HAPPY NATIONAL PERSONAL SPACE DAY! Join us as we celebrate our personal bubbles and keeping our hands to our goddamn selves! Today we’re partying with personal space aficionado and friend Adam (Twitter: @mrmadamadam / Instagram: @mrmadamadam)!! LET’S PARTY!!

Show Notes

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History/Fun facts about the holiday

  • Merriam-Webster defines personal space as: the distance from another person at which one feels comfortable when talking to or being next to that other person
  • Proxemics refers to the study of human use of space and the effects that population density has on behavior, communication, and social interaction (Wikipedia), and is one of several subcategories in the study of noverbal communication, including haptics (touch), kinesics (body movement), vocalics (paralanguage), and chronemics (structure of time)
    • Edward T. Hall, the cultural anthropologist who coined the term in 1963, stated that the “study of proxemics is valuable in evaluating not only the way people interact with others in daily life, but also the organization of space in their houses and buildings, and ultimately the layout of their towns.”
    • Hall described the interpersonal distances of humans ( the relative distances between people) in four distinct zones: intimate space; personal space; social space; and public space. Each zone is then divided further into two more delinations: horizontal and vertical. Within the horizontal aspect of each of those four zones, there are two phases–close and far
      • Intimate distance for embracing, touching, or whispering
        • Close phase–less than one inch 
        • Far phase–6-18 inches
      • Personal distance for interactions among good friends or family
        • Close phase–1.5-2.5 feet
        • Far phase–2.5-4 feet
      • Social distance (a term we have become intimately aware of this year) for interactions among acquaintances
        • Close phase–4-7 feet
        • Far phase–7-12 feet
      • Public distance used for public speaking
        • Close phase–12-25 feet
        • Far phase–25 feet or more
      • The space within intimate distance and personal distance is called “personal space” while the space within social distance and out of personal distance is called social space, and the space within public distance is called public space
      • Vertical distance is often understood to convey the degree of dominance or subordinance in a relationship. Looking up at or down on another person can be taken literally in many cases, with the higher person asserting greater status
    • “Personal space is the region surrounding a person which they regard as psychologically theirs. Most people value their personal space and feel discomfort, anger, or anxiety when their personal space is encroached. Permitting a person to enter personal space and entering somebody else’s personal space are indicators of perception of those people’s relationship.”
      • Entering someone’s personal space is normally an indication of familiarity and sometimes intimacy. However, in modern society, especially in crowded urban communities, it can be difficult to maintain personal space, for example when in a crowded train, elevator, or street. 
      • Many people find such physical proximity to be psychologically disturbing and uncomfortable, though it is accepted as a fact of modern life. 
      • In an impersonal, crowded situation, eye contact tends to be avoided, and preserving personal space is important. Intimate and sexual contact, such as frotteurism and groping, are unacceptable physical contact in such scenarios
    • Research links the amygdala with emotional reactions to proximity to other people. First, it is activated by such proximity, and second, in those who have complete bilateral damage to their amygdala lack a sense of personal boundary
      • The amygdala has been shown to perform a primary role in the processing of memory, decision-making, and emotional responses including fear, anxiety, and aggression
    • A person’s personal space is carried with them everywhere they go. It is the most inviolate form of territory. Body spacing and posture, according to Hall, are unintentional reactions to sensory fluctuations or shifts, such as subtle changes in the sound and pitch of a person’s voice. Social distance between people is reliably correlated with physical distance, as are intimate and personal distance
    • There is also vertical distance that communicates something between people. In this case, however, vertical distance is often understood to convey the degree of dominance or sub-ordinance in a relationship. Looking up at or down on another person can be taken literally in many cases, with the higher person asserting greater status
    • While personal space describes the immediate space surrounding a person, territory refers to the area which a person may “lay claim to” and defend against others. There are four forms of human territory in proxemic theory. They are:
      • Public territory: a place where one may freely enter. This type of territory is rarely in the constant control of just one person. However, people might come to temporarily own areas of public territory.
      • Interactional territory: a place where people congregate informally
      • Home territory: a place where people continuously have control over their individual territory
      • Body territory: the space immediately surrounding us
    • These different levels of territory, in addition to factors involving personal space, suggest ways for us to communicate and produce expectations of appropriate behavior.
