Rights and Responsibilities in Our Personal Space

Personal space provides more than comfort and privacy; it also provides a silent stage on which to display the essence of who we are.

Think of it as the bedroom which everyone in the house recognizes as ours. It is our right to keep our door locked or unlocked, according to our need for privacy. It is also our responsibility to create in that space, our best display of what we consider a wholesome environment, whether the doors are closed or open.

In 1966, anthropologist Edward T. Hall introduced the concept that similar to the way animals mark their territory using urine and physical posturing, humans use personal space and concrete objects. The theory is known as proxemics1, a form of non-verbal communication through our perception and use of space. It concludes that in our space, we keep four types of distances (intimate, personal, social and public) according to the type of relationship.

Personal Space Expectations Diagram

Natbrock Alicia Tom, photo author, illustrates Hall's theory that physical distance indicates four types of relationship (intimate, personal, social, public) between communicators.
Natbrock Alicia Tom, photo author, illustrates Hall's theory that physical distance indicates four types of relationship (intimate, personal, social, public) between communicators. | Source

So how do we establish sanctions in our space? How do we use distance to make our relationships safe and comfortable? What are our responsibilities toward the individuals we allow in? Here are 5 essential characteristics which hold the answers to such questions and produce positive outcomes in our interaction with individuals from all four distances.


(1) Creativity

We have the right to create boundaries for the protection of our personal territory. Boundaries also “protect our sense of personal identity and help guard against being overwhelmed by the demands of others."2

We can implement our own ideas, or we can learn from others. For example, when we need physical space for a time out, we create a “Do Not Disturb” plaque. We create secret compartments in our houses for special items we do not want family and friends to touch. At our office cubicle we create rules defining what is and is not acceptable. In public places we create diversion from the smiling bystander by directing our gaze toward the billboard.

It is our responsibility to create our blueprint for interaction with others. It helps us decide who fits where inside our space.

Types of Territory in Proxemics*

Body Territory
Primary Territory
Secondary Territory
Public Territory
Invisible bubble we maintain around us
Living space: example, home or car
Structure with reserved entry like school or workplace
Open space like park or shopping mall

(2) Control

Bear in mind that we control the space, not the people inside the space. It is not our responsibility to force adults to change inappropriate behavior; it is our right to enforce physical or emotional distance, if we choose. We do not demand that people enter our space at specific distances against their will; control undermines trust.

We control our space not by manipulating people, but by maintaining the principles which we choose to govern our space.


Did we mention eavesdropping?
Did we mention eavesdropping? | Source

(3) Civility

The Personal Space Expectations Diagram above establishes that the physical space between us and our core family is less than with other individuals. It increases as we move away from intimacy and is greatest with strangers. There are additional common sense rules3 like the following which boost both civility and comfort in our everyday interactions.

  • Knock before entering a room or office.
  • Avoid touching people we don’t know.
  • Refuse to search through the personal belongings of other individuals.
  • Observe other people’s body language (example, leaning away from us) which may suggest that we are too close and making them uncomfortable.
  • Unless the meeting place is crowded, leave a seating space beside the next person.
  • Acknowledge personal space on the road; avoid tailgating.


(4) Cooperation

Although we cannot compel the people in our space to cooperate, we can encourage them by using the following methods, among others:

  • Communication will help us understand what causes them to perform contrary to our expectations. We might discover cultural differences as mentioned in the table below.
  • Concern for the well-being of individuals who do not cooperate will reinforce their sense of worth and may awaken their sense of responsibility. They may interpret concern as support and be motivated to offer their support in turn.
  • Incentives in tangible forms are most appropriate for those at social and public distances like coworkers or community teams, and we can find family-friendly ways to reward those closer to us (for example, hugs and assurances).

It is our responsibility to help bring out the best in others. We can cooperate with those who do not shine in our space by allowing them to find the appropriate distance at which they will.

Culture in Proxemics*

Types of Culture
Rule on Touch
Sample Territories
Contact Culture
Physical touching permitted and even considered necessary
Latin American, Arab, Italian, French, Turkish
Non-contact Culture
Touching reserved for intimate acquaintances
North American, Norwegian, Japanese, most Southeast Asian
People from the contact culture stand closer together and talk more softly. Those from the non-contact culture utilize more distance, talk more loudly and with wilder gestures.

(5) Cleanliness

In a physical space, it is our responsibility to keep out dirt, debris and other environmental hazards.

In a space without walls, it is our responsibility to disconnect from unscrupulous behavior including but not limited to: lying tongues, filthy language, illicit sex, drug abuse, domestic abuse, fraud and the like.

