A Guide to Personal Space
“I simply can’t have roommates. I like my own space.”― Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen
Everyone loves their personal space and everyone knows the feeling of someone getting a little too close for comfort. Sometimes this is metaphorical, for example, when someone keeps asking invasive questions. Other times people physically invade our personal space by getting too close.
Whether you’re dealing with a stranger standing too close to you in line at the supermarket checkout or an aunt who’s prone to pinching cheeks even when her victims have reached adulthood long ago, what should you do when someone just won’t leave you alone? Here is your guide to your personal bubble and how to maintain it.
What Is Personal Space?
A person’s personal space is the area immediately around that person’s body. There is no set definition of how large a person’s space can be because that depends on the situation. For example, you cannot reasonably expect someone at a concert to give you several feet of room, but in a checkout line where someone is standing directly behind you, even if the person is not technically touching you, it is intrusive.
Most people don’t like people all up in their space, but this is a particularly intrusive problem for introverts. All introverts know that other people are torture, particularly when those people are literally breathing down your neck.
How Can You Enforce Your Personal Space?
No one likes people getting into our personal space, but some of us hate confrontation even more. When someone gets too close, people such as myself may resign themselves to feeling uncomfortable until that person leaves. However, you should not have to force yourself to tolerate invasions of your boundaries just because you are out in public. Here are some strategies to help the next time someone gets too close.
The best way to tell someone to leave your personal bubble is to be polite at first. Sometimes, people may not even realize how close they are to you if they are distracted by something else. Just say, “hi, would you mind backing up?” You can provide an explanation if you want, for example, mentioning your health, but you don’t have to.
Most people will be apologetic and move if you tell them that they are standing too close to you, and then you don’t have to worry again. However, sometimes you meet someone who will react rudely. Keep your temper and stay firm—they’re the people who are unreasonable for wanting to get up close and personal with strangers, not you.
When the person invading your personal space is someone you know, such as a relative who is a little too physically affectionate, that is a little more complicated. Try addressing the situation before it comes up, for example, saying “Aunt Martha, I really don’t like cheek kisses” the second you walk into the door. Your relatives may get offended because family members often feel entitled to as many hugs as they want, but you’re an independent person who has a right to refuse cheek pinches.
When to Give up on Your Personal Bubble
There are times when you may have to grin and bear it if someone invades your personal space. If a person has nowhere else to go, for example, at a crowded concert, then a few accidental brushes against your shoulder are not the end of the world.
You also have to deal with some physical contact at family gatherings. Your relatives who haven’t seen you in a long time miss you and want to hug you, even if that’s not how you personally show affection.
Everyone values their personal bubble, sometimes it’s hard to maintain. There are some situations where physical contact is inevitable, such as family gatherings, when you can, you should enforce your boundaries.