The Hugging Dilemma: Deep Connection vs. Personal Boundaries

By Richard West

Guest writer for Wake Up World

Hugging. It can be one of the most powerfully healing ways of connecting with someone, releasing the bonding hormone oxytocin into our systems. It can help us to feel connected, release emotions and experience love. However, if you, like me, are quite sensitive to other people’s energies, it can also pose a problem. Empathic people often take on other people’s ‘stuff’ just by being in close proximity to them. It’s part of the reason why they can seem overwhelmed by some situations, introverted, or just overly emotional. It is particularly an issue in spiritual gatherings, where the ‘social norm’ is often to hug one another. But, to highly sensitive people, what had the potential to be a loving connection can turn into a very uncomfortable and invasive feeling, which is difficult to recover from afterwards.

With so much pressure and expectation around hugging at spiritual gatherings, how can we establish boundaries, while still experiencing deep soulful connection with those around us?

Establishing Boundaries

If you are a person, like me, who enjoys hugging but sometimes finds it a little overwhelming, it is very important to establish boundaries that work for you. Firstly, I try to only hug people that I already feel a soulful connection with. I find it far less invasive to let people into my space if I can feel that we are compatible. I can’t explain it in a logical way, except to say that I’m sure everyone can relate to feeling more drawn to some people than others.

I don’t always get it right. The last time I attended an event where hugging was the norm, I came to a guy who seemed to have a very gentle energy. However, the hug spoke entirely differently, with this guy practically massaging me mid-hug. His energy felt extremely needy, especially when I tried to cut this contact and he practically clung to me. Afterwards, I had to spend a few moments releasing some of his stuff which I felt within me, and re-centering myself, before I was able to commune with anyone else.

It takes some practice to feel what your boundaries are, and even more practice to express them. I find this especially true in gatherings where hugging is not just invited, but expected. You may not want to risk offending someone by saying no. Firstly, I would say that a person’s reaction is not your responsibility. Secondly, a short explanation can go a long way. Thirdly, there are many less invasive alternatives to the full-on embrace.

Maintaining Deep Soulful Connection

The number one way of connecting deeply, soul to soul with someone, without taking on their energy, is eye contact! They say that the eyes are the window to the soul, and I really feel this is true. Not only does eye contact allow a non-invasive, soul to soul connection, but it also provides you with a mirror to your own soul.


There are many ways of compromising when you don’t feel to hug someone. All of them involve eye contact. Here are a two of the best ways that you can do this:

Talk to them:

Asking people about themselves shows them that you do want to connect with them. As a sensitive person, empathising with them is a great tool to dissolve any bad feeling from refusing a hug. Remember, lots of eye contact. You could even invite them to sit with you if you feel to and the situation allows it.

Invite them to soul gaze with you:

Soul gazing is an extended period of eye contact. Stand opposite each, and without speaking, just stare into each others eyes. This can produce all the same affects as a hug, such as release of the hormone oxytocin and emotional feeling, but without the invasion of your space. In fact this can be even more powerfully connecting than a hug, while not taking on any of any person’s ‘stuff’. (See: Eye Gazing — An Exercise for Soul Vision.)

Of course, there may be times when you absolutely don’t feel to engage someone. That’s fine; being clear about it without being judgemental is very powerful. Discernment is key. The people you come across will feel this.


Being open as a being and yet being clear about your energetic boundaries can sometimes feel like walking a blade edge. It takes practice and plenty of self-awareness. However, you’ll find that when deep soulful connection happens, the authenticity of it will actually magnify the experience.

I wish you an interesting and rewarding exploration.

With love,

Recommended reading by Richard West:

About the author:

Richard West

Richard West is a carer, psychologist, spiritual facilitator and writer. After a life of much change, both wanted and unwanted, he decided to embrace all aspects of change, and be a reflection of this for others. Today Richard is a spiritual facilitator at Openhand. He offers services in Spiritual Facilitation and Conscious Dying on his website ‘Back to the Source’ and writes regular articles on his blog.

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