Personal Space...

Man peering menacingly over a woman's shoulder

   Everyone has an idea as to what appropriate personal space is.  Some of it is directly linked to cultural and societal norms and some of it is a very, very personal decision.  And it’s very important to be mindful of both. 

   Everyone has an idea as to what appropriate personal space is.  Some of it is directly linked to cultural and societal norms and some of it is a very, very personal decision.  And it’s very important to be mindful of both. 

   For example, in the United States, it seems that four feet is often considered an appropriate distance to stand apart from someone.  But this is not consistent from culture to culture or location to location.  For example, in other cultures, such as a more Eastern/Asian culture, the comfortable space between two people is often greater than four feet.   And folks from a South American culture may feel the need for less personal space.  

   And then there are, of course, other factors that should be considered as well, such as trauma, illness, gender, etc.

   Now, this whole personal space thing may sound fairly straight forward and like there are pretty clear guidelines to follow.   But we must remember a few things. First off, everyone’s common sense is a little bit different than everyone else’s.  So while it may feel ok to you to place your hand on the shoulder of someone that seems upset, that person may find it highly intrusive.   You may think it’s ok to reach out and touch someone’s new baby.  That new mom may be horrified by the act.  You may not think it’s a big deal to comment on, or even touch, a perceived “baby bump.”  But unless you KNOW that person is pregnant, there are literally a million reasons why the bump might be there.  And by drawing attention to it, you may be creating a harmful, threatening, and uncomfortable environment. 

   We must remember that we do NOT KNOW each individuals’ circumstances.  We don’t necessarily know if someone has trauma.  We don’t necessarily know if someone grew up in cultural environment that included more intimate personal space.  Or a wider space.   

   So what if we go back to the baby bump example.  What if that woman, who you think might be pregnant, is battling cancer and has gained weight due to the large amount of steroids she has to take to manage her nausea?  Or what if she IS pregnant, but the baby is ill and she know she won’t make it to term?  Or what if a billion other things?

   The topic of personal space really goes back to the idea that everyone is going though something and everyone is working on their own challenges.  And unless you know, you simply don’t know.  So be mindful of this.  Be mindful that other people have different experiences and expectations and just because something’s ok for you does not mean it’s ok for someone else.   You have no right to lay your hands on someone else uninvited and they have no right to lay hands on you.  Your body is yours and you are totally and completely entitled to decide who touches it when.  It is not up for discussion.  This is all your choice.

   My hope for everyone, young and old, big and small, is that they feel safe within their own body and they feel safe setting healthy and appropriate boundaries that create a feeling of security while being around others.  You NEVER have to touch someone…ever.  And it’s always ok to be clear about where your boundaries lie…not just with touch, but with all things. 

   Because you, yes YOU deserve to feel safe and respected and to have your body be untouched by others.