you can try my patent-pending Side Hug and Disarm combo. When someone comes at you to hug, put your arms out with your elbows bent like a Lego man and grab their upper arms, just above the elbow, then turn them sideways so that you’re standing next to each other (facing the same way). Then hug them to you sideways (you can use the arm closest to you to keep a grip on their arm and make sure they don’t try to morph this into a full-frontal hug). Add a few reassuring arm pats and then jet out of there.

    I know the LW needs some immediate strategies to get through the funeral, but I’d definitely recommend seeing a therapist. While I get that some people just have an aversion to being touched (I do too, except from a very short Short List of approved touchers), I do think at a certain point it gets severe enough to interfere with living your life, and therapy could help with that.

  23. I like JenniferP’s suggestion. Just being frank is okay in such a situation.

    But that’s just a short-term solution. In the end it’s best that you learn to cope with these situations.

    Almost every fear can be conquered. It usually isn’t that easy, especially if you’ve been suffering with it for that long. Cognitive behavioral therapy is probably the best way to go for irrational thoughts. It worked wonders for me.

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