We have the right to set the standards of cleanliness in our space and to practice zero tolerance toward offenders. We also have the right and responsibility to model the cleanliness we want in our space.


Remember:

In our space, we practice our rights and responsibilities primarily for our comfort and safety. Other individuals want the same things we want. They deserve the kind of respect we expect from them.


References

1Communication Studies, Proxemics, Copyright 2015 by Communication Studies

2Kolb, Karen: Basic Life Skills Made Easy, Personal Boundaries, Copyright 2008-2015

3Mayne, Debbie: About, Etiquette Rules of Defining Personal Space, Copyright 2015 by About

*The source for Proxemics Territory and Culture is Proxemics already referenced above.

© 2015 Dora Isaac Weithers

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Comments 46 comments

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 19 months ago from United States

This is a very interesting hub. I have never give a great deal of thought to my personal space, yet I have heard that Americans like more personal space than people from some other nations. You brought up a lot of good points in this article.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Thanks, Pamela. I learned so much while researching it, and will be more aware now especially of respecting other people's space.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 19 months ago from The Beautiful South

Great points and like we may have our rights but there are responsibilities to go with those rights. We can't be stepping on other's toes while we have our rights. It even reminds me of the scriptures that tell us to respect the beliefs of others to not offend them.

Great food for thought as always, Dora!


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Thanks for your feedback, Jackie. Have a great new week!


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 19 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

This was just marvelous. It is such a delicate balance. I think that being aware of ours and our neighbors space is critical to happy coexistence. Hugs are important but it is just as important to know when not to. For me that mental space is the one that deserves the most respect.


janshares profile image

janshares 19 months ago from Washington, DC

This is so very interesting, MsDora. I've never heard of the law or theory of proxemics, at least not in this detail. This is fascinating information. It seems that although we must engage in these behaviors everyday, it probably goes unspoken. Until, of course, one's space is invaded. Then it's on, right? LOL! Thanks for educating us, voted up and interesting.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Eric, I am in agreement with views you express. Thanks for sharing them in your feedback.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Jan, thanks for your kind comment. I liked learning these details myself. I guess sometimes we just feel uncomfortable without realizing why. Understanding proxemics may help us understand the discomfort, and better yet, help us prevent it.


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 19 months ago from USA

When I was doing HR investigations this so often came into play. Some people who were "close talkers" or from different cultures often were misunderstood as harassers while others used space as a bullying and harassment technique.


word55 profile image

word55 19 months ago from Chicago

Hi MsDora, this was superb. I enjoyed the reading very much. It all made sense about the rights and responsibilities. Thank you for sharing!


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 19 months ago from Shelton

I like the approach you took here Msdora.. instead of considering Entering somebody's personal space as a normal indication of familiarity and sometimes intimacy, you give us the balance side or view.. useful hub as usual my friend :)


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Flourish, thanks for helping to explain the importance of personal space. You saw it firsthand.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Word, so glad it made sense. Thanks for your kind comment.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Frank, thanks for your observation and kind comment. You're encouraging as usual.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

I love behavioral articles like this one. Fascinates me...human are so interesting. Thanks for a wonderful article, Dora!


Homeplace Series profile image

Homeplace Series 19 months ago from Hollister, MO

I am a believer in proxemics... my personal space is very important to me. Thanks for a great article on it, MsDora!! ;-)


manatita44 profile image

manatita44 19 months ago from london

Excellent and important article on the importance of boundaries. Explained very well. There is yet another area which goes beyond the personal. Perhaps your purple man should cover this.

People can be alone even among intimate relations. The fear and insecurity of the Soul is not always related to others, and we sometimes need our psychic space. I believe you know this. Much Love.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Bill, it is a pleasure to read your kind comment. Thank you.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Homeplace Bill, happy that I wrote on something important to you. Thanks for your kind feedback.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Manatita, I appreciate your keen insight on this topic. Of course, the soul as well as the body needs it space. Thanks for underscoring that.


Romeos Quill profile image

Romeos Quill 19 months ago from Lincolnshire, England

A thought-inducing theory of Hall's ' Proxemics ' you've diligently researched MsDora and your five ' C's ' and their enclosed bullet points were very informative.

I suppose that just as we leave various sized gaps between letters, words and paragraphs to communicate and relay our messages from one to another in order to come across as intelligible as possible with minimum or zero misunderstanding, why not indeed in the same way as your ' Personal Space Expectations Diagram ' illustrates, with its clarity of simplicity in parallel to the example?

