Personal Space: How to Defend Your Bubble — The Strange Pen

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How to defend your space bubble from rude menIt happens all the time. You’re at a party or a bar and some guy invades your personal space.

You don’t know him and you don’t like it, but instead of asking him to back off, you move as much as politeness allows or shrink yourself to avoid an unwanted touch.

Women are taught to be polite. But by making yourself smaller to avoid an uncomfortable conversation, you disrespect yourself and perpetuate bad behavior. Keep reading to find out how to defend your space bubble.

What is a space bubble?

Most people take their personal space for granted—until it’s invaded. Children begin develop their sense of personal space at 3- or 4-years-old. By adolescence the size of your space bubble is cemented.

Like a second skin, your space bubble is a buffer around the body computed by the brain. The buffer is flexible and varies based on your relationship to the person you’re interacting with:

  • Intimate Space: This is the space closest to the body. Only family and close friends (or people experiencing mutual sexual attraction) interact comfortably at distances of less than 18 inches.
  • Personal Space: The next zone is reserved for friends and acquaintances, who interact comfortably at distances of 18 inches to 4 feet.
  • Social Space: Most people feel comfortable interacting with acquaintances and strangers at a distance of 4 to 12 feet.
  • Public Space: Beyond 12 feet is public space.

Personal space keeps you safe.

Your space bubble keeps you safe by alerting you to potential threats, like a snake at your feet or a fist about to hit your face. Something close to the body could be dangerous, so the brain constantly monitors and protects that space.

When someone invades your space bubble, your reaction is automatic, instinctual, and probably outside conscious control.

Research indicates that personal space is regulated by multiple regions of the brain, including the amygdala, a region responsible for strong emotions, particularly fear.

Basically, when a stranger invades into your space bubble, you feel strong negative emotions that prompt you to back away. Unless you’re too nice.

Ask for personal space.

Space bubbles vary from country to country. Some cultures are comfortable with much less personal space than the average American, and some individuals have a hard time judging the appropriate distance for social interaction, such as people on the autism spectrum.

But as a rule, men never invade each other’s personal space unless they’re friends, flirting, or fighting. If we’re not friends and I’m not flirting, then you’re a potential threat. Being threatened doesn’t feel good. Unfortunately, most women would rather tolerate extreme discomfort than risk making a man slightly uncomfortable.

You have a right to be comfortable. Next time a stranger invades your space, defend your bubble by asking them to move. If you’re not comfortable being assertive, make it a game. Challenge yourself to ask for personal space one one time this month. Here are a few of my favorite responses:

  • Would you mind backing up a little? I feel crowded.
  • Do you mind? You’re in my space bubble.
  • My space bubble is huge. You mind backing up?
  • I’m not interested. Please leave me alone.
  • I’ve made it clear I’m not interested. Get the fuck away from me.

You spent a lifetime learning to be nice. It may take time before you feel comfortable asserting your right to personal space. While you’re practicing this new skill, please be patient with yourself. The goal is to be more assertive, not give yourself another reason to feel guilty!

How do you respond when someone invades your space bubble? Let me know in the comments.

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About Penelope Strange