What I learned from a good “bro-hug”

I wasn’t too keen on the exercise that I found myself participating in. To begin with, this was a new set of men that I had just acquainted myself with a few weeks prior. But there I found myself, staring eye to eye with a guy that I barely even knew. At that moment, all I knew is that I wanted to hug him…. and that simple desire brought me more shame than I had felt in a long time. 

The exercise wasn’t the least bit complex. In fact, I didn’t expect it to trigger the emotions that it did. Yet at that moment, I felt safe and grateful, and I wanted to hug him…. and I wasn’t sure how to feel about that.

I had run across information about Everyman (a group that helps destigmatize men’s emotional processes and vulnerability) earlier that year on Instagram. Throughout my life, I have found it challenging to develop meaningful connections with other men. That’s not to say that I don’t get along with men. On the contrary, I do. Nevertheless, I am by nature an empath who is both musically inclined and sports illiterate. Prior to Everyman, every men’s group that I attempted to connect with (primarily through church) was heavily slanted towards sports, cars, or hunting. None of those happen to be my love language. This left me feeling disconnected and isolated. It was as if I had no community to engage intellectually or emotionally with. Then thankfully, I encountered Everyman.

The exercise required us to pair up with another man, face each other, and connect our left eyes with a gaze. The exercise had two parts to it. First, we were to develop an awareness of how we were feeling at that moment. Then after the passing of a minute, we were to focus on and observe our partner, taking notice of the emotions that they might be feeling. 

The person that I was paired with, Brian, is one heck of a great-guy. He’s a smart, kind, and successful-dog-lover who towers over me with a height that matches the size of his smile. I instantly was drawn to his commitment to vulnerability and authenticity when I first joined the group. Although it was apparent that he was a human with faults, just like the rest of us, he shamelessly owned every ounce of good and bad that he brought into the world. He was as “no-nonsense” and “straight-up genuine” as it gets. Furthermore, his conversation created a place of safety where one was willing and eager to share common and uncommon struggles alike. I considered knowing him to be an honor and privilege.

We were told to begin, and my minute of self-observation began. As to be expected, the exercise didn’t come without a bit of discomfort. As I connected the gaze of my left eye with Brian’s I began to check in with myself. 

I noticed that I felt calm. 

I noticed that I felt valued. 

I noticed that I felt safe.

I noticed that I felt connected 

…. and I noticed that each of those feelings made me want to give Brian the “bear-est” of hugs. However, instead of giving him one, I suddenly allowed myself to be overcome with shame, and I looked down.  

As we sat down as a group to talk about our experience, Brian began to share that he could sense my discomfort. As he spoke, I sat there immersed in a shower of shame that no one could see but I. My heart was pounding fast, my head was hurting, and I could feel my legs telling me to get up and run. However, deep inside I knew that this was an opportunity for me to grow as a person. So I chose to share what was going through my mind.

It all came out of me like a muddy flood. I can’t really remember what medley of words that I put together, but somehow I told the group that in that moment all I wanted was a hug. Not the scary stalker type, or the weird clingy friend type, but just a hug of gratitude because I felt safe and connected….. and to be honest, I don’t feel safe and connected in very many places.

However, the muddy flood flowing through my mouth didn’t stop at expressing a desire for a hug. I began to tell them about the intensity of the shame that I felt at that moment.

The fear of rejection

The fear of being labeled as “gay”

The fear of making someone feel uncomfortable. 

The fear of voicing what I truly wanted at that moment. 

…. and the fear of never being able to truly connect with others, because my desire was not the societal norm.

Much to my surprise, Brian stood up and told me “Get the **** up! I’m going to give you a ******* hug.” After getting one of the best hugs that I’ve ever received, the group conversation took a moment to address the void of connection between men and how even the simple act of giving another man a hug can be misinterpreted or looked down upon. 

This is what I learned at that moment…. 

I enjoy a good “Bro-hug.”

Here’s the deal I enjoy hugs from the people that I care about, both male and female. Nevertheless, this is a far cry from the culture that I grew up in. That expression of affection doesn’t mesh too well with Mexican machismo. In fact, I can’t remember my father hugging me after childhood. He was a hard worker and great provider, but we were very emotionally disconnected from one another. It wasn’t until he developed Alzheimer’s disease that I finally was able to hug him as I had wanted all of my life. Please note, that I don’t say this as a way to bash my dad. Rather, I take complete responsibility for never telling my dad that I wanted to hug him while he still had all of his faculties.
From this point on, I have decided that I am unwilling to wait for those that I care about to lose their minds before I give them a hug.
So be warned. If you matter to me….. I just might hug you. 

I refuse to walk in shame for enjoying them. 

Expressing happiness, sadness, gratitude, affection, and brotherhood comes in all forms. One type of expression happens to be hugging…  And yes…. Some people will have a strong opinion about this. But let’s be real.
Opinions are like armpits. Everyone has them .… and some stink badly. 

Unapologetically Yours,

John Eli

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: …… a time to embrace…..
Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 5

“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” —Virginia Satir, family therapist

Published by John Eli

I am a self-awareness coach (coach for humans), life strategist, blogger and speaker. I’ve spent over 21 years mentoring individuals in life skills, career transitions, relationships, and life recovery. My resume includes pastoral care, behavioral health, and higher education. From an early age, I realized that God created me to bring hope, healing and encouragement to others. I am currently living out my purpose by creating a space where people can rediscover and become all that they were created to be. I currently live in the beautiful state of Arizona with my wife, two dogs, and an antique piano whom I call, “Betty.”

16 thoughts on “What I learned from a good “bro-hug”

  1. This is so heartfelt. As someone who is majoring in psychology, I have taken classes that focus specifically on gender differences as a result of societal expectations and how harmful these expectations can be. I absolutely love that this group takes the time to discuss the impact that the image of masculinity can have on the way a man decides to portray emotion. Cheers to eliminating the perpetuation of toxic masculinity and choosing to extend your experience with the blogging world. Blessings!

    Liked by 4 people

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