Perhaps your colleague constantly puts her hand on your arm when talking with you. Or your housemate sits next to you and talks through television programs when all you want to do is watch quietly. Maybe it drives you crazy when the person behind you in line stands too close at the check-out. You don’t want to be rude, but you also want other people to respect your own personal space and it’s hard to understand why they just don’t know not to invade your personal territory. You may even wonder, sometimes, whether or not you are being overly sensitive.
Your Personal Space Needs
Human beings are biologically wired to be sensitive to intrusions into their own personal boundaries, according to a 2009 article published in the journal "Nature Neuroscience." On the other hand, the "Intercultural Study of Personal Space: A Case Study" by sociologist Catherine MJ. Beaulieu demonstrates that culture also helps determine an individual's needs for interpersonal distance. Understanding that your own discomfort over the broaching of such distances is legitimate both genetically and culturally -- may help you assert your particular personal requirements for space.
Creating Distance Physically
When people move into your personal space and make you uncomfortable, you can take a step back until you feel the distance is more appropriate. It may be easier for you to do this calmly yet firmly if you imagine an invisible bubble around you that bounds the space at which you feel comfortable engaging with each person. Moving once or twice should make it clear to most people that you need greater physical space.
When Body Language is Not Enough
Some people do not understand when you step away or remove a hand from your arm that you are bothered by the intrusion into your personal space. In that case, you need to speak up and tell them clearly what is and is not okay for you. Dr. Judith Orloff, author of the book, “Emotional Freedom,” suggests on her website that even if someone responds with anger or a put-down, you will more likely have your request respected if you do not take offense and thank them for their consideration.
State Your Need for Space
Many people find it easier to respect your need for space when they know why it is important to you. For example, if you tell your neighbors that you work at home and that spontaneous visits make you less productive, they will be more likely to abide by your request that they wait until a certain hour before knocking at your door.
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With an Master of Science in marital and family therapy, Sheri Oz ran a private clinical practice for almost 30 years. Based on her clinical work, she has published a book and many professional articles and book chapters. She has also traveled extensively around the world and has volunteered in her field in China and South Sudan.