Psychological Hugs

Discussion of Second Conversation

The use of empathy and listening skills sometimes stimulates one’s conversation partner to feel like he or she is receiving a hug–a “psychological hug.”

Before you continue reading this page, consider getting oriented to this six-page website by reading its Home Page, titled Empathy, Listening Skills, and Relationships.

I, Lawrence J. Bookbinder, Ph.D., explain how the use of empathy and listening skills can lead to the feeling of being hugged by commenting on a conversation between two women presented on the Empathy and Listening Skills – Method page. During this conversation, Tanya speaks to Anita of the joy of her new love, Ben, and the anguish of her inability to declare her love for him to him.


Anita’s Empathy and Listening Skills   oooooooo

Anita does not interrupt Tanya to give advice or talk about her interests, such as her vacation plans. She does not voice disapproval of Tanya’s inability to declare her love to Ben. Instead Anita listens with empathy to each of Tanya’s communications–of joy or struggle or inadequacy feelings–and then feeds back (acknowledges) the essence of these communications to her.


Tanya appreciates Anita’s not criticizing her for hiding her love for Ben from him.

She experiences Anita’s empathy and listening skills as being given to by her–gifts of time, attention, not being interrupted, and not being criticized. And she experiences receiving these gifts as receiving affection.

Her inability to tell Ben she loves him is a painful problem. She prizes her relationship with him and the opportunity to tell an empathic person about it. She responds to her narration by initially becoming upset and later feeling better.

Anita’s empathy and listening skills enables Tanya to get in touch with her thoughts and feelings about a man close to her heart, which leads her to experience Anita as touching her heart.

Tanya’s experiences of affection from Anita and of her heart being touched by Anita combine into a feeling of being affectionately touched–hugged. Anita’s psychological hug helps ease Tanya’s distress.

This feeling of being hugged also strengthens Anita and Tanya’s good relationship.

For information about the risks of using empathy and listening skills, read the Empathy and Listening Skills – Risks page.