Science is no longer boring. Now and then scientists manage to discover truly wonderful things. For example, the fact that the physical contact of the baby and the mother, especially when she caresses the baby, leaves a permanent mark. It is an imprint at the molecular level and cannot be erased.
Surprising, but true: hugs and caresses even affect the immune and metabolic systems of a person.
We are all made in such a way that contact with loving ones not only brings joy, but also makes us stronger, helping to reveal our inherent potential. No one dies from lack of attention, and no one falls dead without caress and hugs, but it is much more difficult for such people in our world to survive without suffering.
Medicine for the soul
In fact, those who suffer from lack of love can be recognized immediately. This also applies to how they talk, how they behave, how they react to challenges and life circumstances. In fact, without love, we all feel very insecure. Even if we don’t want to admit it.
The fact is that our body, mind, our skin – all of this requires physical contact, which sends a signal through the sensory receptors that we are not alone, that we are loved, which means that it is not scary to live. These are the scenarios on which absolutely all physical processes in the body depend, from the release of oxytocin to more complex ones. It is not surprising that hugs are called the medicine for the soul. It has now been scientifically proven that hugging, stroking and touching improve our epigenetics (changes in gene expression or cell phenotype caused by mechanisms that do not affect the DNA sequence).
Moreover, these imprints of love are passed on from generation to generation. It’s hard to believe, but it is the fact.
Numerous studies confirm this amazing phenomenon, shedding light on why in some families both grandparents, fathers and children are confident and achieve success, while in others there is complete misunderstanding and resentment. But it turns out: there was no warmth and tenderness, no hugging or emotional expression.
“If you manage to find a person whom you can just hug and forget about everything in the world, then you are incredibly lucky. Even if it only lasts a minute or one day.”
— Patrick Rothfuss
The results of such studies prompt us to think about how the way in which we treat a newborn child affects his ability to care for others in the future. After all, how can you teach someone to show tenderness and care, if he did not experience it himself? His receptors do not remember such signals, his soul is deaf to love.
Hugs leave their mark on our genes, and so does the absence of hugs.
There is one very cruel and sad truth that is not so often talked about. We are talking about children deprived of parental warmth who grow up in orphanages. This is no longer a secret: these babies spend most of the day in their beds in large rooms. Yes, they are fed and kept in warmth, they are regularly weighed and carefully monitored for their health. But they do not have the main thing – the warmth of the mother’s hands, the tenderness of her embrace.
The worst thing is that these rooms are always very quiet. Tiny babies hardly ever cry. “How?!” – you ask. And the answer is simple: “They already know that crying is useless – it will not help them.”
Staff only enter these sad rooms to change diapers or feed the babies, to turn off the light in the evening and to turn it on in the morning. And that’s all. Nobody hugs or soothes the babies, as only a mother or father can. No one dispels fears and anxieties, no one helps them to feel safe. And this situation with seemingly safe and well-kept babies is a real tragedy. What a colossal impact it has on the lives of such children – one can only imagine.
According to research by psychologist Seth Pollack (University of Wisconsin-Madison), children who lack physical contact and parental attention at an early age do not develop cognitively well and are more vulnerable to stress and anxiety in the future. This means that it affects not only mental development, but also physical development, as in a state of stress there can be no talk of a healthy immune system.
This is how deeply and fundamentally hugs, or lack of them, affect the the process of growing up the fate of people. The key to all of this is in our DNA and the amazing mechanism of epigenetics, which will be discussed below.
How does hugging affect our genes?
Not so long ago, the scientific journal Development and Psychopathology published the results of a very interesting study conducted at the University of British Columbia in Canada. In this work, Dr. Sarah Moore talked about how the number of affectionate words, hugs and tenderness that a baby receives (or does not receive) determines not only how loved and protected the baby feels, but also something else. Years of observation have also shown that hugs leave a mark on a child’s genes. This is due to changes at the molecular level after each physical contact.
The fact is that touch has a direct effect on the epigenome. That is, all caresses, hugs and physical contact in the first months of a child’s life cause chemical changes in the structure of proteins and DNA itself.
All this affects the child’s behavior: the child cries less, eats well, is calm and cheerful, meaning the child develops better.
There is another striking fact. The researchers found that a positive effect on the epigenome causes changes in the structure of chromatin, which means that the genome itself changes. What does it mean? It points out to the fact that the conditions in which we form and grow affect not only our future, but also the future of our offspring.
What about adults? How do hugs affect them?
As mentioned above, the hugs we receive in the first months of life are very important. And so much so that affection, tenderness and physical contact not only determine the neurological development of a child, but also automatically affect even next generations.
In other words, trauma experienced by one generation can be passed on to the next. This, incidentally, was confirmed in a study conducted by the team of Dr. Thorstein Santavirt from Uppsala University (Sweden). Scientists have proved, using the example of several families, how the experience of the Second World War negatively influenced the fate of several generations.
So what about adults and hugs? Are they just as vital for them as for tiny and defenseless babies? Yes. Hugs work on them the same way.
When we are hugged, it has a tremendous positive effect on our brain. The fact is that this releases oxytocin, which relieves stress and anxiety, and helps us feel safe.
We all need hugs. When we are one month old, or five months, and at 20, and at 95. Our skin, regardless of our age, needs this special language – tenderness. In many cases, it is much more important than words.
Caresses and hugs fill our life with joy and happiness, they strengthen ties between people and make us feel safe on Earth.
Written By Tyara Wolf
Psychology and Personal Development