Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, the day I toss out a thread of something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life. Today’s topic is personal space.
Personal space is defined as “The physical space immediately surrounding someone, into which any encroachment feels threatening to or uncomfortable for them.” It’s that invisible barrier you construct around yourself and don’t want just anybody passing through.
The amount of personal space we need varies from person to person, relationship to relationship, culture to culture. Psychologists say that we begin to develop our elbow-room preferences by age 3 or 4, and they’re cemented in adolescence. We actually have four space preferences:
- intimate – within 1.5 feet (family, pets, close friends)
- personal – 1.5 feet to 4 feet (friends and acquaintances)
- social – 4 to 12 feet (strangers and new acquaintances, for routine social interaction)
- public – beyond 12 feet
But we have often have strangers or acquaintances violate that invisible barrier in crowded situations — like riding an elevator, doing Christmas shopping, attending a concert. How do we deal? Those same psychs say we depersonalize the people around us to keep from having a stress reaction to their close proximity.
I say that some of us deal better than others.
And I’m among those comfortable with a greater distance between me and strangers than the average. The desire for personal space isn’t related to how much you like people, though. It’s an instinctive reaction.
Blame the amygdala.
The amygdala is that part of the brain that regulates our fear response. And when someone violates our personal space, it goes ding-ding! Or something like that. You get the creepy-crawlies or feel slightly off-kilter. You find yourself stressed and wanting to take a step back. You think to yourself, Don’t stand so close to me! Or singing that song, if you remember the lyrics.
I don’t like getting jostled in a crowd, and I never, ever join the shopping fray on “Black Friday” (the day after Thanksgiving). After being the thick of a horde, I emerge into the open air like a freed prisoner. Sweet freedom, here you are!
I get tense when the person behind me in the grocery store line edges up close while I’m paying. I’ve tried giving said person the back-up-please look, but it’s too subtle or they’re too oblivious with their close-enough-to-grab-me sense of personal space.
I don’t usually get touchy-feely with people until I’ve known them for a while. It’s not that I don’t care for people. I most certainly do! I just have this big personal space issue.
You see, our amygdalas don’t have the same standards. Yours might be very comfortable with me hanging out at 1.5 feet from you, whereas our mutual friend Bob recoils at anyone coming closer than 4 feet.
So what’s my comfort range? I’ve never actually measured. You know, since that would be weird to say to a stranger, “Stand right there for a moment. My amygdala’s freaking out because you just crossed my personal space, and I want to measure it.” But I suspect it’s 2.5 to 3 feet.
Now before I ask what your personal space is, come a little closer and let me share my progress update for A Round of Words in 80 Days.
I have only three main goals this round.
1. Finish YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, by completing three chapters each week.
Does this answer your question about my progress this week?
2. Take Short Stories 101 course from Young Adult RWA. I edited through the first draft of my short story, Exorcising My Sister, and sent it to the instructor for her critique. The class has closed, so officially I’m finished with this goal. But I also shared my story with a writer friend, who pointed out a few issues. With his notes in mind, I ended up rewriting the climax chapter, and I like it so much better now. I suspect the story needs a little more editing and polishing, and it’s good to go!
10 5 fiction books and 2 1 nonfiction books. I’ve been reading more stories from Orange Karen, the anthology in which my short Color Me Happy was published, and I read about halfway through a nonfiction book, Grace-Filled Marriage by Tim Kimmel. I also bought and started reading Competability: Solving Problems in Your Multi-Cat Household — because I’m having problems in my multi-cat household — by Amy Shojai. Oh. My Goodness. Why didn’t I buy this book earlier?!!
Also read this round: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers, Dangerous and Unseemly by K.B. Owen, Taking Chances by S.J. Maylee, Haunted Spouse by Heather MacAllister (all fiction), and Breasts by Florence Williams (nonfiction).
Now it’s question time! Have you ever considered your own personal space? Do you seem to want more or less than others? Have you ever measured or at least “eyeballed” it? And how was your week?
Sources: What I still remember from psychology classes & Discovery News – Why Do We Have Personal Space?