Personal Space. Do We Respect It Anymore?

Personal Space is loosely defined by dictionary.com as "the variable and subjective distance at which one person feels comfortable talking to another." 

Boundaries with personal space depend on many different factors that are different for everyone such as gender, type of relationship, environment, individual preference and culture.

Our world today pushes personal boundaries and pokes at personal space. In the age of technology accessibility is easier and faster than it has ever been at any time in history.  And, there is a HUGE personal and professional impact on our lives stemming from this.

Personally and professionally I have had my challenges with this. For example clients texting me outside of their scheduled session with therapeutic issues, questions in my inbox(s) asking for answers to problems from random people, invitations from random people for "meet-ups", and just random texts from people, including current and past clients.  Once in a while it is nice to hear someone is doing well- and I love to hear that. I am ok with that occasional text or email.  Everything else, however, is a violation of my personal space- and it drives me CRAZY!  Boundaries are high on my list for this reason.  It still boggles my mind why people think it is OK to text therapeutic issues?  Or why clients in the past have thought it was ok to text me on my personal time?  I've had to set some pretty strong rules around this over the years and for the most part it doesn't happen.  However, it still happens on occasion.

 I think people forget that other people have lives and they are trying, at least, to live it.  For me, it is offensive to be grocery shopping, or spending time with family or friends, or reading, or working on one of many projects and get a text from someone (especially a client violating rules that I teach them, that they often complain about in thrown personal lives).  It's like, "Hello? Are you so caught up in your own self-absorption that you don't recognize you're violating my space?" Grrrrrr......., not recognizing that these "intrusions" cause people's stress hormones to rise drastically?  And, can and often does have an impact on the therapeutic relationship?  

And, I think it's important to note that people who struggle with boundaries aren't bad people (well, some might be) but in general they are good people.  People who have good intentions but just on't realize their over stepping.  

So I question the impact of this.  And, I think people HAVE become so self-absorbed and unaware that it may not cross their mind or it does and they don't care.  I mean...after recognizing your own needs the next step (automatically) which is useful, is recognizing the needs of others (with regard to personal space). Why is this not understood by so many?  It is also important to note that those who do have issues with boundaries are not bad people-AT ALL. In fact quite the contrary in most cases. In most cases it's some level of connection being sought. 

Science is now looking at this personal space issue, examining what goes on in the brain when personal space is violated.  Brain regions that are activated are the premotor cortex in the frontal lobes and the parietal cortex.  When activated these areas serve to "protect" which is a good thing. However, when these areas are consistently activated and people are living in "protect" mode stress hormones run high.  This is one of the reasons why people "snap."  There are clear biological consequences to invading personal space-yet, it seems to be getting worse.

A while back I took a break from facebook, something I like to do to give me some space from technology.  I got several messages through my website (people actually went to my website to contact me-people I didn't know and some I knew just a tad) asking if I was ok. I thought to myself, WTF? Do I have to explain to these people what I am doing and why?  Needless to say, I felt my stress hormones rise.  I chose not to respond.  Think about that for a second, these days people think you have to answer to them? How the hell did this happen?  Is the assumption that if you are on social media or have a career that is in the public eye that you forsake privacy? What kind of self-absorbed person would think this? Apparently, the majority of people.

I think social media promotes the idea (in subtle ways) that we are all "friends."  I think many people can see therapists and coaches in this same way.  Texting and IM-ing (DM-ing) are some of the biggest violations of this, and it is absolute bullshit. A brainwashing, unaware, self-absorbed big pile of bullshit.

From a therapist's perspective, I am not sure how or why people think that they can contact a therapist outside of their scheduled appointment unless it is to ask a quick question about a therapeutic exercise or to cancel/reschedule an appointment (unless on retainer).  It's like people get into their heads that a therapist is a therapist 24 hours a day 7 days a week.  The reality of that is (and I want to be VERY clear with this)

A therapist in particular needs space away from work in order to regenerate, renew and work with clients effectively. This is called having boundaries which most therapists teach their own clients.

It is important for me to state this right here right now.  I am not defined by being a therapist.  My down time is to first regenerate, then read, go to seminars and conferences and explore ways to help ALL of my clients.  NOT to respond to your every thought. This is what appointments are made for.  And, while this may sound harsh, it is part of the layers of health and wellness that really everyone needs to be aware of.

"A respectful sense of privacy and privileged communication" (Ed Vilga).  In an age of social media chatter and irresponsible use of technology it is important to keep your boundaries clear.  

So the next time you think of texting someone other than a close friend (therapists and coaches are NOT friends) think twice.  Open up the lines of verbal communication and ask them what is appropriate when it comes to texting?  Respect their space.