You are so good at researching social sciences and look forward to reading more of your articles today.

Thumbs up, happy to pin you and share your erudite work with friends.

Thank you and wishing you and your family a relaxing evening too.

R.Q.


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 19 months ago from California

I found this to be a very interesting hub--I think we forget how important personal space really is and people seem to need varying amounts of it depending on the circumstances i think


grand old lady profile image

grand old lady 19 months ago from Philippines

I've always thought of space in a subconscious sense, but this spells out everything we think and feel about space and more. Wonderful article, Ms. Dora.


ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 19 months ago from New Delhi, India

Excellent article and very important one too!

How do we use distance to make our relationships safe and comfortable---This is so important. Giving others space, at the same time enjoying our own space can lead to a very healthy and lasting relationship, I believe.

No one likes encroachments and we should try to maintain balance.

You made some very important and necessary points in this hub.

Thanks and voted up!


Venkatachari M profile image

Venkatachari M 19 months ago from Hyderabad, India

Very useful and important topic discussed by you. You have done it so well with clear perception. It is very important for anybody to keep these personal and public spaces in a very comfortable way without annoying others.

Voted up, useful and awesome.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Thanks, Romeos. I appreciate your encouraging comment and your support.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Audrey, yes, it is easy to forget. Thanks for affirming our need to be reminded.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Mona, I think that these principles can help us manage both physical and psychological space. Thanks for your kind feedback.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Chitrangada, I can see that healthy relationships are important to you. Thanks for your kind comment and your support.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Thanks Venkatachari. You are so kind. Thanks for your very positive feedback.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 19 months ago from Taos, NM

Interesting article and I enjoyed reading this. I hate it when I'm in the checkout line at the grocery store and some person is standing over me, in my personal space, because he/she can't wait a moment until I'm through the line. This certainly is a relevant article.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Suzette, thanks for sharing that example. Some of these people are not even aware of their offenses unless we tell them.


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 19 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

This is definitely an important principle to remember. As parents, we would do well to teach our children about personal space, how to respect it of others and take care of our own. With those having disabilities, explicit instruction is necessary, as they do not readily understand the principle, and tend to frequently violate the personal space of others.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Denise, your comment is an important contribution to the topic. I know that you speak from experience about those having disabilities. Thanks for your input.


justthemessenger profile image

justthemessenger 19 months ago from The Great Midwest

Ms Dora, You have provided good info on an under appreciated aspect of pyschology. Also, this hub kind of explains why I like dogs so much. Its the space issue. We're both territorial. We like our space. I notice a dog will bark at you when you're three houses away from his/her house. Also, I don't mind if a dog's barking wakes me up. I'm glad they're on their job.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

James, thanks for sharing this observation along with your appreciation for dogs. You're encouraging -- and funny!


shanmarie profile image

shanmarie 19 months ago from Texas

Interesting and insightful. Much food for thought. Thanks.


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 19 months ago from southern USA

Important hub, MsDora. You have done a lot of research here in examining the varying stages of personal space. I know I need my personal space, but I am a hugger and do tend to pat people on the back, without realizing maybe I may be invading their personal space. I tend to be a friendly person but I am pretty good at reading people who are standoffish and so I do ... : )

We should respect everyone's personal space and I like your chart there too.

Up ++++ tweeting and pinning

God bless


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Shanmarie, I appreciate your visit and your feedback. Thanks!


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Faith, thanks for your comment. It reminds of the story of an old woman who hugged everyone. Like you, she could tell when her hug was not appreciated, and she would say to the person who hugged reluctantly, "That's okay, honey; that was really for me." And she kept on hugging.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 19 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

This is a very interesting and thought provoking article. Although I'm aware of people's need for personal space and respect their wishes and requirements, I haven't thought much about the topic before. Thanks for sharing the information.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Alicia, I appreciate your comment. Life offers so much for us to think about, some things will get neglected; so glad when our writing helps. Thanks!


Janellegems profile image

Janellegems 19 months ago from Virginia

Excellent Hub and one that is really vital in our lives. You brought out some good points to ponder on regarding personal space in different areas. Thanks for sharing this great information.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 19 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Janelle, I appreciate your kind comment. Happy to share!


Akriti Mattu profile image

Akriti Mattu 18 months ago from Shimla, India

Read a few of your posts. Loved them. This one is my favourite. Voted up :)


MsDora profile image

MsDora 18 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Akriti, thanks for reading my posts. This is special to me too.

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