Sending Hugs


By Marianne Lyons Delorey, Ph.D.

Marianne Delorey discusses the power and the consent of a hug.
Marianne Delorey, Ph.D.

“I am different, not less.” ― Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin should be a household name. While she is truly well known in cattle ranching and autism circles, her impact has been felt in so many other spheres. And every time I learn more about her way of moving the world, I become even more impressed. I recently learned that when she was younger, she built herself a ‘hug machine’ after watching cattle go into a similar chute that squeezed them to comfort them. The deep pressure helped her and has been used to comfort many people across the autism spectrum since then.

I am a hugger. I grew up in a large family where it was normalized to hug and kiss. I remember being an adolescent and having trouble with eye contact, but I’ve never hesitated to hug someone. I don’t even mind the awkward shoulda-been-a-handshake-but-turned-into-a-hug. I laugh and accept the hug. I can’t imagine life without this physical contact.

I often think about physical touch when I think about my residents. We all make basic assumptions of others – they have similar motivations and like similar things. I assume they enjoy a quick hug or a simple touch, especially if they are hurting or having a bad day. Many have explicitly said they want me to come scratch their backs or hold their hands. I don’t mind. It is such a simple gesture for me and if it brings them comfort or warmth, all the better. It has always been my assumption that touch (especially for older adults) is wanted and needed.

But over and over again, I am reminded that not everyone is like me. A few months ago, I was at our neighbor’s house and impulsively hugged my neighbor’s son. He asked me not to do that. I told him I was sorry and I wouldn’t do that again. I love that the younger generation is learning about consent from such an early age and I especially love that he felt comfortable enough to tell me that he did not want me to hug him. Now, I am human, and I don’t enjoy being corrected, so yeah, he also made me uncomfortable with that request, but that feeling is mine to bear. I will not make that his burden by saying, “I’m only trying to show you I care” or worse, “But don’t you love me?” 

Whether or not we agree, there are lots of reasons people may not want to be touched. And while we probably can’t or shouldn’t ask people what their reasoning is, my hope is that the pandemic normalized non-hugging as a respectable choice.

When my boys were adolescents, I made them both watch a Youtube video about consent. The video likens physical touch to having a cup of tea. If you offer someone a cup of tea and they refuse, you accept that answer and move on. Taking this a step further, there is no need to ask someone why they don’t want tea. The answer is no. Asking why is irrelevant.

And so the problem with touch isn’t touch, it is consent. In a box, like the one created by Grandin, you create your own consent since the box is self-operated. Interestingly, Grandin in her later years has changed. In an interview with Time in 2010, she said, “I’m into hugging people now.” And I am glad for her. But even if that is true, she probably still likes to be asked. 

“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” ― Albert Einstein


Marianne Delorey, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or and



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