Violation of your Personal Space
It probably wouldn’t take you very long to vividly recall a time when your personal space was violated. Maybe you were sitting in a coffee shop and someone sat down at your table or perhaps you were settling in for a department meeting and a co-worker sat down and then moved the chair even closer to you. Regardless of the situation, when someone violates your personal space it is extremely uncomfortable. How then, can you deal with it?
Unconscious Reactions to Violations of Personal SpaceEveryone has automatic, unconscious reactions to violations of their personal space. These reactions happen so swiftly and so unconsciously that if you were to ask someone about theirs, most would have to think very carefully to identify them. It’s simply not something most people have to think about at all; their reactions are more like a reflex than anything else.
What are some of these common reactions? Here’s just a sampling:
Move away – When someone gets a bit too close, moving away is the most natural and automatic reaction. This may be accomplished with body movement, such as leaning back, or more pronounced movement, such as moving your chair away, sliding your entire body away, or, in extreme cases, even getting up and moving to a different location.
Put up a personal barrier – This conjures up images of building a wall, but it is usually something far less complicated. For instance, you might rearrange your books or papers so they are between you and the other person; or, you might change arm position so that your arm is raised or manoeuvred into a position blocking the other person.
Body position – In most cases, this is a combination of moving away and putting up a barrier. For instance, you might turn slightly so your back is to the other person, effectively creating a barrier. Or, you might turn your head, avoid eye contact, raise your book or reading material, and the like.
If you think about it, you can probably remember many different times in your life where you have used these automatic reactions when your space was violated. Some people, however, make a conscious decision to protect their personal space deliberately and actively.
Deliberate Reactions to Violations of Personal SpaceSome people make quite deliberate decisions about how to deal with violations of their personal space. Their responses are often passive, but may also be quite active in some cases. Here’s a sampling of some common actions:
Spread out – This is very common in situations where you are sitting at a table that others might choose to sit at as well, such as at the library or in a cafeteria. As the other person approaches and begins to infringe upon your personal space, you spread out your belongings – books, purse, backpack, shopping bags, and jacket, anything – into the space around you. This visually communicates your boundaries and also works as a barrier between you and the other person.
Turn your back – This is another tactic to protect your personal space from another person. You might casually shift your position so your back is to the other person, or even reposition your chair with your back acting as a barrier between the two of you.
Ask the other person to move – This is an active response typically used by people with a great deal of self-confidence and self-esteem. When a person begins to violate your personal space, you simply ask them to move away a bit. If you’re not quite confident enough to be that bold, you might tell them you’re expecting someone else to arrive soon and you’d like to keep the space available for that person.
Verbal warning – In cases where you feel particularly threatened you might give the other person a verbal warning that you’re uncomfortable and could they please move away. It might be something simply like “please stop” or something more directive like “you’re sitting/standing too close to me, could you please move back”.
Most people focus more on passive measures than on active measures when their personal space is violated. It is simply too intimidating or uncomfortable to reclaim that space directly.