Learning to Say No to an Unsolicited Hug

We spend an inordinate amount of time teaching girls to be nice and respect others, and not enough time on how to respect themselves, their bodies, and their minds. If all we tell our girls is that they are made of sugar and spice and everything nice and that in life you have to smile, say yes, and be agreeable, then we are training them to be victims. Sometimes the answer lies in the ability to say yes or no to a hug. In writer, storyteller, and teacher Jamie Waggoner’s Artemis’s workshop, girls learn about:

“A goddess who is very empowered in her maidenhood, in her girlhood, womanhood, she’s all about boundaries, working with nature and putting your sights on what you want. Those are kind of her big three lessons and unapologetically going for what you want. Those are some pretty good lessons for girls, right?”

Jamie tells the story of Artemis, who, against her father’s wishes, chose her own path and used her bow and arrow to aim at her goals in life. Artemis’s story teaches girls that they can be independent and reach for the stars. Then comes the hugging exercise. Participants, both women and girls, pair up, and then one decides to be the person requesting the hug and the other the person being asked to be hugged. In front of the group, each pair does the exercise. The person asks something like, “Can I have a hug?” and the girl on the other end can choose to say yes or no. There is great power in letting girls know at an early age that they have the right to say no. Jamie of course teaches them that they should be polite and respectful in saying no, but that there is nothing wrong with not wanting someone to touch you if you do not feel comfortable or in the mood. The idea being that if a girl learns this now at an early age, it will be much easier for her to refuse an unwanted physical or sexual advance from a man or a woman later. As Jamie points out, this exercise is also important in helping build body memory. By practicing in safe spaces like a workshop or Red Tent, girls and women can consciously learn in a both a psychological and kinesthetic way so that when they encounter a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable their body and mind will respond appropriately.

Amy Jo Goddard, sexual empowerment coach and author of Woman on Fire:

“We violate the boundaries of small children when we make them hug adults. It starts there. It starts when we’re very young, and certainly many girls go through sexual assaults and violations and abuse. There’s so many ways that already, just by adolescence, we’ve learned that we don’t get to have sovereign boundaries. It needs to be practiced. They need to understand how to set a boundary. They need to understand how to check in with themselves to figure out what their want is.”

Jamie also highlights that consent can change and goes way beyond hugging:

“Boundaries and consent are a big issue. Consent can change. Just because you tell someone yes one time doesn’t mean it’s yes all the time, or yes the next time. It might be no the next time and then yes again. Something I’m working on personally is that consent of touching has now spilled over into other areas of my life where I’m really thinking about consenting to meetings, consenting to projects, consenting to my own thoughts in my head about myself. I think consent is really big deal, and we’re not talking about consent with our girls hardly at all.”

Jackie was eight years old when two high school boys raped her. Many years of healing work on her own boundaries allowed her to raise a daughter with healthy boundaries. Jackie believes that as mothers and women we have to question ourselves:

“How many times do I as a woman still say sorry? How many times do I as a woman still not say no when I mean no? That’s the core battle for ourselves, to say ‘no’ and where that line is is different for every woman. I think that part of the challenge is being able to hear yourself and learning to set boundaries. We need to help our daughters articulate what they feel from the beginning and helping them to learn to hear themselves. I think as mothers, we get scared of what maybe our daughters are saying so we try to change what they’re saying and that is the first step of denying their truth and it happens when they’re very young, and so to allow our daughters to say who they are regardless of whether we like it or not, I think, is the first step in giving them the tools to ultimately hear themselves.”

We have to let our daughters hear their own voices and learn their own boundaries, but in order to really parent from a powerful place, we have to become an expert on ourselves. Self-Compassion and Mindfulness teacher and founder of HeartWorks, Kristy Arbon:

“Before we can help anybody else, including our own children, we need to do a lot of our own work. They say on the airplane, put your own oxygen mask on first, before you help those around you. I think that’s the only way we can help teenage girls. If we can become an expert as a parent on our own body, our own intuition, our own sense of boundaries, and tend to our own emotional needs, we get a clearer picture of what’s going on around us. We get a clearer picture of what’s happening with our teenage girls.”

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Way of the Warrior Mama: The Guide to Protecting & Raising Strong Daughters. Sign up to be notified when the book is released.

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