In the most literal sense, personal space is the tangible, physical area that surrounds you. It is intimate enough that upon reaching your hand you make physical contact with said object or individual. That is exactly how social and personal psychology defines it as well –

“Physical area surrounding an individual that is considered private.”

The concept of personal space is not a single-minded self-implied notion used based on convenience. It is a psychological concept built to ensure physical and psychological comfort. Proxemics is the branch of knowledge that deals with the amount of space that people feel is necessary to set between themselves and others; it is a non-verbal communicative theory that unfortunately, is taught nowhere. Even though this transcends beyond the basic implications of personal space, the theory of proxemics plays a vital role when establishing basic human contact.

Though a vast majority may be aware of this alien concept, what several fail to fathom is that the size of the personal space is dependent entirely on the individual themselves and their experiences. In logical terms and even as explored by neuroscience, the demarcation of an area as ‘personal space’ allows individuals to feel comfortable in gatherings.

It is the intrusion of this space and the accompanying discomfort that makes an individual aware of an intruder.

Is Personal Space A Permanent Boundary? No.

Studies have even gone as far as to claim that this space can never be considered a static construct because it is ever evolving with one’s experience of self and the world; it is often influenced by one’s culture. Studies have proven that in a social standing, a Western individual might have a vast interpersonal space as opposed to an Eastern individual. Therefore, to contest to an individual’s personal space based on your relationship with them and theirs on others is a fundamentally flawed way of looking at the notion; their relationships are a variant and so is the conjectural boundary around them.

4 standards of Personal Space and their Inferences

Studies have established personal space boundaries into measurable quantities as follows:

1. Intimate distance is 0-18 inches of space
2. Personal distance is 18-48 inches
3. Social distance is 4-12 feet and
4. Public distance is 12-25 feet or more.

These four categories are widely overlooked, especially in a Pakistani society where the concept is alien, to begin with. Granted, there are certain spaces where the interpersonal space is automatically invaded unwillingly. This is when individuals are crammed into close spaces such as elevators. In such circumstances, studies declare, the invasion can be compensated by avoiding eye contact and the likes.

What Makes Personal Space An Untaught Lesson?

Invasion of personal space is easily overlooked as an actual problem. The lack of understanding by individuals demonstrated in public and private spheres conveys how important it is for schools to teach the importance of respecting another individuals personal space. Cases like Zainab’s are the epitome of personal space invasion that result in the fatality of the victim.

So if the question remains: why must it be taught? The answer is rather simple. It is only after one is made aware of their proxemic rights that they can identify when one is being stripped of them. Through the identification of personal space, children can be taught the awareness of when it is being invaded. This is true regardless of the source of the invasion.

Insignificant is the fact that whether it is a literal boundary drawn with a chalk, or one that is inside your head, personal space is imperative. Knowing that it exists as per your convenience is imperious. And its invasion can be abysmal. It is this ominous foray that has to be avoided.

The lesson untaught, needs to be communicated.


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