By Nina Chatzistergiou,
Each of us has a sense of personal space and of the space around our body, which can be natural or made. When people were confined to cities, their living space was also limited. People were squeezed into the urban space; therefore, their habits and psychology changed. There is a variety of types of “spaces”, such as the “dream space”. When we are dreaming, we create a fantastic space that is easily deformed, enlarged, or changed. Then, there is the “space of ideas” (or “space of logic”), where the human mind creates concepts and combines them logically to create solid ideas. It is a transitional space. Last but not least, there is the “musical space”, by which we mean music that is organized in composition, thus creating “space in time”. For each art form, exists a metaphorical and imaginal corresponding space: the “theatrical space”, the space in dance, in cinema, in literature, etc.
Modern Physics of the 20th century added a fourth dimension to matter, space, time: space-time. According to the Big Bang Theory, which refers to the birth of the universe, at the time of the Big Bang, matter, space, and time were created at the same time.
A “special” area in the depths of our brain determines the sense of vital personal space. The silent language of expression of emotions (nonverbal communication, body language, etc) is the most primitive, powerful, and universally common form of communication, especially in emotionally charged situations, which are characterized by a marked weakening of conscious control.
Adequate coding and decoding of the nonverbal communication system is the safest way to true emotions and to the human soul, and, therefore, awareness in the field of nonverbal communication is an urgent need for all mental health professionals and those interested in exploring the secrets of human nature.
Each person has their own space
Personal space is the area around a person’s body that others cannot enter without causing discomfort. The relationship between the individual and their personal space translates into their behavior within them, which consists mainly of controlling of this space. If someone attempts to overstep those boundaries, we get defensive, or even aggressive towards them, seeing them as intruders of our personal space —even though they are not. Each person has their own space, their own area around their body, and the violation of it causes reactions of defense and precautionary claim.
A person’s personal living space is bounded by a “repulsive potential” for other people around and within them, where they feel safe. In that living space, unfamiliar people are easily considered intruders and all balance easily gets lost as they get overwhelmed by the primitive feeling of fear. For example, that feeling occurs when using an elevator with strangers. The family bond, with opposite action, causes an opposite, attractive potential, which allows access to the living space and enables family members to live together, share things and hug, for instance. In addition to that, the living space becomes accessible to friends and acquaintances, although to a lesser extent.
Good manners are also a way to develop a potential that calms us and makes us feel safe, allowing strangers to get closer to “forbidden” distances. Without good manners, neighborhoods within a city would be war zones, as our personal living space extends to include our property.
Personal space and social behavior
The term “potential” is used as the “field” of living space, resembling the electric field around protons that tends to keep them at a distance from each other. Family ties and good manners are like the powerful nuclear force that can and does hold protons together in an atomic nucleus, neutralizing electromagnetic interaction.
A mental area
The concept of living space is not limited to a spatial context, to a separate room, more squares where one can be alone, but it is mainly a psychological concept. It is the need of a person to have their own, inviolable space, speaking in psychological terms, a mental area in which one can be undisturbed, using it according to their needs.
Vital space and cultural differences
Our living space is, therefore, a subjective concept that begins and is limited in principle within us but is also influenced by the cultural imperatives of each people. For example, the Greeks and, more generally, the Mediterranean and Arab people, tend to be close. Thus, in a conversation, the participants can stand very close, touch, but, in general, they might avoid looking each other in the eyes.
In other cultures, however, such as the Nordic or American, physical proximity to the interlocutor is not desirable and people make sure they are at a “safe” distance from each other, to the point where if one interlocutor violates it, the other takes a couple of steps back in order to maintain the initial distance, usually from one to three and a half meters.
In the same cultures, the friendly touch is something that is not widely accepted among ordinary acquaintances and people avoid it. This is the delimitation of the living space of the self in space and in relation to other people.
The psychological dimension of living space
But what is the psychological dimension of living space? Each person has the need to have their own imaginary “canopy” around their physical existence and to be able to isolate themselves at will. Any person needs this personal “bubble”, which is essentially the freedom one demands from oneself. Desires and fears, but above all, the cultivation of who we are, takes place within this individual bubble of ours.
Intense feelings of sadness, anger, and irritability, in addition to their manifestation in the individual’s environment (something that can take on negative dimensions and affect their relationships), may need their own space of completely personal expression, a space that is private and inviolable from others (even when they have good intentions).
The need to sit alone with oneself, whether in meditation, ruminating on a problem, or relaxing, can be as intense as the need to throw a fist at one’s pillow or scream while taking a shower and no one listens to them, or to hide the cries away from prying eyes. In conclusion, living space as a concept has a reason to exist at home, at the workplace, study, and in our personal and emotional life.
- Proxemics, wikipedia.org, Available here
- You Need Your Personal Space — Here’s the Science Why, nationalgeographic.com, Available here
- Samuel D. Gosling, Kenneth H. Craik, Nicholas R. Martin, Michelle R. Pryor, The personal living space cue inventory: An Analysis and Evaluation, on Environment and Behavior, vol. 37, Sage Publications, 2005, Available here
- Personal Space Bubble – What is it and Why Does it Matter?, youththerapysource.com, Available here