I showed a friend a picture of myself with another friend the other day. He remarked, “You’re hugging her. That tells me what I need to know about her.” Because of the physical abuse I’ve dealt with in the past, there are very few people with whom I let my boundaries down, and when I trust someone enough for physical contact, that’s a big deal for me. I’m touchy-feely with family members and lovers, but with friends, a hug from me is a pretty big lowering of boundaries.
That makes certain interactions within the pagan community very uncomfortable for me. Sometimes the fact that I’m not comfortable with being kissed, or with someone expecting a hug the first time we meet, makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me. The people offering physical affection are such kind, warm, welcoming people that I wish I could be comfortable with it, but my gut reaction to unexpected physical contact tends less towards “yay, hugs!” and more GETITOFFGETITOFFGETITOFF. I wish I were OK with it, but behind those boundaries is where I feel safe. With good friends whom I’ve known a while, I’m perfectly fine with hugs if I’m expecting them, but being kissed or surprised with hugs, even by good friends, or expected to deal with hugs from near strangers is anxiety-inducing even on a good day.
So what can a person do, needing to decline most physical contact but afraid to come across as though rejecting the genuinely kind people who aren’t expecting to find a boundary there? I know part of my issue is being a woman raised in the South and having been socialized from an early age not to upset people, but I don’t know where the reasonable medium is between allowing contact that is uncomfortable for me and the instinctive, panicked EW NO GET OUT OF MY BUBBLE that is my immediate, internal reaction. I wish the community were a safer place for people like me, who like other people just fine, but would prefer any physical contact to be on our own terms.