In today’s multitasking, information-driven, work at home, personal information spewing, big brother-ish society, there is a lot of talk about personal space. There are so many outside influences intruding on our lives that having some personal space prevents us from emotional claustrophobia. Whether it is in relation to carving out a personal space at home or organizing one’s space, it is clear that personal and physical space have become an important concept.
Years ago when I first commuted to work I did so by train and then for several years by bus. I was always fascinated at how people fell asleep within inches of total strangers while commuting to or from work, because such a thing would never happen in any other setting. I would watch two people in the next row, who had never laid eyes on each other, sleeping peacefully side by side. It was fascinating – and a little creepy.
Because I am short, the tall, shall we say stocky men would seek me out as a perfect seatmate. Do you know that uncomfortable feeling when someone is just a little too close to you? Yeah, that. I constantly wanted to scream out, “According to my ticket I paid for an entire seat so you can either reimburse my train fare or stop spilling into my territory.”
Oh, and if you are close enough to spit on me when you speak? Way too close. Sometimes it feels as if we should walk around with yardsticks to set some physical boundaries, doesn’t it?
I tend to be very sensitive to the notion of personal space. (Can you tell? Perhaps I have to work on my control issues.) I hate it when my husband reads over my shoulder. While I love hugs and cuddles with my five year old, when he wants to sit smack dab next to me while I am trying to type it makes me crazy.
My other child is more like me with a need for personal space. His bedroom is his sanctuary and he gets visibly anxious in a crowd.
I have been reading up on this and that uncomfortable feeling when someone is too close comes from a region of the brain called the amygdalae. It is the area which controls sensory modalities such as fear. A study of the amygdalae shows that humans are predisposed to be wary of and fend off close human contact with strangers.
Social norms regarding personal space vary by region and culture. People who live in more heavily populated societies, especially in the eastern hemisphere, appear to be more physically tolerant of close contact with others.
I only have one tip to offer as someone who prefers some physical space. When I meet someone for the first time, rather than standing with my feet next to one another, I stand with one foot slightly in front of the other. This way I can subconsciously lean my weight onto my back leg if I need more space without the other person taking a step closer.