    • In fact, research has shown that many animals, from insects to monkeys, have a sense of personal space. The maintenance of such a zone of defense around an organism appears to be a very basic survival mechanism
    • Referring back to the territories, in some case called flight zones. In general, the larger the animal, the larger the flight zone. For example, a crocodile has something like a 50-meter flight zone, while domesticated animals typically have a flight zone of about a meter
    • When a threat moves into that zone, the animal will move away to reinstate the zone
    • Personal space is highly variable, due to cultural differences and personal preferences. On average, preferences vary significantly between countries. 
      • The cultural practices of the United States show considerable similarities to those in northern and central European regions, such as Germany, Scandinavia, and the United Kingdom. Greeting rituals tend to be the same in Europe and in the United States, consisting of minimal body contact—often confined to a simple handshake. The main cultural difference in proxemics is that residents of the United States like to keep more open space between themselves and their conversation partners (roughly 4 feet compared to 2 to 3 feet in Europe)
      • Indeed, the breakdown for the average comfort levels for people in the US is in line with the metrics put forth by Hall:
        • 0-20 inches for intimate couples
        • 1.5-3 feet for good friends and family members
        • 3-10 feet for casual acquaintances and coworkers
        • 4+ for strangers
        • 12+ for speaking to a large group
      • On the other hand, those living in densely populated places likely have lower expectations of personal space. Residents of India or Japan tend to have a smaller personal space than those in the Mongolian steppe, both in regard to home and individual spaces. Different expectations of personal space can lead to difficulties in intercultural communication.
    • People make exceptions to and modify their space requirements. A number of relationships may allow for personal space to be modified, including familial ties, romantic partners, friendships and close acquaintances, where there is a greater degree of trust and personal knowledge. 
      • Personal space is affected by a person’s position in society, with more affluent individuals expecting a larger personal space. 
      • Personal space also varies by gender and age. Males typically use more personal space than females, and personal space has a positive relation to age (people use more as they get older). 
      • Most people have a fully developed (adult) sense of personal space by age twelve.
    • Under circumstances where normal space requirements cannot be met, such as in public transit or elevators, personal space requirements are modified accordingly. 
      • According to the psychologist Robert Sommers, one method of dealing with violated personal space is dehumanization. He argues that on the subway, crowded people often imagine those intruding on their personal space as inanimate. 
      • Behavior is another method: a person attempting to talk to someone can often cause situations where one person steps forward to enter what they perceive as a conversational distance, and the person they are talking to can step back to restore their personal space.
      • Furthermore, a person who violates personal space is sending the signal, “You are a non-person, and therefore I can move in on you. You do not matter.”
      • Some respond to these transgressions by withdrawing inwardly, while others may physically retreat, and others will respond with aggression. (Fight, flight, freeze)
    • Legally speaking, according to definitions.uslegal.com, “Personal space is an approximate area surrounding an individual in which other people should not physically violate in order for them to feel comfortable and secure. It is the zone around individuals which they regard as psychologically theirs. The amount of personal space required for any given person is subjective. It also depends on how well you know the other person. The more intimate the relationship, the less personal space is involved.
      • “The law does not recognize a specific crime or civil action based on violation of personal space per se. However, the law does recognize various actions based on assault, harassment and unwelcome touching.”
      • For instance, the term “crimes against the person” can refer to a diverse array of crimes that usually involve bodily harm, the threat of bodily harm, or other actions committed against the will of an individual, including assault, battery, domestic violence, harassment, kidnapping, and stalking
    • The idea of proxemics and having your own space is very likely to change due to the most recent global pandemic, COVID-19. People have talked about not giving hugs or handshakes to people anymore out of fear of becoming infected with the virus. This changes the idea of proxemics and how it ties into culture. Some people might not change their mind and will still love others to be close to them. Others may want to continue practicing social distancing, even with their families. It’s important to know that using proxemic cues will allow people to understand whether or not you would like any physical contact with them. In an article written by Psychology Today, the author discusses what is called “boundary style,” which is the way we behave when we come in contact with people. Boundary styles are bound to change even after this pandemic calms down.

