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Personal Space- What is your comfort zone?

  • anonymous Asks ...

    I get very upset when people enter into my personal space. I also don’t like to be touched at all. The problem is my sense of personal space seems to be larger than what other people consider normal so I am very often feeling u comfortable and I will often get out of situations either by basically running away to get out of the situation or if I stay I often get irritable and make the other person give me more space. This is such a stupid thing but it causes me a lot of social problems. I try to ignore it when someone gets too close but I can’t change how I feel.

  • Cynthia Klatte Says ...
    Cynthia Klatte

    Dear Anonymous,

    Individuals certainly can vary in terms of the size of their own personal space, or how much space they need between them and another individual to feel comfortable. Anthropologist Edward T. Hall studied social distance and found that the distance tended to vary depending on the relationship with the other person. On average, 6 to 18 inches was the level of physical distance for people that you closest to, a loved one or someone you are in a romantic relationship with, called the “intimate distance” zone. 1.5 to 4 feet was the typical distance for family members and close friends. 4 to 12 feet was the “social distance” zone for acquaintances. 12 to 25 feet was the zone for the public, such as when doing public speaking. So you can see there is quite a bit of variability from person to person. Studies have looked at variability by gender, by cultural background, by height, etc. It can vary due to context, such as being in an elevator vs. walking on a street. Some individuals might not fit the norm in terms of their comfort zone for a variety of reasons, such as a medical condition, autism, having experienced a traumatic event in the past, etc. For some, physical touch may be unwelcome or problematic. For those individuals, it is important that they communicate their need for space with those they are close with, asking that they provide them with the level of distance that makes them comfortable. Honor that within yourself and ask those around you to honor that as well. If someone is distressed by their difficulty tolerating touch or closeness and wants to learn how to accommodate it better, consulting with a therapist could be very helpful.

    Cynthia Klatte, LCSW, ACSW

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