History of National Personal Space Day

  • National Personal Space Day was founded by Give Space LLC in 2019 to promote and support an awareness of personal space boundaries
  • Give Space, originally called For the Love of Peach, was created by Carol Winner in 2015
    • Winner was the caregiver for her mother who was battling cancer, including extensive surgeries and radiation, which left her immunocompromised and made physical touch painful
    • She adapted the peach into a symbol for others to give the wearer of the symbol space while reminding the wearer that they “are healing and/or sensitive and need to be careful.”
    • The “give space” vest recently received a US Adaptable Garment Patent
      • The vest is a unisex design includes removable padding and chest inserts to dampen bumping, as well as inside pockets that can hold post-operative drains to help tuck them or any other medical device in for social wear
        • It is made from Nylon/Lycra fabric that is bacterial resistant, antimicrobial, and moisture-wicking
        • And bears the Give Space Peach symbol on both front and back
        • It runs for a paltry $168.99
  • National Day Calendar states that “National Personal Space Day on November 30th promotes kindness toward sensitivities and supports healing and self-protection by recognizing everyone’s right to decide when and how to be touched.
    • “Touch can hurt. Many bacteria and viruses can harm.
    • “The day provides an opportunity to be aware of a person’s unspoken need for space or a gentler and welcomed touch. When you see someone wearing the peach symbol, forgo the handshake or hug and offer a smile and another way to show you care.
    • “National Personal Space Day encourages the use of the effective symbol to essentially say, “I need a little extra space today,” without awkwardness or hurt feelings. The Peach symbol kindly raises the voice of the weather. The mission is working to change the way people show they care. After all, we are challenged in the 21st century, at a very reflective time regarding our personal space.
    • “It is also a time to allow us more understanding regarding the boundaries of others.
    • “Everyone has a story to tell of a time in their lives when they suffered from well-intentioned but unwelcome touch or closeness: whether they are healing or are changed within a crowded work environment, are grieving, receiving chemotherapy, or simply needing more space to help protect them from harmful bacteria, viruses, or other sensitivities.”

Activities to celebrate

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  • Use #NationalPersonalSpaceDay or #PersonalSpaceDay on social media
  • Share your story on the Give Space Facebook page
    • Do you suffer from chronic pain, anxiety, or another condition that makes touch painful or uncomfortable?
    • Are you a caregiver for someone who needs to avoid touch?
    • Are you looking for a way to explain personal space to children?
    • Do you fear touch from exposure to harmful bacteria or viruses???
  • Show you care in new ways
    • Take a meal to someone in isolation
    • Run errands for them
    • Watch a movie together via video chat
    • Order grocery delivery for them
    • Walk a friend’s dog for them
  • Givespacepeach.com also offer free downloadable social distancing signage to display on your home, business, school, or your own body if you want
  • They also offer a children’s personal space book “What Do I Do With My Hugs?” to help educate kids about the importance of personal boundaries
  • And of course, givespacepeach.com also has a merch store with products bearing the peach symbol to get for yourself or send as gifts, including
    • T-shirts
    • A scarf that can also be a mask
    • Sweatshirts
    • A poncho blanket that doubles as a nursing cover
    • Hats
    • Buttons
    • Stickers
    • And of course the vests, which are actually currently out of stock
  • Psychology today offers 5 tips for coping when personal space issues occur in your life
    • Be kind to your friends. You have more freedom to invade the personal space of people you know well rather than strangers, but don’t take for granted the likelihood that they won’t mind you closing in on them.
    • Look around you. Be respectful and attentive to boundaries, especially in close spaces, and especially when there’s no easy escape.
    • Confront if you can, but not if you can’t. If confrontation isn’t an option, find ways to distract yourself or at least send out signals that the invasion isn’t OK.
    • Sniff, but don’t snoop. Be aware of the sensory intrusions you create by wearing strong scents, talking too loud in public places, and asking overly personal questions of strangers.
    • Learn to read body language. Sensitize yourself to recognize the signals that you have gotten too close by observing the other person’s behavior. If you sense you’ve overstepped, back off.
  • And 5 tips for yourself:
    • Identify and accept your personal boundary needs. In order to protect your personal space, you have to accept that it’s alright to have it, and you are not bad for needing more or less space than someone else.
    • Be polite but firm. 
    • Start with something small. To change your ways, you use a scenario to pick something minor to say no to. This can provide the foundation to build your confidence that you can set your boundaries in more profound ways. 
    • Know what you mean when you say “yes”, by practicing telling other people what you want specifically.
    • Stop feeling guilty. Someone who continuously ignores or pushes your boundaries is not someone you need to feel guilty about being rude to.
  • Wear a fucking mask
  • Wash your fucking hands
  • And stay at least 6 fucking feet away from each other


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